Category Archives: Past

Pass the Hushpuppies

Among the reasons I love Fall, the number one is oysters. Cooler weather means oyster season. The oyster is the ugly, stinking of mud bivalve. I love them. They are by far my favorite thing to eat and have been since I was 6-years old. The only thing that comes even close is my grandmother’s collard greens. But that’s another culinary story.

Coastal North Carolina is fortunate to have what are called barrier islands. They protect the main coastline and provide inlets, waterways and protected waters from the harsh wave action of the ocean. Along these waterways, in the muddy shallows, my favorite delectable bivalves reside in the luxury of mud and seawater, living and multiplying as the tide dictates.

My earliest recollection of eating oysters was at our house at Lake Waccamaw circa 1975. We ate them inside the house! Something we never did again once we moved from the lake to where my parents live now. I still love their taste, but I first fell in love with how hard I had to work to get the tasty little morsels out of their shells. Mainly, because I was good at it.

I see people shuck oysters with gloves and rags, but from the beginning I held them in my bare hand and, at first, had only a butter knife to use to open them. My stepdad encouraged me as often as possible to slow down, eat a hushpuppy, take a break, but I loved just shucking and chucking.

Photo Credit: Oyster Cluster & Oyster Knife by Doug DuCap

News of possibly having a couple of bushels while we’re in NC for the holidays has me reminiscing about cold evenings standing around a table in my great grandmother’s smokehouse, now a garden shed, and shucking with aunts and uncles. Even before that, we ate them in a more modern shed my stepdad had elevated on railroad ties to protect from the tidal Thally’s Branch, the creek that runs behind their house.

Our family eats oysters on a wet roast, meaning they are steamed over a pot of water over an outside fire until their shells pop open just a bit. Well, most of them do any way until they start getting cold again and close up. My favorites ones are 4″ long and juicy. No sauce, lemon or fancy fixings are needed. I love them warm enough for their salt juice to sweeten with the meat. Their color ranges from beige when swollen from their hot juices to mud gray well, because there’s still mud inside the shell. Somehow the grit never bothers me.

Holding an oyster to shuck it isn’t for anyone not wanting to get their fingers dirty or cut. When they close up, a simple twist of a good oyster knife or even a sturdy butter knife opens up the most stubborn oyster like turning a key. The edges of the shell are sharp as cut glass at times.

Waiting between pots once you’ve eat the previous pot is the time to socialize, pass the hushpuppies and empty the full buckets of empty oyster shells. If it is cold, it’s a good time to warm up wet, cut hands by the fire but also down a good bit of Southern sweet tea to cut the salt puckering the soft tissue of your mouth. The last pot is always something to savor and it is customary to slow down to let the cook catch up on a few.

No, there’s nothing quite like shucking wet, muddy, sharp oysters in 35-40 degrees standing at a table covered in newspaper and saltwater. Many Fall and Winter weekends of my youth have left me with what feels like a thousand papercuts on my hands and a belly full of muddy, salty, slimy, chewy scrumptious oysters.

I can’t wait!!

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Filed under Beautiful, Family, Life, Past

Secret Summer Memories

Not all summer memories are about vacations, sports camp or reading encyclopedias in the hammock by the pool, though I have lots of those, too. Some are gruesome, awful and more than most people can bear. Luckily, I only have a few of those kinds of memories. This is just a memory of a storytelling I happened to overhear when I was much too young to handle the wretchedness of it. 

It was the end of a very long summer day in 1978. We had visited a friend at Clarks Hill Lake near Augusta, Georgia, now called Strom Thurmond Reservoir. My sister and I were visiting our Dad and his 2nd wife, Brenda for a few weeks that summer. They lived in Wrens south of Augusta on US Highway 1. We had visited the lake with another couple who were in the car with us on a long drive back home in the sticky heat of a typical Georgia summer night. Dad and the other man were in the front seat. I was in the back seat with the two women.

I’ve tried to remember where my sister was. She may have been in my stepmother’s lap or up front between the two men. I never can place her in my memory save for earlier in the day when her water skis split and she went face first into the water while the boat dragged her along. I see her face behind the wall of water forced up out of the lake by her chin as clear as I see this screen, but I can’t remember where she was in the car that night. I’ve often worried she heard this story. But if she did she’s never said and I’ve never asked.

Though I’m older now, I feel like I’m getting ready to tell on myself and in a way, I guess I am. You see, I wasn’t suppose to hear this story. I was so tired, so drowsy and I probably fell asleep. But the music on the radio, the smoke from my Dad’s cigarette and the summer heat left me in the shallows of sleep. Then the woman began to tell this story. I pretended to be asleep after both women checked to make sure I was because the story wasn’t for my ears. Oh how I wished I had not listened! But the woman knew how to tell a story.

I’m not sure anymore but I always had it in my mind that this story was about the man we had visited at the lake that day. I don’t remember hearing when this story took place or where but I remember the details of men breaking into the home of his parents, the ugly details of torturing them in front of one another and how they were killed. Whispers of the particulars formed moving pictures still in my mind.  And, I remember the son found them in their home. 

I remember the telling of the awful, very specific, unspeakable acts committed by monsters as though I had stood in the room and watched. Most of details of the story I remember aren’t in any news articles of the day accessible on the internet. Those things just weren’t mentioned back then I guess. My memory holds ugliness of rape, cigarette burns and prolonged torture. 

Not wanting this to be my secret anymore, I post it here. After all these years, I have names, dates and places to the unspeakable events. A main member of the Dixie Mafia had played a part in the story I heard. I had hoped to have expunged my brain of the awful scenes by writing about them but they are etched on my deepest of wrinkled gray matter. 

My heart breaks over and over for the Fleming family now that I know their name. Summer heat floats those horrific scenes before my eyes like my dad’s cigarette smoke. Pungent, displeasing and unhealthy in every way. I’ve hated summer ever since.  

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Filed under Past, summer, Uncategorized

Change of Scenery

     Before spring cleaning my blog with a little updating of the main photo, I was thinking about the picture above and letting some of the thoughts lead me down a path I usually don’t let people follow because it is my past. I think that it is not a part of me, but I am wrong.
     The photo is one I took at the Balinese Pavillion of theWorld Garden in Marzahn, Germany in 2008.  It was a beautiful Spring day and every plant in place was in full bloom. It was an absolutely magnificent showing that we had no idea awaited us at the end of our train ride out of Alexanderplatz.  The photo is a pityful example of the beauty we encountered on our visit, of the city, its people, history and culture. 
     What is astounding about this photo is that I took it at all.  I was brought up in the southern culture of the United States of strict religion and deep fear of anything and everyone different from it.  Small town and small mindedness could not hold me and I grew beyond the inflicted boundaries of racism, sexism and xenophobia. 
     Experiencing Berlin forced the last shackles of my upbringing to fall from my shoulders that I always thought held me down.  Being the lover of maps in the family, I fearlessly led my family through the trains from Alexanderplatz to Tiergarten, from Potsdamerplatz to Marzahn, all over the city where we overheard mostly nothing but German everywhere.  We tried our broken German on patient maitre d’s and gracious storekeepers.  I was moved to tears in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum at the prominently displayed examples of what the people of East Berlin were willingly to endure to obtain what I so easily take for granted.  My proudest moment was watching my son communicate in his own way with a Berliner about his age at a park as we took a break for lunch.  He was eager to learn, to explore and make friends with someone he couldn’t even understand.  I love that he accepts peoples’ differences because I know it opens so many doors for him that had been closed to me. 
     This photo says all of that to me with just a glance at it.  I will replace it with one of equal meaning someday this Spring, if I can find one.
    

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Filed under Berlin, Past