A few weekends ago, I received a surprise phone call from my Aunt Carol. She and her husband, David Kerns, were traveling with their son and would be passing through town on their way out west. Their plans included a stop-over at the Oklahoma City Memorial and hoped I could meet them there the following morning. As it had been about fifteen years since I had visited them at their home on the outskirts of Jamestown, Kentucky I naturally agreed.
We met just beyond the reflecting pool after they had taken the tour through the memorial. It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to her memories of my great grandparents, Willie and Laura Conner. It did not take long before Granny’s cooking took center stage. Aunt Carol described the chicken and dumplings Granny made as if she had tasted them only yesterday. Among my favorite smells are those that remind me of Granny’s kitchen. I was soon lost in my own remembrances of the “vittles” at Granny’s table.
I don’t recall any of our visits being announced ahead of time or any calls to forewarn her that company was on the way. I know that no matter who was coming, day or night, expected guest or surprise visitor, she would always have supper ready. I don’t know how she managed, but it was always like a buffet – more food than we could ever expect to eat!
I would trade almost anything for a taste of her beans, fried potatoes, and cornbread. I remembered one of our last trips when I was exposed to granny’s “ketchup”. With the consistency of chunky salsa, it was added to the bowl of beans to ‘dress it up’ as she would say. I liked to crumble one piece of cornbread in with the beans and “ketchup”, then have another served with her homemade butter. My mouth watered with every mile for the feast that surely awaited our arrival.
There was always a stop at an old country store to stock up on Grape NEHI and moonpies – a ten-year-old’s favorite diet plan. The journey from Indiana along two-lane blacktop state roads and unnamed roads to Granny’s provided quite an adventure! Once we turned off the pavement and journeyed down the last stretch of narrow gravel road, I knew we were getting close! The trail to granny’s house wasn’t over the river and through the woods, but it was pretty close. Little more than a cow path, the trail wound dangerously close between trees and disappeared into more than one small stream before emerging beyond the muddy waters on the opposing embankment. It seemed our family car was ill-equipped to travel on a road seemed to have been designed to accommodate horse-drawn wagons, but we pressed on.
Often our progress would be delayed by a few stray cows standing in our path. Stubborn and oblivious to the sound of impatient children hollering and waving frantically from the backseat, the herd only dispersed when the mood suited them and not a moment before. Almost like a canal boat passing through a system of locks, the frequent stops to open and shut gates prevented wandering cows from escape.
I always wondered if the winding trail through the cattle gates was created to give her ample time to prepare the food or just to make the trip more interesting, but I could never remember the number of gates we had to pass through before we could reach our destination. I do not recall the absence of “are we there yet?” as we closed each gate.
When we finally pulled up to Granny’s doorstep, she was standing at the door. “Come on in. You hungry? I’ll have food on the table in just a few minutes.” I don’t think the screen door had been closed by the last person in our entourage when Granny waved us to the table.
As the adults continued into late-night conversation, she would direct weary-eyed children toward her room. Words do little to express the feeling of a full belly nestled in grannie’s feather bed wrapped in one of her amazing homemade quilts as raindrops on a metal roof lulled a tired ten-year-old to sleep, but most of Granny’s children, grand children, and great-grand children probably have similar memories.
Several years ago, her descendants put together a recipe book called “Cookin’ with the Conners” which is now long out of print. A call went out to a shared Facebook group about planning another edition. I quickly volunteered and am currently compiling the last few recipes that have been contributed. I am yet hopeful that some kind soul will come forward and submit that “ketchup” recipe!