The Great Throwing-Away: Quilts

Today’s Great Throwing-Away was more of a Great Packing-Away, but I’m stopping for a brief post. Anything to take me away from the task at hand.

Like my mother’s cookbook and her high school diploma, three quilts will stay with me.

The first is a baby blanket my mother’s mother, Mary Veazey Barrow, made for me. It’s blue, the safe color, since at the time no self-respecting boy would have been seen curled up under a pink blanket. Today there are no boy or girl colors, but I suspect blue is still the safe one.

The second is a quilt my great-grandmother, Nettie Eastwood Woodward (“Granny”) made for my dad. I don’t know exactly how old it is, but Granny died in 1940, so I assume it was made in the ’20s or ’30s–close to a hundred years old, anyway. I spent hours under that quilt during my sinus infection years and occupied myself by contemplating the one-inch squares of reds and blues and yellows and the tiny stitches binding them together. Today I look at it and think of the work that went into just piecing the top.

 

My grandfather Waller provided fabric for the third quilt. He chain-smoked Bull Durham roll-your-own cigarettes. After my grandmother died, when he was thirty-five, he lived on his farm but ate many of his meals at his mother’s house in town, and, consequently, did a lot of smoking there, too.

When he emptied a tobacco sack, he set it on the radio table in the living room. His older sister, Ethel, who lived there, got tired of picking up the sacks and decided to see how long he would let them stack up before he moved them. I gather he let them stack up as long as she waited to see how long he would let them stack up . . . etc.

Finally, she collected them, cut them open, washed them, and pieced two quilt backs, one for each of my grandfather’s youngest sons. But she never got around to making the quilts. When I was in my twenties, my uncle Donald’s wife and mother-in-law matched one of the backs with a sheet and made a quilt for me.

 

The Great Throwing-Away: Tomato Soup Cake

The Great Throwing-Away continues to unearth items I refuse to throw away.

Today it’s The Household Searchlight Recipe Book my mother acquired, according to the inside cover, in 1940.

It’s had a hard life. I referred to page 77 repeatedly during my Divinity Phase, when I was eleven. Every rainy weekend—and there were more of them back them—I made divinity. It never set. I knew it wouldn’t, and I didn’t care. I didn’t like divinity all that much, but I enjoyed using the candy thermometer. The divinity always turned out sticky and had to be eaten with a spoon, but it was perfectly good.

Anyway, the highlight of the cookbook appears in the back, written in pencil, under “Additional Recipes”: Tomato Soup Spice Cake.

I grew up hearing the Legend of the Tomato Soup Cake: “Ted [my mother’s uncle Ted Lynn] was always saying, ‘Crys, when are you going to make me a tomato soup cake?’ That was his favorite.” For some reason, maybe because my father was more of a chocolate- and lemon meringue pie addict, I never got a glimpse of the cake. I don’t think I wanted to. I was addicted to Campbell’s tomato soup (cream of, made with milk and mushy with saltine crackers) but cake and tomato soup sounded incompatible (like bleh). I was in my twenties when I finally insisted on seeing what Ted was so crazy about.

Well, Ted was right. For anyone who likes spice cake, this is the one. For anyone who doesn’t like spice cake, this could be a game changer. The layers are velvety. The icing is a candy in itself.

My mother got the recipe from—if I remember correctly—the wife of the Methodist minister in Martindale, Texas, in the late 1930s. Instructions were dictated and lack detail. I’ve inserted a few extra steps in brackets. Some I remember doing myself. My mom might have directed the operation the first time I baked it, or she might have written out a fuller version for me.

And before anyone asks, I have no idea how to define a scant teaspoon.

Tomato Soup Spice Cake

Layers

2 cups tomato soup [2 cups canned soup, not the entire two cans]
1 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs – optional
1 handful raisins
2 scant tsp. soda

[A wisp of memory said to dredge raisins in flour before mixing with other ingredients. Specifically, I remember saying, “What does, ‘Dredge raisins mean?'” BUT, on second thought, I believe dredged raisins went into my grandmother’s applesauce cake, not into the tomato soup cake. I hate to make this difficult, but I haven’t baked either since the 1980s.*]

Cream butter and sugar, add 2 scant teaspoons soda to soup and add to sugar and butter mixture.

Sift together:

4 scant cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cloves
3 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. all spice
1/2 tsp. mace (or nutmeg)

[Add sifted dry ingredients to wet ingredients and blend.]

Add 3 tsp. vanilla to mixture.

Makes 2 large or 3 medium layers. [For best results, make 3 layers. See “Further instructions from Kathy,” below.]

[Pour into cake pans. Bake. Possibly at 350 degrees.]

Icing

This:

1 Phila. cream cheese
? powdered sugar
? vanilla

[The corner of the page is missing, so I don’t know how much powdered sugar and vanilla are called for. Check online, act on experience, or guess. But if the online recipe calls for butter, don’t add it.]

or [and!]

This:

1 C milk
2 C sugar
1 C dates [Pitted dates. And a warning: 1 cup doesn’t sound like enough. In fact, I’m not sure this makes enough icing to cover three layers. If you increase the recipe and have some left over, that will be all right, because the extra can be eaten as candy.]

Boil to soft ball and add dates before taking off.

Add 1 tablespoon butter afterward.

[Another warning: After butter is added, the icing may need to be beaten a bit. I think it does. Fudge and pecan pralines do.]

 

Further instructions from Kathy:

Now. This is what the all the fuss was about.

Make 3 layers.

Make the second “This” icing with milk, sugar, and dates. Ice the tops of layers.

Make the first “This” icing with cream cheese. Ice the sides of the cake.

My experience: Do not try to slice in wedges. The candy icing hardens/sets and can make slicing difficult.

Instead, bisect the cake—a bread knife and a light touch can help—and then make cuts perpendicular to the cross cut. (The icing might have hardened because I cooked it too long. But I think it’s supposed to set that way. Like divinity does when the humidity is low.)

I’ve seen similar recipes online, but none looks like it would match this beast. Combine three layers of light, velvety cake with two kinds of icing, and the end product is simply devastating.

The Tomato Soup Cake recipe is included in a cookbook published by the Fentress Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary (or maybe it was the church?) in the 1970s or ’80s. I don’t have my copy any more, so I can’t verify, but one of the ingredients may have been recorded incorrectly. I seem to remember—lots of my memories are wispy these days—using it and coming out with an unexpected result.

According to WorldCat, The Household Searchlight Recipe Book is housed in the collections of the Turpin Library (Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX), the Texas Woman’s University Library (Denton, TX), the Marfa Public Library (Marfa, TX), the Alcorn State University Library (Lorman, MS), the Perry Memorial Library (Perryton, TX), and the Conway Springs City Library (Conway Springs, KS).

It receives excellent reviews on Goodreads. Various editions are available on Amazon.

***

*I haven’t baked much of anything since the 1980s.

The Great Throwing-Away: Martindale High School

The Great Throwing-Away continues. I opened a bin I thought contained photographs but found more paper than photos. Cards. Letters. Newspaper clippings. Little bits of life.

And my mother’s diploma from Martindale High School in Martindale, Texas, which she received May 31, 1935. It’s signed by Chas. E. Lumpkin, Superintendent; Ruby C. Slaughter, Principal; and J. E. Carnes, Secretary of the Board of Trustees. I can’t decipher the school board president’s name.

The diploma was folded inside a little booklet embossed on the outside with the letter M.

I held one corner down with the copy of Twelfth Night she read for an English class at Mary Hardin Baylor College, and the other with a copy of Liz Carpenter’s Ruffles and Flourishes, given to her many years later by Nell Waller, a dear friend.

On the last page of the booklet, there’s a note from the superintendent.

 

Petting Zoos, Methodists, and Misbehavior

The petting zoo has come to BookPeople!

Consequently, the average age in the coffee shop–aka my office–is considerably lower than usual. I estimate it at approximately two.

Normally I filter out noise and activity to concentrate on writing. The ability to hyperfocus is a gift.

Today, however, what’s going on around me is more interesting than the story to be revised.

Behind and to the right, a little-bitty with black eyes and a pixie cut sings, “E-I-E-I-OOOOO.” She began in atonal mode but soon picked up the melody.

Directly behind me, a little boy I imagine as blond protested. “I don’t like to sit down.” Then he shrieked and wailed.

“OoooooooooooooooooOoooooooooooooooooOooooooooooooooo.” Finally he settled down to snuffling. I assume at some point, probably while the Ooooooooos were wearing down, he sat. Now he’s either resigned to his fate or he’s left the store.

There’s been a lot of wailing today. I don’t know why, considering the petting zoo is here. Maybe it’s tension. Maybe it’s that little kids are like adults: some days you get out of bed in a snit and you just have to share it.

Mothers have changed since I was a child. In my day, a mother would have taken the child outside and given him a choice: behave or go home and not get to see the animals or have a cookie or whatever special treat has been promised. I don’t know a child who was actually hauled home, and I don’t know a parent who meant what she–or he–said, but generally things quieted down a bit.

Something similar happened to me when I was a child. But I wasn’t offered a choice. And I wasn’t hauled home. I imagine a lot of people wished I had been.

At church one Sunday, the Methodist little-bitties–or, as one of my teacher friends calls them, ankle-biters–were all decked out to stand at the front and sing a song. Our teacher, who should have known better, had seated us in a pew, side-by-side. While the adults were doing their thing, Helen Ruth and I took the opportunity to converse.

My parents sat in the pew right behind us. They disapproved of talking during the service. My father picked me up, took me out on the front porch, and gave me a swat.

137
First United Methodist Church of Fentress, 2015. By MKW.

Ours was a small country church, and Daddy and I were maybe twenty feet from the back pew, so the congregation got the full benefit of my caterwauling.

And when we returned to the sanctuary, I refused to perform with the rest of the class.

Have I mentioned I don’t remember any of this?

Talking in church got me in trouble, but the swat got Daddy in trouble.

Because Mother blamed him for my declining to stand in front of the communion rail and be cute–and she was right; no way would I display myself in front of a bunch of people who’d heard that swat–and she stayed righteously indignant for the rest of her life. Periodically, she would say, “I was so mad at your father. All he had to do was lean over and say, ‘Girls, stop talking.'”

What really got her goat was that I refused to perform in Sunday school programs for several years thereafter.

I can’t fault my father, however. An inexperienced parent, he was trying to do the right thing.

Knowing what I do about myself, I’m sure I was angry and embarrassed. I was an eminently embarrassable child. I was also obstinate.

I know something else, too.

Years later my parents and I were sitting in the First Methodist Church in San Marcos, waiting for the choir to perform selections from The Messiah, when Daddy said, “I haven’t been in this church since I was ten years old.” That was 1925. “I went to Sunday school with Johnny Graham [a cousin], and they made me stand up and say my name and where I was from, and I never went back again.”

So there you are. Embarrassable is hereditary. So is obstinacy.

It gives me satisfaction to know that if my father had been removed to the front porch and given a swat, he wouldn’t have just refused to sing with his Sunday school class.

My father would have waited fifty years before he darkened that Methodist door.

 ***

I started this post for the purpose of telling a personal anecdote about a petting zoo but somehow got off onto Methodists and lost my way back. Because I have much more experience with Methodists–and Presbyterians and Baptists–than I do with petting zoos, it’ll be a while before I return to the animals. But that’s okay, because the church stories are a lot more interesting. And you won’t read them anywhere else.

A 100-Year-Old Person: The View from Kindergarten

What does a 100-year-old person look like?

For their 100-day anniversary, kindergarteners were asked to come to school dressed as 100-year-olds.

This Aged P. is a member of my family, but, as is obvious from our respective photographs, I am considerably younger than she.

Memorial Day 2013: All My Boys

Marshall Barrow, Mary Veazey Barrow Worden, Barbara Barrow, Bertha Arnold, Betty Barrow, Mary Phereby Veazey Barrow, Crystal Barrow (Waller)
Marshall Lyle Barrow, Mary Veazey Barrow Worden, Barbara Barrow, Bertha Arnold, Betty Lyle Barrow, Mary Phereby Veazey Barrow*, Crystal Barrow (Waller), ca. 1935

My grandparents, Mary and Marshall Barrow, had four children. My grandfather had been certain that each prospective baby would be a boy, but he ended up instead with four daughters.

One evening shortly before his death in the spring of 1940, he was lying in bed, listening to a radio broadcast of news of war in Europe. He knew the United States would eventually be drawn into the fighting.

Turning to my grandmother, he said, “I’ve lived to see the day when I’m grateful that all my boys are girls.”

*****

*My aunt Barbara found this photograph with my grandmother’s face cut out, so she pasted one in from another photo.

Crystal

Crystal Barrow, ~ 1919
Crystal Barrow, ~ 1919

For my mother
born in Martindale, Texas, 1917
In all her seventy-five years, she never grew old.

*

The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.

The golden brooch my mother wore
She left behind for me to wear;
I have no thing I treasure more:
Yet, it is something I could spare.

Oh, if instead she’d left to me
The thing she took into the grave!-
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay