“CHOW CHOW & SWEET DREAMS”
Mama helped Daddy in the store while I was young. The store was on the other end of the acre where our house was located. Willie Mae stayed with me during weekdays, but Mama often worked late at the store. Especially on Friday and Saturday nights when country people came in to “trade.” On those nights, I went across the street to Miss Dora’s and Jim’s house.
Miss Dora was a wonderful cook. I loved her rice pudding with raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg, and her Karo-nut (pecan) pies.
Her brother, Jim, was very hard of hearing. He spent much of his time on their front porch swing, whittling wood into undetermined objects and watching our town go by. Miss Dora busied herself around her kitchen stove, cooking good things she often shared with neighbors.
On weekend nights, I could usually be found at their house. You walked from the front porch into her dining room. There, on a breakfront, she kept a crystal candy dish which held peppermints. She called them “Sweet Dreams.” The smell of peppermint, supper smells, ashes from the “big room” fireplace and moth balls in her closets made up the special smell of Miss Dora’s house.
In summer, we sat on the porch.. There, she taught me to play “jacks.” Jim sat in the swing whittling while she eased her old body down on the floor to teach me “onesies,” “twosies,” and “pigs in the pen.” Today, I’m amazed at how nimble her old veined hands were. Sometimes, we played “Old Maid” or “Go Fish”at the table on the screened porch. If it was winter, we could be found in front of the fireplace in the big room. Loud sounds (for Jim’s benefit) came from the Philco Radio to the right of the fireplace. We enjoyed “Guildersleeve,” “Fibber Magee and Molly”and “The Louisiana Hay Ride.”
When it was time for me to go home, she led me into the dining room to the candy dish. I reached inside for two peppermints–never more. That was her rule. One I popped into my mouth immediately. The other one I saved until I got home. Even after brushing my teeth, I could still taste that last “Sweet Dream” on my tongue.
The most fun I had at Miss Dora’s was in early summer. She took me into her garden while dew was still on the vegetables. We picked cucumbers, green tomatoes, peppers, and onions…all these were taken inside and placed into a mixture of water, vinegar, sugar and garlic inside a big black cauldron. I’ve watched her many times, stirring the mixture with a long handled spoon, adding shredded cabbage near the end, as beads of perspiration popped out on her reddened face from the heat. Early afternoon, Jim carried the pot out to the screened porch and placed it on a trivet atop the oilcloth covered table. This is where my part came in.
While Miss Dora ladled the “chow-chow” into Mason jars topped with paraffin, I stood by with a fly swatter to kill anything that flew. Later in the winter, when my family opened one of those jars to flavor our vegetables, I always smelled summer.
Once, a big storm came through and hail put holes in the top of Miss Dora’s outhouse which she referred to as “The Convenience.” That was an oxymoron for sure, since it was located at the very back of their deep lot.
Daddy gave them a big tin advertisement from Phillip Morris Co. that was attached to the highway side of his store. It was a picture of Bing Crosby and all his boys. Jim nailed this tin to the inside top of the toilet with the PLAIN side of the tin showing.
A day later, Miss Dora came walking across to talk to Daddy.
“Guy,” she said, “I want that picture of Bing showing from the roof. Can you change it?” A bit startled, Daddy said that he could and it was changed out that very day.
The following morning, Miss Dora walked back to the store.
“Guy, Thank You. I like to fell out the other day when you said you would give us this new ceiling. And I want to thank you for changing it for me. You see, Jim don’t talk much and I get lonesome. But now, when I have to ‘go’ (her eyes cast down here and her cheeks showing a deep blush) to the “Convenience” I can really enjoy it. This morning I found myself looking up at Bing and singing, “White Christmas!” Why, Guy, I think Bing and the boys bring a bit of class to The Convenience!”
Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author living in Hot Springs Village. She welcomes your comments on this piece at [email protected]