Mom's gift of love, hard work and lemon pie

It was nothing less than ironic that my mom was born on June 21, the first day of summer. Mom made no bones about it -- she hated summer.

In fact, she despised any sort of hot weather no matter what the calendar said. So it's ironic too, I think, that it was during the sweltering summer months that Mom reached deep into her well of forbearance and welcomed visitors into our home.

Looking back after 70 years, I'm amazed at Mom's sense of derring-do. You must keep in mind, in our household we didn't have any modern-day conveniences. In summer, when it was hot outdoors, it was hot indoors too — even hotter it seemed.

Those were the days before home air conditioning. When Mom cooked supper in the kitchen, the room itself was an oven. And speaking of oven, she seldom used it in hot weather. Almost all food was either boiled or fried on the stove-top. Even baking-powder biscuits were supplanted by fried cornbread cakes.

Mom didn’t own fancy, modern kitchen appliances either. She probably wouldn't know what they were. In our house, there was no such thing as a blender or an electric mixer — and food processors had not yet been invented. In fact, I well remember our first ice box — and yes it was an ICE box — that sat on the back porch. The ice man came and delivered a block of ice twice a week.

Mom didn't have a dishwasher. Nor did she have access to a garbage disposal. Why, she didn't even have kitchen cabinets or a counter on which to roll out pastry dough and prepare meals. An electric coffee maker was beyond her wildest dreams. She made coffee in a stove-top percolator.

Beyond mealtimes, all of Mom's chores were a challenge by today's standards.

There wasn't an automatic washer or a dryer. Mom spent Monday morning — laundry day — bent over a wringer washer. After washing countless loads of clothes, she went out to the backyard and hung it on the clothesline, no matter the weather.

Remember, those were the days before permanent-press and wash-and-wear, so Tuesday was ironing day.

Now it's true, vacuum cleaners had been invented by the 1940s, but Mom didn't have one. All floors had to be swept with a broom. Carpets were hung over clothesline and the dirt was beaten out with a broom.

It seemed there was no rest for the weary, and Mom — I can attest to it — was often weary.

During the war years, not even oleo margarine was readily available in the A&P dairy case. Mom hand mixed the oleo blending a block of vegetable shortening with orange food color that came in a powder.There were eight of us in our family. The numbers speak for themselves. Mom spent her days, from early morning until late at night, cooking meals and packing lunches for her forever hungry brood.

Mom understood hunger; she was forever hungry.

She loved to eat. And no matter how many people resided in our house or how overworked she might have been, she always had time — made the time — to prepare good and nourishing meals. As a child I was a picky eater, but I don't recall any other family member ever being dissatisfied with the hearty meals Mom served. She often quoted the old saying, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach" — although she applied it to everyone, not just men.

Mom never wanted anyone to go to bed angry, and she didn't want them to go to bed hungry either. Now, I'm not saying that she was a renowned chef, but she was a great cook. All it took was a quick glance at her full figure to realize that Mom's lifelong passion was food. She shared that passion by means of serving up scrumptious pork chops and hamburgers steaks, slathered with onion gravy.

When I stop and think back, I can't recall just how all of my family members managed to survive in a two-bedroom house. There was an attic room, but the accommodations were cramped.

For instance, who slept where when my cousin Phillip came to visit for two weeks? When the high school girl, Joyce, from Richmond, came to stay with us while she attended summer school at Hampton High, our resources were stretched mighty thin. Forget about privacy for us — and her as well. I remember that Joyce slept on the sofa-bed in the living room. She could go to bed only after Dad had finished reading the evening paper and us youngsters had toddled off to our beds.

You'll recall that I mentioned earlier that we didn't have air conditioning back then. Well, after an hour or so of cooking supper in the kitchen, the room was unbearably hot. We ate our meal as quickly as we reasonably could and scurried from the table without ceremony. Mom had two choices. She could stay and wash up the dishes as quickly as possible, or she could join Dad on the front lawn and while away the time until the kitchen cooled a bit and tend to the dish-washing then.

It was a conundrum.

There was no easy way out of the household chores expected of Mom. Did I say it was amazing? Well, I’ll say it again. Mom's daily workload was amazing. Even so, she did additional chores and tended to personal obligations.

Many an afternoon I spotted Mom as she knelt at her bedside, with Bible at hand and held her private devotions and quiet time of prayer.

Mom was a woman of many talents. She sang, played the piano and wrote poetry as well. Her vocation might have been a housewife and mother, but her true longing was to be a writer. And write, she did.

Throughout the day she scribbled on note paper or scraps of brown paper grocery bags. Alongside poems there were songs and commercial jingles. Day after day, Mom wrote jingles. Month after month, year after year. She entered jingle contests by the dozens. And year after year ... nothing. She never won the first contest.

That is, until finally, one day a postman knocked at the door. He carried a fairly large package Mom needed to sign for. What a thrill! It was a prize she'd won for one of her jingles. Not a first prize, not a second prize, but a third prize. Who cared? It was a prize, all the same. Hallelujah! Mom had won a prize. And what was it? It was a portable electric mixer. Her very first small electric kitchen appliance.

Mom was in heaven, but we youngsters benefited. For an entire month practically every day we had homemade cake for dessert after dinner. And pie too. Beautiful, luscious lemon pie with fluffy meringue.

A wonderful, airy and sugary meringue that only could be made with the help of an electric mixer.

Whipple, a Williamsburg writer has published several books, including "Christmas Jottings -- There is a Season."

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