Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The day was really beautiful, that Sunday. I went back to the Edwina Church of God in Jesus' Name and this time I went alone. Friend Scott has been working really hard with a construction company and is not always available to accompany me on my jaunts.

I will probably just share some pictures and general impressions with you this time. My observations during this trip have more to do with issues I feel would be better addressed later. I think this trip said more to me about Pastor Jimmy's struggle to document and archive the history of his church. And by doing so, to project a future for his people and the followers of The Signs.

There were almost as many observers there this Sunday as there were worshipers. They were all very important intellectuals and artists... well, except for me. One of them was an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Morten Parker, who I, myself, had studied when I was an undergrad. Dr. Ralph Hood, Jimmy's collaborator and editor, was there and I got a chance to tell him how much I admired his work on Handling Serpents. He must have had to fight very hard to preserve Jimmy's "voice" for that work. There was also a very wonderful and talented photographer named Don Dudenbostel who I really enjoyed and hope to see more of.

Pastor Jimmy attracts such lofty company, not just because of the fact that he practices a form of Christianity that is looked upon with curiosity from the outside world, but also because he is such a open and giving person. There are, after all, other Holiness churches that live by The Signs. I think that Pastor Jimmy's dedication and scholarship attracts like-minded people.

He explained the hand-burned wooden gates that hang on either side of the pulpit. He made them himself so that the children would know when there were snakes in boxes behind the dividing wall that separates the congregation from the stage. If the gates are closed, the children know they must sing on the other side of the wall. When no snakes are present, the children are welcome to come back and sing on the stage.

I was also interested that my perceptions of Pastor Jimmy's relationship with his wife, Pam, were also shared by the other observers. At one point in the service, Pam got up to sing in that amazing Lorretta Lynn voice of hers and Jimmy grinned like a teenager. He ducked his head shyly and said, "That's my Baby Doll!"

My heart gave a little lurch just watching the love these two shared. If you are anything like me, it does your heart good to see two people so in love.

Today, Pastor Jimmy had two Osage Copperheads with him. This subspecies of copperhead does not actually live in this area but lives in eastern Missouri to eastern Kansas and south to northeastern Oklahoma. Pastor Jimmy says these snakes came from Oregon. Most people assume that they only handle the serpents indigenous to the local area. They call successfully handling a serpent "claiming victory". In other words, Jesus has allowed them to claim victory over the serpent. Pastor Jimmy has claimed victory over many species of poisonous serpents, including Black Mambas, Cobras, Taipans, Death Adders and Australian Brown Snakes.

The list is probably much more extensive and I will probably have to sit down with Jimmy and figure out exactly which species he has handled. It may be easier to point out the ones he has not handled.

Another thing that strikes me is how delicate and prayerful Pastor Jimmy's hands become when he handles serpents. There is something very uncanny about it and I wonder if this is an element of the "anointing". I've read about some people who become so anointed that the snake actually dies.

But Pastor Jimmy handles them with reverence and delicacy.

When the snakes are not being used in services, they are kept much as any herpetological enthusiast keeps snakes. They are fed mice and kept with a heat source and in climate controlled conditions ideal for their species. They are largely wild-caught snakes. Pastor Jimmy sets out sheets of tin as traps to catch them. Sometimes, he is called to a place where he knows there will be a snake by an inner voice he attributes to God. After a time, he releases them into the wild. He does not do this with the more exotic species, but his wild-caught indigenous snakes return to the wild after a time.

As always, I came away with something from Pastor Jimmy's service. This time, I left thoughtful. I met some really wonderful people of the sort that I ran with in my former life. It was a lovely treat for me. It was a bit surreal to meet them in the cozy confines of Pastor Jimmy's church, rather than at an art opening at the High Museum or a theater reception at the Alliance....or any of the other venues in large cities or small countries I've called home in my life. There, we might have politely smiled as we sipped our bad champagne and wondered when we could leave and get these painful shoes off our tortured feet.

But I no longer wear painful shoes. It's true that I occasionally miss the comradery of other highly educated people. But as I've often said, there are different kinds of "smart".

When I came home, I put on my barn clothes and went out on my back porch and called my milking does to me. As I sat next to the milking stanchion, rythmically coaxing the two gallons of milk I get each day from the girls, I hummed softly. I could see practically to North Carolina from my perch, 300 feet above Big Creek. The air was clean and there were no traffic sounds.

I don't wear painful shoes anymore. And somehow, that I ever did, seems odder to me than snakes in a church.

And that was the lesson I took home that Sunday from Pastor Jimmy's church.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Erica has tagged me for this....despite the fact that my taste in films has nothing whatsoever to do with Appalachia.

This meme is actually a puzzle. And everyone mostly loves puzzles, right? Basically, I will give you the key words for the films as they appear in the IMDb and you get to guess which films I'm referring to.

Here are some of my favorite films...guess which ones they are....

1. Asia / 16th Century / Hope / Katana Sword / Showdown
2. Parallel World / Greed / Buddhist / Bathhouse / Bathing
3. Visually Impaired Person / Blindness / Blind / Police / Deputy
4. Wuxia Fiction / Messiah / Historical / Kung Fu / Martial Arts
5. Charm / Young Woman / Portal / Vanity / Dog
6. Hand Grenade / Pastiche / Eiffel Tower Paris / Very Little Dialogue / Baby Carriage
7. Ants / Controversial / Anti Clericalism / Surreal / Eye Injury
8. China / Wuxia Fiction / Christ Allegory / Visual Poetry / Asia
9. Surreal / Samurai / William Shakespeare / Shakespeare's Macbeth / Jidai Geki
10. Cremation / Gymnastics / Beach / Bombing / Aunt

All two of my Asian readers will probably get most of these.
Two of the films are not Asian.
None of the films are ones that my sister or I worked on.
At least two directors are repeated.
Extra pats on the back for including the English and foreign titles.

I will tag...

Pissed Off Housewife (since she is show folk like I used to be)
Betsy the Goat Yoda (since she has deep wisdom beyond goats and I'm curious!)
GoogieBaba (who will soon not have time for this nonsense)

I would tag Chris, if he had a blog, since I think he would enjoy this meme very much.

Pick out ten favorite movies, then look them up at IMDb. In the overview at the top of each movie's page, there are "Plot Keywords," usually five of them. (Plus more, if you click the link.) Take the first five, and post them. Then the rest of us get to play movie buff and see if we can guess them.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I like eggs....

The television was blaring in the living room when Tarn came in from weed-whacking.

He liked weed-whacking. It was probably his favorite thing to do outside. He liked taking the lawn mower apart too. But weed-whacking was better. He liked the way the invisible line seemed to make the weeds fall down. But you couldn't see how it did it.

He wondered for a while how that worked. It was a great mystery.

The boy came in from haying and plopped down on the couch. He was hot and sweaty.

Tarn looked at him from the big overstuffed chair.

"I've been weed-whacking. I like to weed-whack."

"We know, Tarn." Said Buddy, rolling his eyes a bit. "Let's take apart the lawn mower!"

Tarn chewed his lip a moment. He knew he'd get in trouble if he took the lawn mower apart again. He'd just done it yesterday.

"Oh, no you don't!" Hollered Sadie from the kitchen.

Tarn wondered how she seemed to always know what was going through his head.

It was another great mystery. It peeved him, having Sadie know what he was thinking. He sure would like to take apart that lawnmower this evening.

Sadie came into the dining room and put down a plate of biscuits. The food for supper was almost done. She stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips and a slightly sour expression on her face.

"No, Tarn, you are taking a bath tonight. I mean it. It's past time."

Tarn screwed his face up. She had seemed to do it again. He wished she would get out of his head. He didn't know how she did that.

"Took a bath last week." He said.

"And you are taking another tonight." Sadie's tone broached no argument.

Tarn squirmed in his chair. He hated getting wet.

But Sadie was right. Tarn's thinning gray hair was slick with oil and dirt and plastered to his skull. The skin on his neck was dark with ground in dirt. He never really thought he smelled bad. But he sort of did.

He glued his eyes to the television in an attempt to ignore Sadie. A handsome man was on there holding an egg.

"I sure do like eggs." Said Tarn.

The TV man said, "This is your brain."

Tarn looked at it confused for a moment. He knew an egg when he saw one. Not that he didn't like brains. Brains were good, especially scrambled with eggs. The TV man must be confused, he thought. Brains and eggs were good eating so it was easy to confuse the two, thought Tarn.

"That's an egg. I like eggs." He said.

"No, Tarn, that's that there drug commercial." Said Buddy.

The screen cut to a close-up of an egg frying in a frying pan. It was all greasy looking and popping in the pan. Tarn felt his mouth fill with saliva as he imagined the smell of eggs frying in butter, their edges crispy and the yolk runny and done just right.

"This is your brain on drugs." Said the TV man.

"See, Tarn," said Buddy, "he's pretending the egg is your brain and if you take drugs, your brain will fry. Get it?"

Tarn was transfixed by that egg frying. It looked delicious.

"I like eggs. I 'specially likes them when somebody else fries them up for me. Yes, I do."

Buddy rolled his eyes.

The TV man came back on and said, "Any questions?"

Tarn thought the TV man was in his head. He did indeed have a question.

"Can we have fried eggs for supper? 'Cause I sure do like eggs. I really do."

One of the local beauty spots is, curiously, the local dump.

Our Mistress of the Dump, Barbara, is a very accomplished organic gardener. All summer long, the lowly dump is ablaze with wisteria, hollyhocks, iris', sunflowers and tetch-me-nots. She has cherry and apple trees planted around the perimeter and always plants things attractive to butterflies and birds.

It makes an onerous task all the more pleasant.

It's also a great place to catch up on all the local gossip.

I hope you are having a very happy Sunday.

I'm off to Snake Church now.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Today's Food Porn Friday is dedicated to my brother, Bob. It's his birthday today and I thought I might share what I remember as his favorite dessert when we were growing up. I love you, Big Brother!

Banana Pudding

When I mentioned to my friend, Laura, that I was doing Banana Pudding today in honor of my brother's birthday, she said in that broad Charleston drawl of hers, "Oh, yes, darling...It's the tiramisu of the South!"

It struck me strongly how very true this was. Both desserts are layered melanges of ingredients that speak to the cultures where they originate. Just as the combination of lady fingers, espresso and shaved chocolate can somehow transport you to the Tuscan countryside, Banana Pudding seems to invoke one's favorite memories of the South.

It is present at gatherings both high and low and is made in a variety of compositions. My mother favored a much simpler recipe than the one I am sharing with you today. She made it in a large Pyrex baking dish and the left-overs never lasted very long. The wait for it to "set" in the refrigerator was excruciating. I can remember my mother declaring loudly to all, "That Banana Pudding is for dinner! So nobody touch it!" It was a favorite of both my father and my brother. I can remember standing in front of the open fridge and sneaking spoonfuls of it.

Without further ado.....

Banana Pudding

One large bunch of Bananas (about 6)
One large box of Jell-O Instant Vanilla Pudding
3 cups cold milk
1 large container of Cool Whip
1 (8 oz.) container of sour cream
2 boxes of Nilla Vanilla Wafers

Line a large bowl or trifle dish with vanilla wafers, pretty side out. Make your vanilla pudding in a blender then pour into a large mixing bowl. Alternate layers of thinly sliced bananas and vanilla wafers until your trifle dish or bowl is full. Gently fold the sour cream and half of the Cool Whip in with the pudding, then pour over the layered vanilla wafers and bananas. Chill for at least six hours before spreading or piping the remaining Cool Whip on top, garnishing and serving.

Of course, there are ways of making this more complicated. You can use your own homemade boiled custard and/or use real whipped cream added just before serving. You may omit the sour cream and Cool Whip and make it much more simply than this. But do try it if you have never heard of this dessert before. I guarantee you will find a new family favorite.

For my brother.....

Bob, Frannie and Simone
coming over the dunes on St. Simon's Island, GA

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gotta Love 'em!

I'm not quite sure what has caused my fascination with the "long-ears" at this stage of my life. Perhaps it was meeting Aurthur Bullington, our famed local muleskinner.

Every spring, Aurthur hitches up his two mules, Blackjack and Sadie Mae and ploughs up his garden. As far as I know, it is the only workout the two mules get each year. Every once in a while, Aurthur will get a wild hair(or something!) and rides Sadie Mae down to the Big Creek Market, but mostly he's in his old truck.

Trust me when I tell you, that you do not want to be behind Aurthur in his old truck if you are in any sort of a hurry to get down the mountain.

Trust me on this.

Sadie Mae

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Market Day

Morristown First Monday Market

I was expecting to be really busy today. I had to go to town and pay bills and do shopping. Then turn around and drive to Asheville for my rheumatologist appointment. But the doctor was ill and cancelled, so it turned out being not so bad. Except that I hadn't slept all night long. I hate that when I peek out of the covers and see the light coming over the mountain and know that I still haven't fallen asleep.

I stopped off at the Chinese for lunch and took a book to read since I was by myself. Pastor Jimmy and Pam came in. It was so good to see them! We talked about snakehandling and Popcorn Sutton and all that. I'm going to go back to his church this Sunday. He said the New York PBS station was doing a special on him.

Pastor Jimmy asked me if I'd be interested in collaborating with him on his Appalachian Folktales book. He's got 300 handwritten pages of research compiled. Of course, I'd love nothing better! But he does already have an editor and told him I wouldn't want to take a project away from Dr. Hood. He didn't seem to think it would be a problem, but I'd feel better knowing I wasn't snatching a project. But I sure would love to craft some of those folktales into proper stories. Oh, yes, I would!

He wants me to come by his house and see all of his research he and Pam have there at the house. I asked him about the beautiful verse books I saw in his church archives. He made those lovely things with the hand bound covers. He also makes dolls and walking sticks. I'm very eager to see those since I'm such a huge fan of folk art. I'd love to have one of my very own for my collection. was a good day after all. Not too rushed and I caught a nap when I got home.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I've been invited to be a contributor over on Hillbilly Savants. I'm hugely flattered since they are a very bright bunch of folks writing some very wonderful articles on Appalachia. But I think they think I'm smarter than I actually am.

I've accepted, though it means I won't be able to submit to the A. L. Mitchell Short Fiction Award. So...expect to see me posting over there now and again.

Monday, May 14, 2007

I will be a woman of fewer words this week.

Planting has begun in the Garden o' Doom!

Today I knocked out four rows of Turkey Craw beans, two rows of Kentucky Wonders, three rows of half runners, two rows of McCaslins and four rows of royal burgundy bush beans. The pole beans will be growing on my Russian Mammoth sunflowers. Should be quite a sight if all goes as planned. I still have about 20 feet left on this 50 foot X 20 foot plot to plant in purple hulled cow peas, but I'm out of seed for those.

I'm planting so many beans because I'm almost out of my canned green beans from my last bumper crop of the things. This particular plot of the garden also needs some nitrogen fixing.

My buddy, Elvis Drinkmo, over on Appalachian Greens has thrown down the gauntlet of the humongous tomato. I take my giant vegetables very seriously indeed. I'll be pulling out the big guns of goat poop tea and extreme suckering for this one.

This is WAR, I tell you!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

At least in Cocke county they do.

This has just been pissing me off and I sort of have to get it out. Sorry. I just do.

A year or so ago, the Farm Service Agency instituted the Tobacco Buyout Program(TTPP). I won't bore you with the details, but essentially what that meant was that any land that had been used to raise tobacco under the tobacco allotment system would have those shares or allotments bought back by the government.

I was really delighted to find that my farm was worth about 10,000 dollars in payout, but somewhat confused that a gentleman farmer neighbor(GFN) was claiming a large part of my acreage as his own. I corrected the oversight there at the local FSA office. I even took my deed in to show them. I was really happy since this meant I could build a new barn, loafing sheds and improve my fencing.

A few days later, GFN, with whom I am friendly and like, calls me, furious. He says I have stolen his tobacco shares and he wants them back. I am shocked. I explain that legally the tobacco shares are attached to the land and since I own the land there is no way I could "steal" them. I know that I am 100% correct on this point. He is still very angry and tells me all the work he has put into those shares as if they are his. They are not. They are mine.

I think on this a few days. Then I go in and sign my rights to the 10,000 dollars over to GFN.
The FSA lets me do this even though they know GFN has no right to those shares.

I do this because Cocke county has a long tradition of dealing with troublemakers with arson. While GFN would never do such a thing, I cannot risk that one of his relatives...and they are many...would not torch my place. I have to live here. Preferably with a roof over my head. It was the smart thing to do.

I don't blame GFN. I blame the FSA for letting these old boys trade these shares like monopoly money for all these years. I blame the FSA for not standing firm on the TTPP program and making sure that the payouts went where they belonged. With the land.

And the people at the local FSA, were more than likely related to GFN, so they more than likely weren't going to stand up for me anyway.

So...I'm back at square one for my farm improvements. Foolishly, I think there might be some help from the FSA, since they are responsible for me losing my improvement funds in the first place.

So, I look up some of the FSA programs that I might qualify for. There are several that I find, but I have to get my premises ID and participate in the NAIS program. No problem, I fill out the paperwork and take it to the local FSA.

While I'm there, I ask about some of the programs I might qualify for. She tells me to contact the county extension agent.

I call the agent, who I will call "Cutie K" because he is the wet dream of every gay farmboy in three counties, and try to set up a farm visit. I met Cutie K at a local event and he seemed nice enough. Of course, I had an enormous white man at my side at the time. I figure he can come and give me some tips on what exactly I need to do and what sort of programs are available to women farmers like myself seeking to be more productive.

Cutie finally calls me and unleashes his hidden super power upon me...which is evidently a complete and utter ignorance of all things agriculture program related. It's an odd super power for a county farm agent to have. I would think it a liability in his field of work.

The more we talk, the more I realize that the FSA office is fronting any small, minority or women farmers over to him so that he may unleash his super ignorance of all things agriculture program related upon them and hopefully confusing us back to our mud daubed hovels.

Evidently, despite all the big talk at the USDA following several class action lawsuits involving minority and women farmers, the message to me is pretty clear.

Be prepared to drop trou and defend your bubbliciousness if you want advice or help from the FSA.

Also, if you can't pass your bubbaliciousness test...hand over anything that is rightfully yours to the nearest bubba that we are related to and/or like.

Then maybe we won't burn your farm down.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Food Porn Friday's Mother's Day Special!!!

"Wet" Coconut Cake

Today's FPF is a tag-team effort between my good friend, Laura Wallis, of Charleston, SC, and myself. Photos by Laura, photoshopping by me, and the recipe from both of our families.
"My earliest memories of the Wet Coconut Cake were from strained eye level to the table top at Sunday dinner at Grandmother Laura's house. Its strange, hairy texture made it all the more intriguing to a preschooler still spellbound by the new and different. As I grew, the perspective of the table changed, while its bounty did not. This coconut cake was my grandfather's favorite and so it had a special spot reserved at the head of the buffet, an unassuming showpiece at every special occasion."
~Laura Wallis
My first memory of the cake was at one of the Tootle family get togethers in Beaufort, SC. My brother's first wife's sister-in-law, Brenda Tootle, had brought it. We were all simply bowled over by the cake, the recipe was shared, and it soon became a family favorite.

This cake is my sister, Simone's, signature dessert. She once made it for James Coburn for his birthday while he sat smoking cigars in his kitchen in L.A.

I confess to being a bit of a cake snob. I feel the true artistry of the cake maker can only be revealed in the sweet alchemy that is the scratch cake. It was a science I learned from infancy sitting in my mother's kitchen. She was just such an alchemist. I can still hear her mumbling incantations over her cookbooks like "beat for six minutes" and "sift dry ingredients twice" in my head. She often whispers to me when I cook, though she's been gone over 20 years. But especially, I hear her when I make cake.

My reward, as a child for absorbing all of this was a mixer paddle or a bowl to lick.

Well...this is the cake that breaks the mold. True, it does use layers of "box" cake mix. But it does so with an intentional effect. That is to allow the filling to saturate into the highly porous layers of box cake. The flavor of chilled cream and cake together combined with the texture and mouth feel of this cake is really something special. It's called a "wet" cake because of how the cake and filling and frosting meld together in an almost trifle-like moistness.

As far as I know, this cake began showing up around the early to mid '70's. I'm not exactly sure where it originated, but it soon became a favorite at Baptist "homecomings". The Tootle family, where my family obtained the recipe, were staunch Southern Baptists. It quickly spread throughout the southeast.

Laura has made it in the traditional way of her family and mine. I did play at one time making it with three split layers like a stack cake with good effect. Because of the softness of the box cake, it will always have a slightly soft appearance. Laura mentions that it does freeze well and can withstand short distances of travel if frozen beforehand.

"The inherent richness of the cake lends itself to feed a crowd and it will travel short distances if it is frozen overnight first, and then allowed to come to temperature on the buffet while the gospel singing and church services commence. "
"Wet" Coconut Cake

1 box cake mix, yellow or white
1 16-oz. sour cream
2 cups sugar
2 6-oz packages of frozen coconut
1 large container Cool Whip
1 package angel flake coconut

Bake two layers. Cool then cut crossways to form 4 layers. (tip: monofilament fishing line makes extremely clean cross cuts in layers!) Set aside. Mix sour cream with sugar and frozen coconut. Chill well. When chilled, mix one cup of coconut mixture and one large cool Whip. Put in freezer until firm. To ice cake, spread sour cream mixture between layers. Ice outside with Cool Whip mixture and sprinkle with Angel Flake Coconut. Refrigerate overnight before cutting. Will keep for several days in the refrigerator.
I wanted to express my thanks to Laura Wallis for helping out on today's FPF. I think it's taken us both down memory lane. This is that sort of cake. It invites memories. Laura's grandmother, for whom she was named, used serve the cake with boiled custard in a gravy boat. She was Laura's favorite Grandmother and Laura was, inarguably, her favorite grandchild. Grandmother Laura taught Laura how to sew and cook and read her Bible. And Laura held her fragile hand as her soul returned Home.

So, please, all of you that still has them...enjoy your mothers on Sunday. And maybe make this cake for her. I promise it will be a huge hit. And you'll build some of those all important memories.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

For Friday Ark ~ at The Modulator

But they start out like this....

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

At least mostly today is.

I collect vintage toys and antique dolls...and McCoy Cookie Jars. Dreadful dust collectors the lot of them. My favorite toy is a rustic hand-made wooden replica of Fireball Roberts' racing car. Anyway, it's a huge chore to take each of these things down and clean them. It must be done very carefully. They live in high places.

My favorite doll is my 1880's German doll. She's the size of a three year old child and sits in a high chair on the chiffarobe. She has to be high up because she scares the dogs.

Anyway...I'm at that scary point where I've created more mess during the cleaning than I had to begin with.

I'm weeding through some things. I think it may be time to say bye-bye to the Little Miss Creepy Doll.

But I do still love my composite black baby. And big white composite baby still has a place of honor. But yeah....Little Miss Creepy should probably go. Just keep the 1930's and previous ones.

Gotta get back to it.

Itunes to clean to....

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

This was taken last year when my sweet boy and service dog, Aegis was still alive. If you haven't read "How to Dig a Hole"...well, it's my best writing from that period. I still have a hard time going back and reading it myself. Damn, he sure did love Tractor Man.

So, Tractor Man came today to plough the garden. He's coming back tomorrow to do the discing. So, I'll be planting on Friday.

Am still cleaning. Did the woodstove today. It's all shiny and clean and pretty. Took all the antique dolls down and cleaned the outfits. Man, I have a lot of stuff. Dust collecting stuff.

Monday, May 07, 2007

This Week

I'm not going to be writing much this week.

Last night, in a vision, the Angel of Filthiness appeared to me and said, "Lo, verily I say unto you! If you do not clean up this house and stop chasing goats, you are doomed to perdition."

And I looked up, unto my dust-bunnied ceiling fan and realized she was right. And I was afraid.

So...don't expect anything substantial from me this week. I'll probably throw some old piccies at you or prater on about the animes I've been watching. Or maybe not. My anime addiction and my low taste in books and entertainment aren't something I'm proud of. But the way I see brain needs mindlessness in a bad way. I know a few other creative types who are this way too. While I could impress you by saying I'm reading some important book or another, but most likely I'm reading a cozy mystery that I can devour in one evening and promptly forget, or glued to something like Hellsing.

But honestly...I'm putting myself under house arrest until the much needed spring cleaning is done.

It's a shame really. It's a gorgeous day. Perfect for fencing or just laying out in the pasture with the goats.

But, I'm quite certain that I'm going to hell if I don't get the house clean. Really. I am.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

I stopped off on the way back from the Ramps Festival to take a few shots of the newborn colt who showed up a day ago at Ronald's barn. I'm afraid it was pretty hard to get shots of...mainly because he was just way too friendly.

He kept pushing his little head through the bars of the round fence to see if the camera was tasty. He grabbed all of my fingers and thoughtfully held them in his mouth. I love how baby horses emerge with fully formed little horse souls.

He's a Tennessee Walking Horse baby. Most of the horses around here are gaited. It's sort of a guy thing. Where I grew up, the barns and stables were full of horse-crazy girls of all ages. Here, it is just the opposite. Every little boy dreams of having his own walking horse.

It was sort of a horsey day. We stopped by a guy's walking horse barn to see if he might have any hay he could sell for the upcoming winter. There was a dappled gray gelding I took a shine to. He was a big friendly fellow and he seemed to like me a good bit too.

The fellow showed off his Tennessee Fainting Goat to me. She needed some foot work and I told the fellow to have his farrier do her feet when next he visited. Then on the way home, we passed a buggy drawn by a stunning matched pair of white mules. I have a real soft spot for the "long-ears".

Hope you are having a really wonderful, happy Sunday.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The child huddled closer to his mother when she came inside the dusty confines of Timman's store. He'd been a good child and his momma had bought him a Payday candy bar. He grasped it protectively when the woman came in and stood with the door open.

The rain was blowing in but no one said anything.

The child's mother picked up a knife and stirred her cup of coffee, averting her eyes from the newcomer.

The woman's one good eye took in the farmers and folk in the store. Her bad eye rolled around at nothing in particular. She did something that might have been a smile. It might have been a grimace. It was real hard to tell. There was dreadful scarring on her face, just visible from the knitted scarf that hid part of her face.

Everyone was silent.

She moved awkwardly around the store, her left foot dragging ever so slightly. One of her shoes had one heel that was two inches taller to account for the shorter leg. The rain still blew in the front door, but no one said anything.

She brought her purchases up to the counter. Everyone parted to give her a wide berth. The were a packet of no. 7 sharps, several spools of Coats white cotton thread and a thimble. Timman rang them up and took her money for the purchases. Her bad eye wandered around looking at no one. A few people made surreptitious hand signs.

She wrapped her purchases and put them in her tapestry bag and hobbled to the door. She turned before exiting and looked back, focusing her good eye on the young mother. She made that thing with her face again. Could have been a smile, could have been a grimace. She giggled and it made a sound like a crow eating poisoned corn.

"Stir with a knife....trouble and strife." Her voice croaked out with the sound of a barn latch not used often.

The young mother started and pulled her child closer as the woman left. She left the door open and the rain blew in.

Timman came out from behind his counter, wiping his hands on his apron. He shut the door behind the woman and looked at his customers.

"Well, that were right interestin'." He said and moved back behind the counter.

The young mother looked up from her coffee and whispered, "What do you suppose she meant?"

"Don't you worry none, Lucille," said one of the farmers. "All that stuff you hear 'bout that crazy old bat cain't be true. She's just a sad, sad old woman."

One of the young teens in the store said with wide eyes, "My momma said she got like that when the rats tried to eat her face whilst she were sleepin'!"

Timman snorted. "Nah, she got caught in a barn fire. Ain't been right since."

Lester, whose farm was just up the road, chimed in, "She sure do sew purty, though. Heard she sold one of them baby quilts fer 50 dollar to some outsiders."

The young teen said, "My momma said them people, their baby died after they got that quilt. She says she sews hate into them there blankets. She says she wouldn't have one of them in the house fer love or money."

The young mother said again, "But what did she mean....trouble an' strife? She was looking right at me."

Lester laughed, "How can you tell? I sure can't tell what she's lookin' at!"

"The evil eye...that's what she's got." Said another patron.

"Pshaw!" Timmon said, wiping down the counter. "Ain't no such thing. It's just something she's always a'muttering."

One of the boys scuffed his boot in the sawdust on the plank flooring of the store. "Well, I heared that she keeps a big ole quilt that she never finishes. Every square got a hex on somebody on it. She sews a body's name on it and then you die."

"My Mamaw said she drownded her own baby in the creek and then ate it!" Said the boy's companion, in a fit of oneupsmanship. The boy looked peeved at his companion. He would have liked to reveal this detail.

Some of the patrons nodded grimly. They had heard all of this before.

"Awright, now! That's enough!" Timmon said. "She's just a hateful old woman. Don't you boys got chores to do? Get on out of here, you're takin' up air!"

The boys filed out into the rain, unhappy to leave the gossip in the warm dry store.

Later that night, the woman stitched another square onto an impossibly huge quilt on her frame. Her deft needlework embroidered "Lucille" into the details of hand-sewn panel. She sat back and surveyed her handiwork with much satisfaction. The quilt stretched over the frame and spilled over the edge. Each block had the name of someone or someone's child destined to die prematurely. She collected these names with malice and pieced them together with hatred.

She cackled to herself softly. "Yes, indeedy. Stir with a knife, trouble and strife."

Friday, May 04, 2007

Southern Style Biscuits

I spent some time yesterday at the feet...or rather in the kitchen...of the master.

Betty is recognized on the mountain as the best scratch biscuit maker in these parts. Everyone says so, and having had these mouth-melting treats of the Southern table at her house, I must agree. I've had the best. These biscuits Betty makes rival and surpass Mrs. Wilkes famed biscuits from The Boarding House in Savannah, Ga.

Betty learned to make biscuits from her Granddaddy Hall sixty something years ago when she was 10 years old. Her mother was laying-in pregnant and Grandpa Hall was living with them after the death of her grandmother. He learned to make them from his wife who was also a famed biscuit maker.

When she learned how to make them, and up until the 1960's, she was making them in a wood-burning cook stove. Even after she switched to electric, she kept the big stove to cook on during the winter. It would warm the house up really nice.

"I was first making them real small like." She said, as I was stuffing my face with chicken-fried steak, gravy and biscuits, "But Lee, he got right upset and said, 'I feel right embarrassed having to keep reaching for biscuits...if you make them big, I don't need so many!'"

Betty said a typical family of eight would go through a 25 pound sack of flour per week. She would make her biscuits in the morning for breakfast and sometimes do another batch at night if the menu called for them. Left-over biscuits never were wasted. Sometimes, if the kids were home from school, she'd make ham or jelly biscuits to go with their lunch. The menfolk appreciated them after a heavy morning of ploughing, discing or tomato picking.

She also made something she called a "poor folks blackberry pie", that involved splitting the biscuits and putting the bottom halves in a pan. Then she'd layer blackberries, sugar and butter on top of those. Cover that up with the tops of the biscuits, dot with butter and bake until bubbly. This, she says, was very delicious.

If you have ever made scratch biscuits, you know they can be fickle things unless you have your way of making them just so. If you handle the dough too much, they can become hockey pucks. Too little and they are too cakey. If your fluids are not chilled, the biscuit can also be tough and inedible. I must say that I have, once in a while, suffered the embarrassment of making a bad biscuit.

So, I was really eager to watch Betty make hers. I picked up some tricks I'm happy to pass on to you, and intend to practice in my own kitchen.

This is going to be more of a technique lesson than anything. Like most southern recipes of this type, the ingredient amounts are mostly by "feel".

Betty-Jo's Biscuits

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Start with a two quart bowl, three-quarters full of White Lilly self-rising flour. Make a well in the center of the flour. Put approximately 3 "eggs" (a unit of measurement approximating the size of a medium hen's egg) worth of white shortening. Using your hands, gently crumble the shortening into the flour. Add one coffee mug of fresh cold buttermilk. Combine gently using your hands. Add enough cold water to make the dough a good consistency. It should be well combined, but not overworked. Moist, but not runny. Pat biscuits into shape, or gently roll out and cut into circles with a jelly jar. Grease up your pan real good with shortening. Put your biscuits in the pan, just touching. Place in the oven and cut the heat to 350. Bake for about 10 minutes or until risen, then broil to brown the biscuits. Serve hot!

While Betty was making them, I asked some questions in between handing her the buttermilk and doing other small tasks to help. On the subject of flour, she is most definite about the quality of White Lilly.

"How about just using plain flour and adding the rising?" I asked.

"Lord, no! I never use plain flour since they came out with self-rising."

"How about adding and egg or two?" I asked.

"Noooooo," she clucked at me, making it clear that any deviation from this formula would result in certain biscuit disaster.

There was one variation that she did endorse slightly. Up until not too long ago, Betty and her family kept family milk cows. Churning butter, buttermilk and keeping fresh homemade dairy products around the house was also part of their routine on their farm. Betty was also considered an expert at turning out sweet fresh creamery butter. One auntie of hers used to love to make these biscuits with the fresh butter from Betty's churns. They were so delicious that they called them "butter pies" and would serve with fresh jam or hot berry compote.

I'd invited myself to this demonstration of biscuit mastery, but, of course, Betty didn't see the point in just making the biscuits without a meal to go along with it. So she whipped up a meal of chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, corn and gravy to go along with the biscuits. The grand kids heard Mamaw was making them and showed up to scarf the leftovers.

I ate myself stupid, then kicked back and watched part of the Gaither Gospel Hour on RFD-TV with her.

I did do the dishes. I had to fight her on this, but she eventually did let me help.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

For Friday Ark at the Modulator's that time of year again. Time to plant de seed taters.

Actually, it's a bit past time, but I'm still awaiting tractor man to come and plough and disk the quarter acre I call the garden. This year my neighbors Jeff and Phyllis are going in with me so I won't be killing myself like I did last year. Or the year before. Or the year before that.

Jeff has already built a martin house to put up and I'm pulling my seed stock out of the freezer to go through. The crow problem has gotten really bad since the goats arrived.

The dogs go a little crazy when I pull that 50 pound bag of seed potatoes out. I plant Yukon Golds, though I'm thinking about doing Inca Blues this year. Dogs love seed potatoes. If you don't like to eat them...they are evidently ball-shaped enough to play with.

That is Babe in the photo. He's going to be 18 this summer. I took Babe in as a hospice case in the rescue. He didn't have long to live since he has a stage 5 heart murmur. That was almost three years ago. He's happily senile and appears determined to live longer than any of us...if only so he can pee on more of my stuff. Friend Scott says he looks like an old "stoner".

There is a really funny story in the archives called "Who the Heck is Joe?" on this same dog and potato theme if you'd like to read more.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Great thing about the goats...when I got nothin' they usually have something.

But actually I do have a little something. I know I've already plugged Hidden Haven Homestead and goatie Diva's "laying in".....but Peggy has a baby pool going! Who doesn't love a baby pool!

It's still not too late to put your choices in for the day and number of baby goats Diva is going to have! The prize is a gift basket of Peggy's luscious goat milk soaps. I know I have lots of mommies who read the Breakdown...and a special bar of her Mommies and Babies soap will be included in the giveaway.

I'm down for tomorrow for triplets. Cross your fingers for me!

I guess I've just shoved all that baby goat spit up into my repressed memory zone and am eager for more.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It was the sort of idyllic spring day that made you thankful for living in the mountains. The sky was that amazing robin's egg blue and there was just a soft kiss of a warm breeze. The air was clear and it was a perfect day to be outdoors. I was going to attend my very first river baptism this day.

I had attended my first service at the Edwina Church of God in Jesus' Name the previous evening. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting.

Friend Scott and I had arrived a bit before the service that Saturday evening. They hold services at 7 p.m. on Saturday which is their actual sabbath. Then they also hold another service on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.

We met a couple of professors who were also there to observe the service for the first time. One taught folk history and the other taught Medieval literature. Jimmy showed us the archives. The small closet was a treasure trove of the history of his people and the Jesus' Name Snakehandlers. There was an amazingly carved snake box that Jimmy said was over 100 years old. As I stood in the small room, my eye was drawn to some hand bound journals. The patch-worked leather of the covers were saddle stitched by hand and lovingly worn. I carefully picked one up and found each page covered in hand written scriptures. There was something sacred about them. Something holy. You could sense it when you touched them. I didn't know who they belonged to or when they were created, but they were works of art.

Service was about to start so we sat with the professors in the back pew.

The service began with a prayer and moved swiftly into the singing. After the group hymns, the people were invited to come up and sing offer a joyful noise to the Lord. All of the singing is done a Capella. Friend Scott got up and sang filling the little church with his vibrant baritone. People couldn't help but picking up a tambourine or clapping. Jimmy's wife, Pam, sang several hymns despite what must have been terrible pain from a recent ear operation.

I couldn't help but be completely caught up in the singing. I found myself dropping all of my Anglican church stiffness and clapping in time with the music. Every once in a while, someone would raise a palm in the air. I wasn't sure what it meant, but I wanted to do it too.

One of the pre-teen girls got up and did a rendition of Maybelle Carter's "In the Highways". Everyone applauded wildly and in truth, she sounded remarkably like the track from the "Oh, Brother, Where Art Though" soundtrack.

Requests were taken from the congregation to remember people in prayer, offer thanks, or to say how thankful they were for God's blessings.

Then it was time for Jimmy's sermon. He started out by asking us to turn to a certain scripture passage in the Bible. Jimmy's sermon can only be compared to watching one of the great blues masters perform live. He starts out slowly with the passage, then rifts into related passages. The words all ran together, sort of like listening to an auctioneer, but slower and more musical. His breathing during the sermon is seamless. You can only tell where it begins and ends by the occasional "heh" at the end of a phrase. It is music. I was clearly listening to music. It was hypnotic and completely engrossing.

I found myself rocking back and forth. I just couldn't stop myself. My foot tapped on the floor. Friend Scott looked at me a few times quizzically. He was used to this. I was not, yet I found myself being swept away in the cadence of Jimmy's masterful use of language, tone and cadence.

Jimmy would get to the end of a long stream of words, and finally lose breath control. He would shout, "Woooo! Hallelujah!" Then he's take a deep breath and start all over again.

As he progressed into the sermon, his face changed. He seemed more intense. Jimmy, and all of the Jesus' Name followers typically have a very blissful expression on their faces, I've noticed. This was different, this expression. I think I was witnessing "the anointing".

He made his way toward the snake box. I, with the two professors, had eagerly looked over into the pulpit area before the service to look at the jewel-toned copperhead in the box on the floor.

"I feel like a tourist!" One of them said.

I felt awkward as well. I come from a spiritual background redolent in incense and hushed voices where one never claps in church. It is steeped into my bones.

Jimmy bent down to get the snake out of the box. The little girl who sang earlier dashed to the back of the church. They do not allow children near the snakes. Children are never allowed to handle them. With very few exceptions, you must be 18 to practice the taking up of serpents. They do not take this lightly.

Jimmy pulled the lovely and deadly copperhead from the box. He held it in one hand and then transferred it to the other. I watched, fascinated, as the snake twined in his hands without showing any sign of aggression. His wife, Pam, was softly speaking in tongues a few rows ahead of us. I couldn't make out what she was saying, but it was soft and rhythmic. We all sang.

Jimmy returned the copperhead to his box and sat down behind the pulpit. He was clearly exhausted. Living by the Signs seems physically taxing, whether by the force of his sermon or the amount of spiritual energy that seemed to infuse him during that time. I'm not sure. But it looked like a "good" tired.

We sang some more and offered more requests for prayers. I said how thankful I was to have found them. That I would most certainly be back.

And I did. The very next day for the river baptism. Sunday's service did not include snakes, but there was much singing and some guitar playing. Jimmy's sermon was yet another amazing spiritual blues rift. I wish you could hear this. It is truly amazing. I found myself better able to follow the cadence of his words the second time.

After the service, we all drove out to the French Broad River. There is a quiet spot near a railroad trestle where Big Creek flows into the French Broad. Scott and I let the professors follow us since we knew where we were going.

There were a few fisherman there when we arrived. They seemed to know what was getting ready to happen and left respectfully.

We got out and waited for everyone else. A train sounded down the track and we all moved from underneath the trestle to watch it clatter by, upsetting the quiet for a few moments.

Three little girls from the church arrived in their Sunday best and immediately jumped into the water, dresses and all. They were baptized this day, but I suspect they were more interested in an excuse for an early swim. The main one to be baptized was a serious young man.

While we waited on Jimmy to arrive, some of the church goers traded stories about their baptisms. They perform them in the river all year round in all weathers. An older gentleman, one of the Pack family, said that he was baptized in January. Scott said that when his mother was baptized, they had to break the ice in the creek. There's a bit of pride in all of this. But as cold as this water is in the summer, I can only imagine taking such a plunge in mid-winter.

Jimmy arrived and we all sang a bit of "Shall We Gather at the River", before he waded out into the deep part of the creek. The three little girls were dunked first. There was much giggling and Jimmy smiled as he lowered each of them backwards into the water. It was very gentle and sweet. They love and dote on their children in this faith.

The young man was more serious. This was a serious commitment for him. He repented his sins and now was ready to be born again into the Jesus' Name Snakehandlers. He may or may not ever handle snakes or drink "the deadly thing." Not everyone does. It depends on whether or not they are gifted with the anointing. But this is the all important first step.

Next, he baptized a woman a few years older than me. She shook and jerked a bit while Jimmy was doing the benediction. He gave her the option of going over backwards or forwards. She chose forwards and was dunked under that way. She came up glowing and saying "Hallelujah!" Everyone raised their palms in the air. I did too.

At one point during the service, Jimmy had looked straight at me.

"Ready to go get baptized?"

I said under my breath to Scott, "Did he just ask if I was going to get baptized?"

"Sure sounded like it." Scott deadpanned.

I didn't get baptized that day in the river. I just watched.

But it was lovely and touching and I think it might be something I'd like to experience. So, perhaps, before the summer is out, I'll ask Jimmy if he would baptize me in the river.

But I want to go backwards into the water.

Full immersion. That's what I'm into.