Late-summer cicadas craft the music of Kentucky with long rattling notes. My borrowed tee shirt has familiar Ashland Tomcats on the front. I don’t remember ever having such a shirt yet it feels like mine. How did I conjure teenage dreams that led me up and out of this mountain town? How did I crawl out of this holler? Our dinner that night was grilled steak, fried corn, hand-whipped mashed potatoes, and soft, southern green beans,with craft beer aged in bourbon barrels going down sweet.
I woke up in my niece’s room with stuffed tomcats and the sound of far-away freight trains – hauling coal, hauling steel – singing more childhood songs. In the ’60’s, I watched them on their black tracks along the riverbank from my picture window on the hill, wondering where they were going. I spun fleeting stories of what would have happen if I caught a ride, not knowing that eventually I would outrun those trains and fly: Boston, London, New York, Hollywood, Paris, Moscow, Mexico City, New Orleans, Rome. I watch a bright red cardinal and his greenish mate frolic in a pine tree. Our state bird, our rich hills, our Appalachia – it all comes back to me brightly because the truth of home never leaves no matter how fast or far you fly away. But you can bury it deep as coal.
I said goodbye to my little mom today, her tiny knees stacked under a pink microfiber blanket in the dementia wing of an old folks home whose themes – trains and travel – seem poignant to me now. I tell her about the beans
and fried corn
and how much we missed her at dinner. Most days she doesn’t speak. I tell her she is a good mom and she is doing a good job lying in her bed and breathing strong. Her eyes stay connected to mine for the longest time. I hold her stiff, chilly hand in both of mine and tell her I’m going back to California now.
“I’m going with you,” she piped up, and her cheeks lifted with the amazing knowledge that she’d just landed a damn good joke. I wished those trains could take us back to California on their steady, timeless tracks.
“I love you.” “I love you, too,” we agreed. These words were never spoken in the younger days of broken curfews and stolen cigarettes.
“Good night,” she said in the mid-day light, and somehow our hands let go. I could not return those final words because the prospect of the future without her is a child’s lonely nightmare: darkness tough as steel.
Sandy’s Soft Southern Green Beans
5 slices bacon,
raw 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds green beans, trimmed to 1/3’s
2 cups water (or enough to cover all the beans in the pot)
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vinegar
2 Tablespoons butter
In a large sauce pot or dutch oven, heat the bacon on medium-low heat until it starts to sweat. Add the onion slices. Allow the onion to brown lightly. Next, add the green beans, the water, the salt, and the vinegar. Allow the beans to simmer about 30 minutes, or until they are soft but still with some firmness. Taste a few to be sure. Strain the liquid, discard the bacon, and serve with small pieces of butter melting over them.
Better days in Cali.
Kelly’s Fried Corn
10 ears of yellow corn (late summer season; shucked)
6 cups water
1/2 stick butter (preferably European)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 Tablespoon herbs for decoration
Place the water in a large stock pot. Add salt. Allow the water to come to a boil, then boil the corn for about 5 minutes. Once done, remove the corn cobs and allow them to cool. Over a large bowl, cut the kernels off each cob length ways with a paring knife. While the corn kernels cool in their bowl, heat 1/2 the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the kernels and the salt. Saute the corn until it start to turn soft and a little creamy, about 10 minutes. Serve hot with a dusting of Parmesan cheese and herbs.
Recipes inspired by: Jane Norris, Sandy Bowman & Kelly Bowman Norris
Clark & Abby’s wedding made us happy.
Good family on vaca in South Carolina