Category: Guest WoW

First Job… by JoAnn

My sister Jeanie is four years older than me. In the 1970s, she was in high school and a straight-A student. She took the popular business course classes that included; typing, shorthand, accounting, etc. She excelled in each and every subject. The school had a program where they would find jobs for the students who were top of their class. Jeanie, of course, was one of them and was offered an excellent office job at a rather prestigious company in our city when she was sixteen. She went to work after school and on weekends. She quickly excelled at her first job and was very respected by her peers. My big sis was a brilliant girl.

I had a lot of admiration for my big sister. I wanted to follow in many of her footsteps. We had always been close growing up, regardless of the four-year age difference. Most things we did in our spare time, we did together. When Jeanie turned sixteen and got her driver’s license, we had a lot of great times together. We spent many hours at the mall, eating out, going to the movies and the beach, and even taking longer trips to places like Busch Gardens or Kings Dominion. I’m proud to say my sister was always someone that could be trusted and was very mature in her responsibility as a big sister. Not to mention Jeanie was an excellent driver. She never put me in harm’s way. My parents trusted her explicitly and allowed me to tag along wherever Jeanie went.

In 1975, I was thirteen years old. Jeanie came home one day and asked me if I wanted a job working with her. It seemed the office needed some extra help, and they had asked if she knew of anyone. She mentioned me, and of course, they thought I was too young. But after my big sis sang my praises, they decided to give me a try. She spoke highly of my ability to learn quickly and my good grades.

The job they had for me was pretty simple—mostly just busy work filing. Back then, computers were not used in all offices, and most paperwork was done by hand through every step necessary. I needed to be a good reader and have good math skills. Being able to make the most of my time was also a plus. I fit right in and was happy to have my own paycheck.

I worked part-time for the next five years at the company. I learned invaluable information through my experiences. Because I was called in whenever extra work was needed, I was placed in many different areas of the company and learned a variety of office jobs. I was a file clerk, receptionist, gopher, and mail room clerk, and I often assisted with the grueling yearly inventory for all the employees. That required that I travel to other cities with my sister. I worked in the credit department for some time. My sister Jeanie had become so good at her data entry job that she remained working on the keypunch machine that was the precursor to the computers used today. When the company decided to bring in its first computers, Jeanie and I were part of the few chosen to begin learning how to enter data. I still remember that “computer room .”The so-called computers were as big as refrigerators and very daunting. The room had to be kept at a low temperature for them not to overheat and crash. I remember freezing as I typed as fast as possible to get as much data entered as they expected. I was not a fan of this particular job and was happy when my turn was over.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I had been making enough money to pay for all my clothes, school supplies, and any extras along the way. I always had money to eat out, shop, or see a movie with my sister or friends. My dad had taught me from my very first paycheck to save as well. He insisted I save at least half of every paycheck. He even took me to the bank to open an account and taught me how to keep up with it. By the time I graduated high school, I had saved enough money to buy my first car.

I have always known that it is not the norm to have a first job like my sister and me. We were truly blessed for the opportunities we were given. I have always felt proud of how young I began working and how well I did the jobs handed to me. I genuinely feel I worked as hard and reliable as any adult could have. Jeanie as well, most definitely. She has made me proud over the years, and I still look up to her and admire her. I love all of the memories I have of our days working together and would love to go back in time for one more go at it. I love you Big Sis.

Things Mama Told Me… by JoAnn

My Mama was a very unique woman—strong, independent, and stubborn. Yet feminine and loving to a fault. She wore her heart on her sleeve and paid the price of getting it broken several times. She never learned to drive because it made her too nervous. Yet she endured some of the most challenging times of anyone I have known. She could be prim and proper if need be but let loose with us kids and roll on the floor with the giggles. Thunderstorms would stop her in her tracks, and she’d make me and my sister lie on the bed with her till it was over. Yet when sick, she refused to take to her bed.

Mama was very wise. At some time in my adulthood, I realized that every piece of advice she had ever given me, unsolicited or requested, had turned out to be true. How did she know so much? Now that I am 60 years old, that question is no longer a mystery. She had lived through it all to know, much like I feel now. I am sure I still have a few things to learn, though.

Mama has been gone since February 2000. But I can still hear her voice in my head. Some of the old wives’ tales she told us, I still remember with a smile. Don’t go barefoot before summer, or you’ll catch a cold. Don’t play in the rain, or you’ll catch pneumonia. Don’t drink soda pop with ice cream, or you’ll get bubbles in your belly. Eat a watermelon seed, and a watermelon will grow in your stomach. One of my favorites, she always told my dad, when scolding him for overeating, that you can fatten a hog on apples. Meaning that eating too much of anything, no matter how healthy, is not good. He never won those arguments.

Those are silly little things that lots of parents say to their kids. But Mama would tell us some things she believed to be true. She had been raised in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. Most people lived a difficult, poor life up in the mountains. Many of those mountain people had superstitions that had been handed down to them through generations. They believed these superstitions to be the truth. My Mama was no different.

Mama was a believer in bad luck. She told us never to open an umbrella in the house because it was bad luck. If a bird flew into the house, it meant someone was going to die. If she had a bad dream, it was more than a nightmare. It was a premonition and warning to be taken very seriously. I remember one story she told me that stuck with me more than any other. She said that if a pregnant woman sees something upsetting or ugly, it will “mark” her baby. For example, if a pregnant woman had been frightened by a mean dog, her baby may be born looking like a dog. It sounds ridiculous, but my Mama believed it to be true, just as her mother and grandmother had before her.

Mama also told me some funny pieces of wisdom. Like you can’t make sense with a drunk, and a drunk will pee anywhere! Unfortunately, I have experienced both of those things to be very accurate. I’ll never tell you how I know this, so don’t ask me. Just know Mama was right again.

My Mama was a unique, beautiful woman, inside and out. She could be bold or peculiar and sometimes make you think she was downright mean. Then the love would twinkle in her eyes and soften her voice. Mama was quite a character, and I loved her exactly that way! I miss her every day.

Till we meet again, Mama, keep Daddy in line.

Tomatoes… by JoAnn

There are many things that I look forward to in the summer months, and fresh veggies and fruit are top of the list. There is something about the taste of that first picking of green beans and cucumbers that words just can’t describe. You have to taste the perfectly cooked green beans with a side of sliced cucumber, accompanied by either a hot biscuit or wedge of cornbread. Add a glass of iced tea or even my favorite buttermilk, and you will swear you’re in Heaven. It’s truly a treat.

Although I grew up learning how to plant a large vegetable garden, it has been many years since I have grown anything of my own; vegetable or otherwise. My taste buds don’t really care about that and still have me craving the new summer crops, just like I did when I was a kid. When I was a little girl, it was not unusual to sit outside on a warm day with a salt shaker in hand and eat tomatoes till I thought I would burst. Still, to this day, my favorite thing to have during the summertime is a juicy, homegrown tomato!

The great thing about growing tomatoes, there are always plenty. It almost seems like you will never run out! My Mama would bring them inside, and they would be placed on the kitchen window sills. Even the back porch, living room, bedrooms, and bathroom window sills were filled. We would have so many tomatoes hanging out in the widows that I imagine someone who didn’t know what was going on would think we were crazy. But my daddy was particularly proud of his “organic” tomatoes and didn’t want even one to go to waste. I remember him saying what a shame it would be to let just one spoil. Mama agreed. You probably realized we didn’t have air conditioning back then, and the windows were always open. Haha.

Mama would “can” as many tomatoes as she had jars to do so. She placed the whole tomatoes into boiling water just long enough to make it easy to remove the peel. Then into a sterile jar, they would go. In a few days, jars upon jars would be sealed and ready for their rightful place in our dirt basement. She would also make and can tomato juice. Later on, those tomatoes and juice would be used in the winter months to make vegetable beef soup on a cold day. I still remember how good the house would smell when I got home from school on a brisk day, and a pot of Mama’s soup would be simmering on the stove. I couldn’t wait to have a bowl of that steamy deliciousness. I still make that recipe to this day, but the tomato part never tastes quite the same.

Since my daddy became unable to garden and grow his tomatoes many years ago, I have not had nary one that tasted as good as his. Not even close. Every year I search the entire summer for a tomato that maybe will be as good as Daddy’s. I never even get close to finding one. No doubt the fresh, homegrown ones are definitely better than store-bought. But none have ever tasted like Daddy’s. I wonder if he had a special secret to growing his tomatoes that only he knew about. Or maybe it’s just me and my longing to have my dad back in my life somehow, even if it comes by way of a tomato.

I will probably continue to search yearly for the best tomatoes, fruits, and veggies. Maybe I will give 5-gallon bucket gardening a try next year. Heck, that’s one of the best parts of summer! Unless you can still grow your own. Now that would be wonderful.

Different Cuisines… by JoAnn

Growing up, my mother’s cooking mimicked that of her mother… Country! In fact, my mama cooked more of what most would know as Soul Food. Growing up as the youngest of 12 siblings during the Depression in the poor mountains of East Tennessee, she had learned to take very little of something and feed a large family.

Mama grew up eating more homegrown veggies than anything. The fruit wasn’t always readily available. The veggies were canned in Mason jars during the summer to feed the family during the winter. The meat wasn’t always available or affordable. Mama grew up on cornbread, biscuits, fried potatoes, beans, and greens. All seasoned with fatback cause it was cheap.

Something Mama knew nothing about were other cuisines. She only knew the way of her upbringing when it came to cooking and eating. Mama had never tried anything out of her norm. She was not interested in seafood, Chinese, Japanese, or even Italian recipes.

I was more than okay with how my mother cooked for us growing up! She was excellent at her craft. She fed us very well, and we never had reason to complain. I, for one, would try anything she put in front of me just because I knew how good she could cook. Nineteen times out of twenty, what I would try would be delicious! To this day, I have never made a biscuit or skillet of cornbread as good as hers, and I doubt I ever will.

My brother was 11 years older than me. He has always been a foodie and enjoyed trying as many different cuisines as he could experience. It was the 1960s, and other cuisines were gaining popularity. One day he brought home something my sister and I had never seen or even heard of. He brought home a large pepperoni pizza from a local pizzeria that was popular with his high school friends.

My dad took one look at the pepperoni pizza and exclaimed, “It looks like an open sore!” He certainly wasn’t going to try it. Next, my mama followed. I, the little chubby kid who would try anything edible put before her, was absolutely going to try it. And I loved it! Thus began my long-lived love of pizza. There was a time when I had pizza at least once a week. Now that I’m older, my body tends to complain somewhat if I eat it more than once every couple of months.

My love for pizza made me much more interested in whatever else the Italians had to offer. When we were teenagers and my sister got her driver’s license, we made it a weekly sister date to go out to one of our favorite pizzerias for dinner. There I sampled other Italian dishes. I loved them all.

When I grew up and had a family of my own, I often made Italian recipes. My sister-in-law had taught me how to make homemade spaghetti and lasagna. I perfected both. One summer, while visiting my parents for the summer, I offered to cook them my spaghetti. At first, they were reluctant. But knowing that I had three little girls who loved it, they agreed. Much to my surprise and joy, my daddy and mama loved my spaghetti. In fact, every time I visited from then on, they would ask me to make it for them.

To my knowledge, neither of my parents ever ate seafood, Chinese food, or any cuisine other than Italian for the remainder of their lives. All I can say is that they surely missed out on some good eating!

Table For One… by JoAnn

I have lived alone for going on five years now. I have been single 3X that long. I have mastered many things as a lone individual, but I still struggle with many others daily.

Some things just don’t make sense when you do it with only one person, like cooking. I began cooking at the age of 13. I cooked for my parents, my sister, and me. I then was married with a family of five. I cooked a homemade dinner every day while my kids were growing up. After my last little bird flew from the nest, I had to learn how to cook for just myself. It has been near impossible to succeed. I had over 30 years under my belt, cooking for a family. It seems ridiculous to cook a meal for just one person now. The time and effort it takes are just not worth it. Not to mention the dirty dishes, pots, and pans.

I have gotten used to doing household chores that many couples take for granted. I chuckle whenever I hear a woman on television telling her husband to take out the trash. That is my job now, and mine alone. I am happy to do it as it is a pet peeve of mine for trash to pile up. I am more than happy to take it out. Taking the garbage can to the end of my driveway is another story. I don’t look forward to that. It isn’t easy to move the big heavy bin. If I take it to the curb the night before, then my next-door neighbor may not have enough room to pull in his pickup truck. If I wait till the morning, I risk forgetting or oversleeping and missing the garbage truck. That almost happened to me today. I hit the alarm button and fell back to sleep.

Shopping is more difficult being alone in my opinion. For example, buying a whole head of lettuce makes no sense if I’m the only one making sandwiches. I have yet to finish a head of lettuce without it turning brown. I rarely use a whole package of anything. If I buy a half loaf of bread, that works. But my favorite bread doesn’t come in a half loaf. The freezer has become my friend. I freeze portions of meals and packaged food whenever I can. If I don’t, more will be thrown away than eaten. I am still learning!

Buying in bulk is also tricky. It’s almost always more economical to buy things like toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, etc., in bulk. But when you are the only one, it takes such a long time to use up the items. Is it really worth paying the extra money for bulk? I have found with most things, buying only what I need right now saves me the most money in the long run. Again, I am still learning.

I have never minded sitting alone at a table in a restaurant. It doesn’t make me feel sad or lonely. I will, however, choose a time when my favorite cafe is less busy. I enjoy the quietness. I can chat with the waitress and enjoy my food more. If it is a busy time of day, I prefer to get it to go and either eat in my car or bring it home.

Many things will never feel the same as having to do alone. Going to a movie or renting one has always been more fun when shared with another. Decorating for the holidays feels pointless most years. Most definitely cooking a holiday meal. Planning a vacation alone seems like more of a chore than a pleasure and usually gets put off for another time. Hopefully, a time when someone I enjoy being with, whether family or friend, can come along.

I don’t want sympathy for being alone. I would much rather be seated at a table for one and be content than at a table with many and feel stress and unhappiness. I consider myself blessed to be able to come and go as I please without feeling the need to answer to anyone. I have been there and done that and was not a fan.

So I guess all this means is you can’t have it all. Or most people can’t. Some rare couples would be lost without one another and would not be happy or content living alone. I was dealt a different hand in life and have come to terms with that. Now, I will have it made if I can just learn to cook for one.

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