Wednesday, July 25, 2018

SUMMER ON MADISON AVENUE by E. E. Kennedy


    


No, I don’t mean that Madison Avenue, as in Mad Men. I mean the wide, bustling street that runs right through the center of Montgomery, Alabama, ending eventually at the Capitol building. My grandmother’s house stood (and still stands) on the corner of Madison and Florida Avenue, in a neighborhood called Capitol Heights, just two blocks from a Methodist Church and a mile or so down the road from the Farmer’s Market. It’s at the center of my childhood memories of summer. 
A little background: my mom and dad met and married when they worked at a military hospital in 1946 and though she was an Alabama girl, they chose to settle in his territory, northern New York State, where they raised three children: me, my brother and my sister. This mixed marriage of a Yankee and Southerner proved to be a happy one. My dad was always eager to please my mom, so we vacationed paradoxically. We spent most of the year up North where winters were bitter cold, and in the summer, we trekked the three-day, 1,327-mile trip to sunny, hot Alabama. It wasn’t the easiest of journeys. Remember, this was the fifties, where the roads tended to have one-lanes and the choice of accommodations were between a slightly seedy tourist cabin or an expensive hotel room. What’s more, our car had no air conditioning!
Nonetheless, our annual trips to Alabama were magical for us children and Grandmother’s house played a big part in that. It was large one-story Arts and Crafts, a style that was popular early in the 1900’s. It had high, high ceilings in the front room and carved cherubs over the fireplace. Massive pocket doors divided the living room from the parlor and the windows were probably eight feet tall, with rolling shades that you pulled down with a string. One giant bathroom served the four bedrooms. You pulled a chain to flush the toilet and the bathtub had feet. A large box of wooden matches served as an air freshener. 
Best of all was the front porch. It was broad, made of cement, running almost the entire width of the front of the house. Two or
three heavy metal chairs stood on one side of the entry door. They made a loud scraping sound when grownups dragged them closer to the long and even heavier porch glider. That thing must have been styled after a green Oldsmobile sedan, with broad metal arms resembling bumpers that featured flip-top ashtrays on each side. It provided room enough on the plastic padded seats for three stout adults or six slim children. Grandmother periodically added additional padding by storing magazines under the cushions. When we ran out of things to do, we could always curl up with a copy of Life, Lookor The Saturday Evening Post
     It was on this porch that the family photos were made: the grownups holding the new babies, my Grandmother dressed up, ready for church, or a gathering of all the grandchildren on the front steps. 
Grandmother’s front yard matched the size of her house. It was wide and deep. She was an avid gardener and on either side of the porch she invariably had a dense patch of flame-colored "flags" or canna lilies. The color was always dazzling. In the lawn, we grandchildren gathered clover blossoms to make chains and played hopscotch on the sidewalk and Mother-May-I on the porch’s front steps. When we got really hot, we’d escape to the shade of the porch and get that heavy glider swinging back and forth until it tilted dangerously.
One of our favorite things to do was to walk around the block--all by ourselves, no grownups—to buy popsicles at the little mom and pop store that had been there as long as anybody could remember. The store had a screen door with a metal ad for bread across the front. It would squeak as we entered. Sometimes we’d buy a bottle of Orange Crush or Grapico from the big water-filled mechanical cooler that stood just inside. 
Sometimes, my mother and grandmother would drive down the road to the Farmer’s Market. I found produce shopping pretty boring, but always enjoyed the wonderful things we brought back with us. Daddy would cut us a length of sugar cane to suck on or we’d share a soggy bag of salty boiled peanuts, two treats we could never get up North. 
Another special treat was having lunch at a restaurant we called the Pulleybone, conveniently located on our way home from the Market. I don't remember what the real name was. We had to be sure to get to the place early, or they’d run out of pulleybones (wishbones), which was that section of the bird that contained the tastiest, juiciest white meat. If we did arrive late, we’d have to settle for drumsticks or thighs or ordinary breast meat instead.
After these shopping trips, Grandmother and Mommy would get busy in the kitchen. We could tell from the smells what we’d be having for supper: fresh green beans with new potatoes, fried eggplant and chicken fried steak, hot and crispy, plus homemade biscuits and jam made from the figs that grew on the tree out back. Grandmother was a great cook and had two trendy specialties she served to company: a kind of omelet that she called her “Egg Roll,” which I liked, and Pear Salad, which I didn’t. (Recipes to follow.) She also taught me to like tomato aspic and homemade pimento cheese sandwiches. She had a huge pantry with long shelves where she kept cartons of canned goods, including Vienna sausage (pronounced Vi-een-ah), jars of Hellman’s Mayonnaise and (to my horror) an entire case of canned brains and eggs! I never had the courage to ask Grandmother about that. I was afraid she might open a can and want me to taste it! 
Also in the pantry were several wooden trays containing small bottles of Coca-cola, stacked one on top of the other. The trays had neat little squares for each bottle. Grandmother would keep a few small bottles--the size that generally sold for a nickel apiece in those days--in the back of her refrigerator where it was cold enough to cause the cola to freeze a little. This would how she preferred her cokes, with what she called "shake ice." We loved it, too, because back home, we weren't allowed to have soda very often. We had to be careful to rinse out the empty bottles (so as not to attract bugs) and replace them in the wooden trays so they could be returned to the store. Grandmother took in "roomers," who rented the bedrooms at the other end of the house.  This gave her the status of a business and entitled her to buy huge quantities of groceries and other products from wholesale warehouses. There weren't any Sam's or BJ's back then, and ordinary people couldn't do that. 
The kitchen table was where my grandmother kept her     Bible
and her current copy of Upper Room magazine. Whether we were far away or near, we always knew that every morning, our Grandmother would be sitting at that table with her Bible open. She'd read a Bible passage, the Upper Room devotional for the day and then pray for each one of us. It was a good feeling to know that.
Unless we could get our parents to let us stay up for the fireflies, we were in bed before dark, teeth brushed and prayers said, each in our own twin bed in the big room that used to be the parlor. At home, I’d have been bundled under a sheet, a bedspread and a blanket, but at Grandmother’s it was so hot, we could hardly bear the weight of a single cotton layer. I always kicked away the chenille bedspread. The beds were under the tall screen windows and we could drowsily eavesdrop on the grownups as they reminisced on the front porch to the rhythmic tune of the crickets. I learned a lot about our family tree that way. 
When Grandmother died, the family sold the house. After we'd grown up, several of the grandchildren expressed a wish to buy it back again, but that has never come to pass. Instead, we content ourselves with the memories and pictures of those precious, long-ago summers. 


GRANDMOTHER’S EGG ROLL (2 servings)
(A childhood favorite of mine)
4 large eggs, beaten
1 can of asparagus, drained (about 6 stalks)
1 small can of mushroom stems and pieces, drained 
1 can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, combined with enough water to make a gravy, heated 
Butter to grease the pan.
Melt butter in the pan. Pour in eggs and allow to become firm. Lay the asparagus stalks across half of the omelet and scatter as many mushrooms as you like on top. Gently pull the empty half of the omelet over the filling and move to a large serving plate. Pour warmed mushroom gravy over the omelet and serve. Sliced tomatoes on the side are good with this. 


PEAR SALAD (6 servings)
(This recipe is okay. I didn’t like it as a child.)
6 canned pear halves, chilled and drained
Lettuce leaves
1 cup of cottage cheese
1/4 cup of mayonnaise
½ cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
maraschino cherries (optional)

Arrange pear halves on a bed of lettuce on a serving platter. Fill the center of each pear with some cottage cheese and dot with a little bit of mayonnaise. Top that with a generous sprinkle of cheese and top that off with a cherry. 
(My favorite part was always the cherry, but back then, I had strict personal rules about the indiscriminate use of mayonnaise. Tomato sandwiches, okay. On pears, not so much.)
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E. E. Kennedy is the author of the Miss Prentice cozy mystery series. The titles include: Irregardless of Murder, Death Dangles a Participle, Murder in the Past Tense and Incomplete Sentence. They're available on Kindle and the first book is now in Amazon Audible form.
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Comment or ask a question below for a chance to win an e-copy of one of the Miss Prentice cozy mysteries, your choice! Be sure to leave your EMAIL ADDRESS so we can put your name in the hat!


21 comments:

  1. Wow! Your grandma and mine could have been friends! Only she was in Pennsylvania! She had an old green glider on the porch. We used to go out at night with our cousins and have scavenger hunts for several square blockas! Our little store was back across the alley. We had to step on tar bubnles sometimes with our bare feet! I remember those wooden cartons of coke in grandma’s pantry. A treat indeed! My grandma took in boarders in her furnished , nice attic. They were white -collar workers from the factory across the street. They went back home after several years and came back for her funeral. When she was in failing health, she had the neighbor girl come and read her Bible to her. They became very close! Her house has stayed in the family. My cousin owns it now. You really stirred the memories! Thanks paulams49ATsbcglobalDOTnet

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    1. I only wish they could have known each other! Glad you were reminded of your own grandma. Blessings, Ellen

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  2. I love this, reminded me so much of my Grandma! Especially the cold cokes in the back of the fridge!

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    1. I can almost taste those cokes! They were so refreshing!

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  3. My grandmothers both had died before I was born, but I had aunts almost old enough to be my grandmother and I loved going to their houses. Thanks for bringing back the memories!

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    1. These memories apply to all those we love!

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  4. Loved this post! I grew up and still live in Tuscaloosa Alabama. So much of what you mentioned remind me of my growing up years. Nothing like the good ole days!
    tumcsec(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. My parents met at Northington Hospital! They always had such fond memories of Tuscaloosa! Me, too. I attended grad school there!

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  5. Oh, I remember those metal chairs!! My grandparents had some on their front porch, too. They were still there when I was in my 30's!
    As far as that salad goes, I loved it! My mom let me make it all the time for the family. My dad wasn't thrilled with it but, he ate it just because I made it. Ellen, this is Bev-I have no idea why megsmom started to show up.
    duellonlysis(at)aol(dot)com

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    1. Hi, Bev! They don't make porch chairs like they used to, do they? Good luck in the drawing!

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  6. Growing up I had one grandmother in the city and another on a farm. Both visits were always a lot of fun and very different.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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    1. It wasn't until I became a grandparent that I realized how loved I was by mine. I know you have some lovely memories!

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  7. Loved reading this Ellen! I see many familiar faces in the front porch picture. �� We have friends that moved from Shreveport to Montgomery several years ago, so Bill and I decided to go see them. We, of course, drive up and down Madison Avenue specifically to see Bill’s Grandmother’s home. It was still there, just painted a different color. Lots of stories were told that day, including the story about the store where the popsicles were bought. Thanks for this - I will share it with Bill.

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    1. Please give Bill my love. It was fun to relive those days. I plan to do more memory-searching. So great to be in touch with you, Pat! You have a beautiful family!

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  8. How often do you make the recipes?

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

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    1. Not very often, I'm afraid! My family isn't very fond of canned asparagus. I liked it when my grandmother made it, though. She even prepared it for one of my college boyfriends!

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  9. I look forward to reading your books. I enjoy supporting fellow Christian authors. Clint Smith - inspirational thriller author - FAITH AND THE FORMULA - deeds publishing

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    1. I hope you enjoy them, Chris. I just wrote what I thought I'd like to read.

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  10. Hi! Thank you for the opportunity to enter a giveaway! Would love to win a print copy, especially since you are a new author to me. Thanks, again, and God bless! Lual Krautter krautter12ATbresnanDOTnet

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  11. Congratulations to Gail H. She's the winner of the Miss Prentice Kindle ebook of her choice!

    ReplyDelete