I am missing my Aunt Ann this Sunday in September.
I am missing the times when we gathered in her kitchen — or, occasionally, in her daughter’s or another’s kitchen, as she prepared her peerless biscuits and baked her macaroni and cheese. The macaroni and cheese was always a triumph, as well, but, for me, the stars of her kitchen were the homemade short biscuits, as I called them.
She always used self-rising floor for her biscuits. In my mind’s eye, I see the self-rising Gold Medal flour on the counter. Those were the days before generics were so readily available, so she stayed with the tried and true.
She made biscuits so often that the rise never waned. Her biscuits were never fat and dry, like those that came from other kitchens.
The baking powder and soda were fresh and ready to perform their magic.
She had long ago perfected the art of “dumping.”
I never saw a written recipe,
although, several times, she named each ingredient and the approximate quantity of each as she added them, one by one.
First, she scooped several cups of flour into a yellow, ceramic mixing bowl by hand.
Three or four cups of self-rising, I think, more or less.
With her hand, she made a well in the center of the flour.
The displaced flour rose up and pressed against the sides of the bowl.
Then, Aunt Ann, whose real name was Annie Laurie, added solid vegetable shortening, the fabled Crisco brand, of course.
The amount of shortening was about the size of a baseball or a little more. A cup, perhaps.
She cut the shortening into the self-rising flour with a fork, adding a drizzle or two of whole milk that she worked into the flour and shortening. Perhaps 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup — or a mite more, depending.
Aunt Ann had strong arms and fingers. She worked at a desk, but she grew up in the orphanage and worked on the farm as a child.
I think the strength of her fingers, hands and arms might have been the sole reason for her successful biscuits, other than good self-rising flour, I mean.
Her mother, my grandmother, Pearl, made biscuits like these, too. Her hands, fingers and arms were just as strong, perhaps even more so. Her biscuits set the precedent for every biscuit any of us has ever made. But, but we have a few more steps in the preparation to review before we are finished making our dozen or so.
Once Aunt Ann had blended the self-rising flour, whole milk and vegetable shortening so that the dough was ready, she dumped it from the bowl onto a floured surface. I believe that she used the laminate kitchen counter, although she may have put wax paper down first and then floured that.
Anyway, with the dough laying on a floured surface, she used her fingers and the palms of her hands and shaped, flapped, pressed, folded, floured and kneaded a bit until the dough was smooth and ready to become her glorious biscuits.
Aunt Ann used a drinking glass, a certain one, to cut out the biscuit shapes from the dough. All these years, I never found a drinking glass that worked as well as the one she used.
After she had cut several biscuits out, she would press the remaining dough together to renew the surface so that more biscuits could be cut from what remained. If there was a tiny piece left, over, it became a leaf or a flower bud and crowned a biscuit. (I think I made this up, because this is what I like to do!)
She used a preheated oven. 450 degrees F., or so.
The biscuits baked until they rose and were golden brown.
I bought some buttermilk which I have in the refrigerator. I plan to make some buttermilk biscuits with vegetable shortening and self-rising flour this coming week or when my mother comes to visit next week. I will let you know whether or not I can continue the tradition or not! Your comments on how to prepare a traditional Southern biscuit will be most appreciated. Both my aunt and my grandmother were native South Carolinians!
As many mornings as I can, I make time for a short devotion. I have used devotionals, Upper Room publications — my favorite has been Weavings — and the Bible. I also watch Creflo Dollar whenever I can. This morning, he continued his message about “the law” – the Old Covenant and “Grace through Jesus Christ” — the New Covenant. (“Tell me the Old, Old Story”) He brought forth Jesus’ teaching and instructions given before and after the Crucifixion and Resurrection. He emphasized the importance for us to depend fully on Grace and not upon self, depending instead on the in-dwelling Holy Spirit that Jesus provided us rather than our own will, behaviors, energy, initiatives, etc..
So, yesterday, I depended fully on Jesus to get more done in my day: to not take a mid-day nap, not to take unnecessary trips or otherwise squander my — no, God’s time. (Yes, I have re-committed myself to this many, many times over the years. Still, I forget!) After a very productive morning, about 2:30 p.m., I laid down for my nap. I even limited its duration with an alarm on my phone. Alas, I reminded myself on whom I was dependent, in whom I trusted to manage my life and time. I still put my head on my pillow. Immediately, my phone rang. A young woman working in Durham on the presidential campaign (you know which party but that is not the point!) asked me if I could come in and help make posters for a rally THIS AFTERNOON in Durham. The need was urgent. I hesitated, saying I had a meeting at my church at 7:00 p.m. that evening. An exchange of text messages followed. “I could come after the meeting, perhaps,” I said. Alas, the volunteer had the better idea. “Can you come before your meeting and help make posters for the rally?” “Between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.?,” she asked? I thought, “Hmmm, it is 3:15 p.m. If I leave here by 4:40 p.m., I can be in Durham by 5:00 p.m. I can still get a one hour nap in.” (The flesh is tough to defeat!)
Now, Jesus has a sense of humor and knows what it takes to gets me going. Immediately, text completed and head back on my pillow, my mind began to race. I knew, at that moment, there would be no nap for me this day. The in-dwelling Holy Spirit that Jesus left for me (and you!) was indeed in charge. Visions of oil pastels, water soluble crayons, art papers, push pins to hang posters and markers flooded my mind. I could not rest. I was energized. I immediately got up, went into my studio, gathered more than I thought I might need and put it in a tote.
Along with notes I needed for my 7:00 p.m. meeting at my church, I left the house shortly after 4:00 p.m. and drove to the newly opened Party Headquarters on Main Street in downtown Durham. I was greeted with applause — as was every volunteer who came through the doors. I plopped down on the floor, removed my sandals, grabbed a piece of poster board and some markers, some sparkly miniature American flags and red-white-and blue stars provided as embellishments and set about making signs for today’s rally – not works of art but acceptable. Thereafter, I was asked to help coach two teenagers in making telephone calls to recruit registered voters to come and volunteer. That was the best part!
In the end, giving up my self-dependence and depending fully on God resulted in a day I could never have anticipated, and I still made my 7:00 p.m. meeting at Resurrection United Methodist Church! “Faith takes possession of what Grace has already made.”
No poetic lines or essays today. Simply restating the little victories of the morning. Bert’s coffee. A few minutes with Creflo Dollar. Always meaningful, thought-provoking. He offers meat, not milk. He challenges us to think in new ways. Today, however, he just reminded me: Lean fully on God, not on yourself. Galatians 5:4 So, today, instead of fretting about getting enough done, doing/choosing the right things to do right, not squandering my day, not finding ways to get off the path, i.e., checking out what all of the amazing grocery stores in Durham have to offer (REMEMBER, I lived in a village for nearly 30 years), I am entrusting God to manage my time. I should not keep count. But, I have written two far-too-long e-mails to gifted people in my church, encouraging them to step out in faith for the 10-week, Spoken Word Poetry “apprenticeship” through CitizenSchools at Githens Middle School. Progress. Now, on to other small, even tiny, tasks that beckon. Blessings for your day.
Each day, perhaps several times a day, I consider whether I am using my time to the best of my ability. Over the decades of my life, I have become expert in finding something else I think is essential to do even when I know I am called to do something else: get a pedicure, go by the grocery store, go by the whole foods store, go by the farmer’s market, go by the high end grocery store that has all of the prepared foods, etc. You get the idea. Having lived in a village for nearly 30 years, I did not have so many sparkling opportunities that begged me to leave behind my keyboard, waterproof ink, cold-pressed paper and colored pencils to just look. I am even fooling myself with that statement. Even when I lived in my Pennsylvania village, I could go off to find coffee, peruse a thrift shop or two, stop by Wegman’s (35 miles away from my home in Centerville), and successfully fritter away blocks of time in pursuits other than those I believe I am called to do: one or more projects or responsibilities in my church (which includes service to a middle school), artists’ book, journals, specialty gift books, individual and collected poems, and a maverick prose piece or two, i.e., children’s book and a novel.
Last night, my new son-in-law, Eric, arrived just after five o’clock to complete the transfer of my documents and Dropbox/external hard drive to my new-to-me Macbook Pro. I can never repay him, and thank you is certainly not enough. He has already spent hours on preparing the new computer for me. All I have had to do is to answer questions and point him in the direction of my office/studio. So, this morning, September 1, 2016, I have an amazing Macbook Pro loaded with the freshest applications and hardware. I do not deserve it. It is only through God’s grace that I have my son-in-law and this wonderful computer equipped with everything I need to move my body of work forward.
I am seeking a way to express my gratitude, but nothing will be enough, not gift card for a meal in one of Durham’s fine restaurants, not home-cooked meal and pie for dessert (I don’t do pies; Bert does.) some other elaborate gesture to let him know he is appreciated beyond words or deeds. But, I have not done that yet. I have asked him to take a friend from Korea, a member of my United Methodist Church, fishing, however. I explained that he is a recently retired university professor, and he has joined his family here in Durham, NC permanently now, instead of flying back and forth on breaks and recesses. Eric agreed to taking my friend fishing. My friend will buy the gas. Asking my son-in-law to take my friend fishing on his boat does not constitute a gesture of appreciation on my part. Now, a few points:
That’s all for today.
Reflections on Heirlooms: Models, Examples, Moments
Still a DRAFT!
At twenty-one, a student teacher, discovering Abraham Chapman’s Black Voices,
Langston Hughes’ poems and Thank You, M’am;
my introduction to Beverly Payne, not quite proficient at Green Eggs and Ham,
de facto mother to a sleeve of siblings,
heir to a weight of chores to crush like aluminum cans,
and habitual truant.
On her first day in class, a dark October, stood and hurled an epithet that began with white-faced, ended four words and two successive –er’s later.
Still, after two years in the eighth grade with me, Beverly
cultivated persistence, resilience; graduated at twenty;
became a newspaper carrier; schooled me in the disciplines and principles to reach delinquents; transfiguring, forging the person I am.
Later, the giddiness of a Titan-sized, elder middle-schooler mutated into short story character with shoulders like a piano mover;
knowing Lena, Emma Lee, Vivian, Ruth, Lucille Lane, Edna Powell, life-coach matriarchs,
teachers, staff at Campostella Junior and Booker T. Washington High School,
where I taught Secondary English in Norfolk, Virginia at the onset of Federal desegregation and cross-town busing in the 1970’s;
the blessing of an aperture and immersion (with no life raft but ample paddles) into values,
culture, literature, politics, experiences, religious practice of Christian,
now, watching refugee women, denied education in the Kenya camp, haltingly trace each letter of the alphabet and thrill to read the, a, and for the first time;
lines scribbled on the reverse of Wal-Mart receipts;
print-outs of Google maps, restaurant place mats, endpapers of Poetry East,
the recollections, ad libs of mother, a nonagenarian,
sealed in journals, poems;
the PEACE stake from
my father’s rose garden;
the Perugina candy box, a miniature piano with lid in three pieces, circa 1967,
still with ticket stubs for Ischia and Capri;
Lladro geisha with missing fan;
my father’s gift of a Japanese doll;
thirteen year old African-American Karen Bryant’s death from meningitis in 1972,
three days after she left my class with a cough and headache;
Victorian walnut chest
with hatbox that cost me
a month’s salary in 1970;
My first taste of battered-fried blue crab, Mrs. Wingo’s mothering
a first-year, single white schoolteacher in, among 8th graders, way over my head;
in Gabon, letting my copper bracelet go to Ada for a red-stained, dried grass whisk
from her Cameroon homeland;
her soliloquy of endearment, that the Spirit translated for me;
the three-inch red metal bell sans clapper mother gave me at the start of my teaching career;
Grandmother Allstead’s hand-written letters to me, the thrill of their discovery more than half-century later when my mother, then 90,
shared then with me.
and finding out that,
despite chronic mental illness,
Grandmother Bessie cared for me,
cared for me.
Valerie’s childhood letters from New England summer camps,
rescued from trash set out by her mother at her death;
my son’s newborn identification bracelet saved for thirty-seven years;
Grandmother Pearl’s Holy Bible with hand-written entries;
May’s cascades of Val’s white wisteria entwined with Daddy’s lavender above the west gate;
Raha, Arfon, Mahamud, Willo and scores of immigrants,
refugee camp residents for most of their young adult lifetimes,
rotate full-time, second and third, cook, clean for husbands who work alternate shifts to care for infants and pre-schoolers, call me teacher,
learn to read with Voice of America Special English,
come to class and study to gain citizenship for themselves and their young children;
Sum Ng, now in his 80’s, a native of Macau, perpetual English student,
whose hand-written recipes,
Hawaiian and Kansas City postcards, are pinned upon on my studio cork board.
I am ever humbled, ever grateful!
Written recently, before sharing my testimony at Resurrection United Methodist Church.
Of Orphans, Waifs and Strays: the Myth of Not Belonging
I long to belong to something, . . .
I yearn to be held in the great hands of your heart . . .
Rainer Maria Rilke – from Pilgrimage
Let us be long to gaze upon the God who loves us. (Richard Foster, p. 49, Streams of Living Water)
I consider the orphans, the waifs and the strays that are my companions.
Without connection, they exist in hollow isolation:
red plastic top with no ballpoint bottom;
antique cut glass lids whose bases have taken wing;
an urchined end-piece of a hand-carved jewelry box lost in transit
an opaque dresser jar and colloquy of earrings whose mates have wandered;
a itinerant porcelain candlestick which mourns its broken and long discarded twin
and a box of buckles with neither belts nor shoes to adorn.
Somehow, I cannot not let them go.
So, the list of waifs and strays and orphans grows.
As a child,
I never joined the raucous playground exuberance,
the fascination for splintered seesaws and jungle gyms.
I yearned only for fitting in,
for finding my place in each new grade or school,
for not being the last chosen to dance or play softball.
Yet, the shadows of childhood
cause me to ponder belonging even now,
as I make my tribe among artists, poets, teachers, and believers
to whom I am tied.
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home? …
snaps, stitches, poppers,
buckles, hooks and eyes —
these worldly notions cannot affix belonging
nor moor the soul securely —
before it wanders in tribulation.
Whose pilgrim am I?
Who leadeth me?
Where is my anchor?
When Jesus is our portion, our constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
How quickly we forget.
We are never apart from you.
We already belong.
You will never let us go.
His Eye is On the Sparrow
Ci¬vil¬la D. Mar¬tin, 1905. Words Copyright – Public Domain
Romans 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, can separate us from the love of God.
Nothing less than life in the steps of Christ is adequate to the human soul or the needs of our world.