Thursday, January 28, 2016

Santa's Cookies and Milk

When I was a little boy I could not wait for Christmas mornin' to arrive. Christmas Eve was always set aside to spend with Mama's family. Grandma always had the house decorated from floor to ceiling. Mama, Grandma and the rest of the women would cook and prepare the best dishes for Christmas Eve. Oh my, I can still taste my Aunt Geneva's Sloppy Joe's, her home made deer salami (I have the recipe, takes days to make), Someone would bring a big ol' ham, green beans, sweet tater casserole an' desserts, me oh my.
Grandma started shoppin' for Christmas right after the holidays. She planned for Christmas all year. She would buy wrappin' paper, bows an' Scotch tape right after Christmas when it was marked down 50% 'cause she had a lot of presents to wrap each year.
Christmas Eve was wonderful, full of family, good food and presents for everyone. Nothin' fancy, mind you, simple things, good things for all.
When we finally was back home it was quick to bed for it was always late an' Santa didn't want to wait on the roof for two little ol' boys who had the big eye an' couldn't go to sleep. Sleep always came an' so did early mornin'. Too early for a Daddy who was up at 4:00 a.m. an' off to work the mornin' before.
I don't remember who was awake first most of those early Christmas mornin's, Maybe me or maybe Brother Mike. The Hollen boys were early risers on Christmas mornin' EVERY year. We tried our best to be quiet, but we almost always woke Mama up. She would come into the livin' room with camera in hand. Back then it was one of them little ol' cameras with a square flash cube.
Me an' Brother Mike was like Christmas mornin' buzz saws. We could tear through tape an' wrappin' paper to get to the prize. What fun it was, how wonderful them Christmas mornin's were. Daddy was a little slower to get out of bed. We would hear the click of his Zippo lighter as he lit his first Winston of the day. Mama would have coffee on an' he would drag his sleep deprived body out of bed, head for the coffee pot to grab a cup before he sat down.
His two little boys were his world. He never said that. He weren't much of a talker, but everyone knew they was his world. He sat an' smiled, right quiet like as we dragged each an' every present over for him to inspect. Daddy loved toys an' he would look each one over carefully, tryin' out the cap guns, steerin' the remote control cars around the piles of wrappin' paper before he handed the control back.
I can still see him sittin' there. He liked to drink his coffee in a thin china cup WITH a saucer (later in life Mama would go to the thrift stores to find single china cups an saucer sets in case Daddy broke one). He'd have on his work pants, white socks, what folks call a "wife beater" sleeveless tee shirt an' house slippers. Now, many times his present from me an' Brother Mike was a new pair of house slippers, so we would haul the package over an' giggle the whole time he was unwrappin' it. Once open each of us would grab a new slipper an' ram it on his feet.We each would take one of the old slippers to the bedroom in a sort of retirement ceremony.
What I didn't tell no one, what Brother Mike never knew was this; I would always look to see if Santa ate all the cookies an' drank all the milk we left for him. I figure he had lots of cookies an' milk cause he always left part of the milk an' at least one cookie WITH a bite taken out of it!
Cousins, you don't know the joy of seein' Santa's cookie with a bite missin' an' some warm leftover milk. When no one was lookin' I would sneak over an' right quick eat that ol' cookie an' drink that little bit of warm milk. It was Santa's! Me an' him shared the same cookies an' milk. Sure, I ate the leftovers hours later, but we shared a snack together. That was one of the best parts of Christmas. Sort of like grabbin' half a peanut butter an' 'nanner sammich the King, Elvis Presley might leave. I savored ever' morsel, slowly sipped ever' last drop.
Mama an' Daddy didn't miss much. We both got caught at our orneriness an' paid the price too many times to remember. I'll bet Mama an' Daddy knew exactly what I did on Christmas mornin'. I suspect Daddy left a sip or two of milk an' took just a bite out of that last cookie on purpose. I suspect they watched their oldest little boy with smiles an' secret glances at each other as I smiled an' ate my secret prize.
Now that I wear the Red Suit, I always remember with great joy my folks an' family, Christmas Eve, Christmas mornin' an' secret treats. As I listen to boys an' girls share their wishes an' dreams, see their bashful smiles an' lean close to hear their whispers I pause often, thinkin', dreamin' of warm milk an' that cookie Santa left just for me.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Front Porch Memories


When I was a boy of maybe 8 or 10 we was visitin' my Grandpa and Grandma Hollen over to Little Creek in Clay County, Kentucky. (Mind you now, this was before Route 66 crossed right through their land within 20 yards of their home.)
I remember it was early summer. My little brother an' I was playin' in the front room - the room that was combination sittin' room an' my grandparent's bedroom. Daddy, Grandpa an' Uncle Bert were out back. Mama an' Grandma was cookin' dinner (that's lunch for you city folks. In the mountains we had breakfast, dinner an' supper.)
I heard a "halloo" called up from the front yardt an' went to the screen door. A neighbor couple was standin' there with their 5 year old daughter in her Daddy's arms. Her foot was wrapped in a towel an' blood had stained through the cloth. He asked if Uncle Bert or my Daddy was around and I said "yessir, hold on a minute".
I ran inside an' told Grandma they was out front an' the little gal was bleedin'. I ran out the back door an' called to Uncle Bert an' Daddy to come quick. They came around the house right quick but Grandma had already gone to the porch an' learned the little gal had been tryin' to hoe the garden an' had cut her foot somethin' terrible.
They wrapped her foot an' walked way over a mile down the creek to ask if Uncle Bert could take them over to Red Bird Mission Hospital. Grandma asked them to come sit for a They wouldn't come up on the porch to sit for a minute. They said no, they didn't want blood to get on the wood boards of the porch.
While Daddy an' Uncle Bert went in to put shirts on, gather up their wallets an' keys, Grandma found some clean cloth an' they rewrapped the little ol' gal's foot. I was right there watchin' an' it was so deep, so bad, still bleedin' hard.
Grandma went in again, washed her hands,got out some leftover biscuits, cut 'em open an' filled each with either sausage or bacon leftover from breakfast. She handed them to me (after she made me wash my hands) an' sent me out to give them to the neighbors. She knew the wait at the hospital would be long.
They were so grateful. Both the Daddy an' Mama thanked Grandma over an' over. The little ol' gal was so bashful she kept her face hidden on her Daddy's chest, but turned toward me to say "thank ye" as I handed her a biscuit.
They went in Daddy's car instead of Uncle Bert's truck since it had more room. I went back to playin' with my little brother. Grandpa went out to sit on the porch, Grandma an' Mama went back to the kitchen to continue to prepare dinner.
It was late in the evenin', long after dark when we saw Daddy's car come up the creek an' continue on past the house takin' the neighbors home. Mama let us stay up till Daddy came home.
We was all sittin' in the dark waitin' for them to return an' to hear news of the little girl. I remember tendrils of smoke from the gnat smoke wanderin' this way an' that as I fanned it. Lightnin' bugs danced in the dark an' tree frogs sang all round us.
Grandma was the first to see the headlights of Daddy's car way down the creek an' ask, "Reckon that is Jim's car?" It was, of course. No one else had much reason to drive up Little Creek through the rough creek bed late in the evenin'.
A few minutes later we all spied the headlights comin' back down the creek an' up the hill to Grandpa's house. When Daddy an' Uncle Bert was a' gettin' out of the car Grandma was already callin', "How is that youngin'?".
They came up, sat down an' both rolled a cigarette as they told the story in tandem. Daddy said she had a bunch of stitches in her foot but she would be fine. Uncle Bert chuckled an' said folks all over the hospital could hear her cryin' an' screamin' as they cleaned up her foot (she had been barefooted) an' then stitched it up. He laughed, "Folks probably thought they was a'sawin' it off instead of stitchin' it up.".
We all laughed an' I sat quiet as the grown folks talked about the family, "good folks", "Now who's her people", "His Daddy still goes to church over the the Hard Shell Baptist Church up on Gilbert's Creek".
Later Mama told me an' my brother it was time for bed. We grumbled, hugged necks, said our "good nights" and wandered off to crawl under the quilts on the ol' iron bed.
The grown folks stayed up for a right smart while longer. I could hear their voices in the dark, could smell the gnat smoke, (a piece of rolled up cotton still smolderin' to keep away the bitin' bugs), mixed with the smoke from hand rolled cigarettes. As I laid there I wished I was grown so I could stay up an' hear the secrets they told when the youngin's was gone to bed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Aunt Brssie's Fudge

One of my favorite memories of my Aunt Bessie (Hollen) Box was her fudge. Sometimes it would be perfect an' wonderful. Sometimes it would be almost right but "soupy" as she'd say. I remember times when she would call, "Steve, I've made fudge and it's soupy. Come on over an' grab a spoon."

Oh my, we would sit with spoons in hand, scoopin' up soupy fudge, talkin' an' laughin' for ever so long. Eventually she would get up an' make us each a glass of Lipton Instant Tea to wash the sweet chocolate down.

Lordy, she could cook. Fried chicken, pork chops, fried taters, green beans cooked low an' slow with a little pig meat. She canned so many things. I remember goin' several times to a local farm and we picked bushels of green beans. We sat outside an' broke beans all day. We'd wash them an' put them in jars. As her pressure cooker would finish one batch a new load would go in, jar after jar all day. 

She didn't use recipes when she canned or cooked. I helped her make kraut an' pickled green tomatoes, tryin' to learn her recipe. The palm of her hand was her measurin' spoon. Her measurements were "a handful", "just a little bit" or "just a pinch or two". 

I never learned to can like her. Oh, I can follow a recipe and do fine, but no one will ever can a jar of green beans like my Aunt Bessie did.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Daddy Memories

Today would have been my Daddy, Jimmie Hollen's 91st birthday. He was a grand man, honest, humble, good an' kind. He didn't believe in talkin' bad about folks. Didn't care for gossip. Not much of a talker at all.

I remember the last time I stayed all night at their place. Mom had sinus surgery in the middle of March, 2004 and went back to the hospital the same because she started hemorrhagin'. 

Daddy stayed with her all day without anythin' to eat. I was workin' out of town, about an hour away. Daddy wasn't much for usin' a telephone. When the hospital contacted me I came immediately and Daddy had been there with Mom, never leavin' her side since mornin'. There was a restaurant in the hospital an' I was able to get him somethin' to eat.

I decided to take him home and stay the night with him after they admitted Mom. He just had not been feelin' well. We stopped at Captain D's restaurant an' we both ordered fried catfish, hushpuppies and fries. Daddy ate like he was starvin'.

"Pretty good, huh Pappy?"

"Yeah man!" was his reply.

What I didn't know, what none of us knew was he was already dyin'. Cancer was spread all over his body. Just weeks later the Dr. thought he had bronchitis and he was on strong antibiotics. He went to the hospital on April 4th, 2004 an' died 41 days later. 

Just 41 days to tell him a lifetime's worth of love, care and thankfulness.

I've never forgotten that evening with him, him makin' sure the bed in the spare room was made up. Layin' there and sayin' "Good night Pappy" one last time as I laid me down to sleep.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanks Be

4:30 a.m. and I have been awake for a while already. Coffee is hot, sweet with sugar and pumpkin spice creamer (my only cup today or any day.
A day of giving thanks. 

First I am Thankful for my Lord and the Grace He showed AND shows to me. For the woman I love, Oh My Darlin', our kids, Kelly, Morgan and Mark, who are all grown and gone, but never far away with lives of their own. For their good health, good minds. 

Sometimes raising them was like juggling cats, chuckle. There was and is nothing I loved more than sitting at the supper table as our little family, holding hands and praying.

And our grandsons, Chase and Chandler. I never understood the love and strength of a grandparent till I was one. Blessed with the memory of the 4 minute backyard camp out. I am blessed.

We were both blessed with Christian parents who loved us, took us to Church and showed us how to live a Christian life. I am thankful for their love, their lives, their examples. Mildred and Linc who took care of my Darlin', who raised her to be the woman I love. To my Mom, with all her little flaws, who prayed for two boys and then loved them, AND because she made a promise to God, took them to Church by herself till Daddy became a Christian. My Daddy, quiet, humble and unassuming, my hero. How I miss him, how I was blessed to be his son. I was doubly blessed.

Can't forget my little brother Mike. Neither of us are little anymore, both have passed those birthdays we don't brag about anymore. We were always "Those Hollen boys"... (ornery, into everything and racing through childhood side by side as little boys) And I won't forget his family. I am blessed.

Oh, and for my extended family, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Great Aunts and Uncles and Cousins, lots and lots of Cousins on both sides as I was growing up, always around, always near, always full of love for me. I am thankful for each of them. I had no idea that not everyone counted even third cousins as "immediate family". So many gone now. How I miss them. As I sit here this morning I see in my mind's eye Thanksgivings past, food heaped high, Uncles and Aunts, Grandparents gathered around tables with heads bowed, giving thanks. I see Aunts with their back to us, cooking and talking, happy to care for those they loved. And I see simple meals, pork neck bones, fried taters, greens, corn bread and work worn hands sharing all they had. I am blessed.

I have been particularly blessed by pretty good health, a sound, creative and inquisitive mind, a Gift of Voice, given by God when He called me to serve Him. Yes, I am blessed daily by Him

I am thankful for a life full of several careers along the way, for those who had faith in me and hired me, yep, even for those who mourned with me as the economy caused them to let me go. I wouldn't be a full time storyteller today if not for that crash a few years ago. "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." I Thessalonians 5:18 (I didn't always see the blessings that came from hardships, but am thankful for hindsight and the ability to see God's hands)

Did I mention Oh My Darlin', my Linda Lou, who loves me, puts up with my multiple personalities, takes care of me, who is my best friend, who encourages me, who is THERE. Boy, always being there counts for a lot, doesn't it? I am thankful I am growing old with her by my side.

Thankful for my high school roomie, best friend for life, prayer partner back then and co-conspirator. The only boy I knew who actually had blue suede shoes, who introduced me to Sam and Dave, to Otis Redding, who would sneak to my dresser and snitch my "Goober Jelly" (jelly and peanut butter in the same jar). He who would lay in bed across the room and talk till the early morning hours about girls, life, the future, Jesus, God and pretty much anything else that came to our minds... Bob Clark.

For those along the way who taught me, showed me and illustrated through their voices, their careers, their care and concern how to do what I do; Carolyn Spadafora Cox -High School teacher who introduced me to my voice and the spoken word, Georgetown College professors, Edwina Snyder, Margaret Thornton Greynolds, and especially Joe Ferrell who helped me learn to speak, to feel, to use the instrument of body, emotion, voice and inflection. Frederick Foster who stood on the stage in the old Giddings Hall at Georgetown College in the fall of 1971 (my Freshman year) and spoke the words of a poem (which I no longer remember) into life and made me hope to learn to do the same. And Dr. Hal K Pettegrew, who encouraged me to tell my stories.

For these things, for today, yesterday and my tomorrows, Thank you Lord Jesus. I am blessed.