Almost Heaven, Pennsylvania…

hayseedhomefbpage profile picMy own memories of home are of lush, green mountains with thick grass and ancient trees rolling over them like a lullaby…the luxurious meadows and woody hills on  a quiet countryside in Western Pennsylvania.  I picture a haze hanging low and bluish-purple underneath the summer sun that warms the backs of my grandparents hunched over in an overgrown garden of red, orange and green tomatoes and golden-yellow snap beans.  And there are whispers… the whir of a breeze through hickory and maple branches, the slapdash swaying of cow tails, the flutter, plucking and clucking of chickens, and the snip-snaps, chitter-chatter, and  whine of rusty chains as my mother and aunts pinch beans on the porch swing.  There is an inimitable feeling of love and protection… a refuge, this McIntyre Hollow, and it is the place my people gathered after a hard day of work, a busy week, or at the end of a broken dream.

Copyright 2013 by Christine Snow

Family + Farming = Food = Love

Our farm was in Duncansville, Pennsylvania, a rural area West of Harrisburg, and all of life in our family sprang from it.  Food and family were intertwined.  We grew, harvested and prepared food together, always together.  The culmination of all of these activities was eating.  A large painting of Christ’s Last Supper hung above the main table, so that as we laughed, told stories and ate, we would remember that eating was also spiritual.  In breaking bread and sharing a meal, we would always remember that the ultimate feast was not without sacrifice, and that it was by the Grace of Christ that we could work, eat and live.

Farm life revolved around the seasons, and in the Spring, it brimmed with new life as we watched calves being born, mares protectively nursing new colts, chicks cracking out of their shells, and baby bunnies snuggling together against their mamas.  Spring was also a time for planting, and all the young people rode the tractor with Pap-Pap as he plowed and planted corn, potato, tomato, onion, red beet and cucumber fields.  Grandma, my mother and aunts would start cleaning jars to get ready for canning, as there were hundreds of them.  The canning shelves would be wiped and cleaned to prepare for new storage, and the barn would be swept to make room for new hay.

Summertime was hot in that part of the country, with temperatures reaching 90-100 degrees, often with 100 percent humidity.  But from th clumsy two-year-old with a plastic sandbox rake to the strapping, muscular teenager, to the oldest hunch-backed woman with a shovel, my family worked and sweated together to hoe and weed the fields.  In the evening, there was Supper, with fresh strawberries for weeks… the first of the summer harvest.

Mid-July was Berry-Picking Time.  We braved the thickets of my Pap-Pap’s woods in groups of four dressed in long pants and shirts (and often boots and winter hats) to avoid being cut by thorns or stung by hornets.  Even the little children filled their butter tubs, making berry picking a game of hide and seek, lifting barbed branches to find clusters of juicy fruit.

Of course, with all of those berries, there was jelly to be made.  As with every harvest, this was an event.  All of the relatives came to Grandma’s and sat on the porch, in the cellar, and in the kitchen, preparing strawberries and raspberries for jelly-making.  The women told stories to the girls about when they were young and the men would laugh and tell jokes and stories about each other.  Meanwhile, the children ran in and out of the house sneaking handfuls of berries, staining our faces and clothes, proof that we’d dipped into the goodies!

Indian Summer was Big Harvest Time.  My uncles and the children would ride on the back of the hay wagon and buck hay while Pap-Pap drove the tractor.  Back at the farmhouse the women were busy with the vegetables and fruit.  The potatoes and onions were stored in “the cave,” which was a room at the back of the house that was built into the side of a hill.  It kept things cool and dry and was also the place where Grandma stored the hundreds of jars of canned foods that, even we children, would help to prepare.

It took weeks of non-stop picking, cutting and pressure-cooking to pickle, pack and freeze all of the farm’s produce.  This required the hands of all of my Grandparents’ children and grandchildren.  The entire months of August and September were spent on my Grandma’s porch sorting vegetables, paring off flaws, and snapping beans from the time morning chores were over, to well after the first star twinkled.  We drank lemon Kool-Aid out of Mason jars, listened to stories, and were together as a family, as a unit, and as our own culture, believing that the way we lived was the only way… to really… live.

Copyright 2013 by Christine Snow

The Country Porch Swing

Porch Swing 1My first Hayseed Homemaking tip is regarding the most important feature of the country home, which is the front porch swing.  It is ever-so-vital to country living to own one.  I pity the person who does not possess one, as he/she might miss out on enjoying, to the fullest potential, the country air, breezes and refreshing beverages which often transpire upon it.  Now, granted, a big old rocking chair can most certainly be pleasant, but it can never be a substitute, as one cannot nestle against a big, hard, old belly quaking from the thunderous laughter of a tale-telling grand-daddy with twinkling cornflower-blue eyes, or nuzzle in the safe, soft, squeeze of a sweet grandma with black hair as soft as cotton who smells like Jergens Lotion, applesauce and Vicks Vapo Rub.

One might argue that I received all the education I would ever really need on a porch swing, for it is where my mother rocked me and prayed over me, where my grandmother sang “Eensy Weensy Spider” and “Oh Jolly Playmate” to me, and where my uncles smoked cigarettes, spit chew, played cards, planned hunting trips and farming strategies and argued about the law, the government and whatever president was in office.  It is also where my aunts skinned tomatoes, husked corn, said the Rosary and kissed their boyfriends.

"Humility is the fear of the Lord.  Its wages are riches, honor and life."  Proverbs 22:4

“Humility is the fear of the Lord. Its wages are riches, honor and life.” Proverbs 22:4

Some people regarded my humble, God-fearing grandparents as poor country folk, but late at night, after everyone went home, my grandparents  rocked together on their creaky old porch swing and gazed out upon their sixty-two acres of farmland thick with flourishing crops, flickering lightening bugs, and toys that had been scattered by joyful grandchildren.  They were rich beyond modern imagination…the King and Queen of McIntyre Hollow, and every time I see a porch swing, I remember who I am, where I come from, and what I’m about.                          Copyright 2013 by Christine M. Snow

Pappy on a Swing

When life is going up and down

It’s sure nice to have around

The memory of my Pappy on a swing

Pap on SwingWhose ride in life was the closest thing

To happy, and love, and everything true

And to Heaven that I ever knew.

Laughing, singing, swinging, assured

He was everyday closer to the Lord

His chains chinked at times, enough to rile,

                                                                     But he’d stay on his swing and smile

Until his swing finally reached the gate

   Of the door of home where angels wait.

I wonder what it’s like for you, Pap,

To be sittin’ and swingin’ on Jesus’ lap

                                                                              I’ll ride this life out, I’ll ride it like you

                                                                                       So I can go to that place, too.

   And when the swing of life has swung me nigh,

                                                                              I’ll, too, be swingin’ in the sky!

                                                                                    And every song I know, I’ll sing,

                                                                                         With my Pappy on a swing.

                                                                                  Copyright 2000 Christine M. Snow

The Country Breakfast

Whoever invented cold cereal must have been from the city.  Back in the country, we didn’t have cold cereal.  There was shredded wheat, but you added hot milk and butter because breakfast had to be hot.  It might consist of a slice of fried ham or bacon with eggs, cocoa and buttered toast, oatmeal with brown sugar, or sausage with potatoes.  It could be a lot of things, but if it wasn’t hot, it wasn’t Country.

My earliest recollections of Breakfast are of being tenderly wrapped in a soft blanket and transferred from my bed to the backseat of Mama’s Chevy where the soothing, gentle sound of her morning prayers lulled me back to slumber as she drove.  During what seemed to be an endless dream of newborn calves, hayrides and barn tag, I became aware of the crackling sound of tires as they pressed over the pebbles of my Grandparents’ driveway.  After being swept up again in Mama’s arms, I somehow ended up against the warm, soft back of Grandma in her bed.

Through the register hole in the floor across the room, I could hear the stirring of Pap-Pap as he got ready to go to work… the muffled fumbling with the industrial sized coffee maker, the sputter and sizzle of fat being dropped into the cast iron frying pan, and the faint cracking of an eggshell against the stovetop. Eventually, I would hear the light stamping of each calloused foot as he put on his work boots, followed by his pause at the end of the porch to take that first dip of mint-flavored Skoal, and finally, the drone of his truck as it drove down the lane past the pond.

Trying to go back to sleep, I listened to the rhythmic breathing of my uncles in the rooms across the hall and studied the Rosary beads, embroidered handkerchief and jars of Vicks on my grandmother’s dresser, but it was no use.  The scent of lightly-browned, buttered toast and heavily peppered eggs fried in bacon grease lingered in the crisp, morning air, and when the rooster crowed his final notice of the day’s beginning, I crept out of bed and devised ways of waking my uncles without them knowing it was me who quietly and stealthily yanked out single strands of their eyebrows and nostril hairs.  Coincidentally, they all awoke only minutes apart, and I smiled in spite of knowing my sin, for I knew a simple, yet soul-nourishing, hot, country breakfast would soon be served.

Copyright 2013 by Christine M. Snow

Hot Shredded Wheat:

Fill a cereal bowl half full of shredded wheat.  Add 1 cup of hot, whole milk, 1 teaspoon of butter, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Swish it around until it’s like a soup.

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal:

Boil 3 cups of water then add 2 cups of oats and a pinch of salt.  Stir the oats over medium heat for about 4 minutes.  Take a glob and plunk it into your cereal bowl.  Sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice over the top then pour a cup of 1/2 & 1/2 over it.  Whole milk is fine, but the 1/2 & 1/2 is wonderful.

Hershey’s Cocoa:

Combine 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of Hershey’s cocoa, and a pinch of salt with 1/3 cup of water and stir over medium heat until the mixture starts to boil. Then stir in 4 cups of milk and 3/4 cup of vanilla extract until the cocoa is warm.  Serve with buttered toast for dipping.  I couldn’t believe I got to eat this for breakfast.  I loved it!

Country Potatoes:

Cut up 5 or 6 left-over baked potatoes and chop 1 cup of onions, 1 cup of green bell peppers, and 1 cup of red bell peppers.  Chop 1 cup of bacon or sausage in to dime-size pieces.  Melt 1 tablespoon of bacon fat on medium heat in a cast iron skillet then add  all ingredients.  Stir frequently until vegetables are cooked and the potatoes are browned.