Throw in the dish towel

dish towel

Photo courtesy SWX. Photography

When I was a wee lass, my mom used store-bought dish towels as well as those she referred to as feed sack dish towels. At the time, and for years to come, I never studied much on the origin of those plain white dish towels with the red edging. Indeed, if I thought of the matter at all, I probably decided there was no way those woven, hard plastic bags that contained the horse and hogs’ food rendered cloth dish towels.

Decades later, after I started keeping a house of my own, my mom gave me a few feed sack dish towels. As is my way, I used them until they contained holes and were coming apart. In spite of the fact that I could read through them, I would have continued using them had my mom not spied one during a visit to my house.

When I told her I didn’t want to relegate them to the rag bin, my mom offered to make more for me. I’m all for receiving free, useful stuff, so I said, “Sure.”

The second set of homemade dish towels were comprised of plain white ones as well as some that feature a light green and red floral pattern. Even though I’ve used them oodles of times, I didn’t try to connect the dots between my pretty dish towels and a feed sack. That is, I didn’t until this past weekend. For some reason I cannot explain, when I pulled one of the dish towels from the cabinet, I said to myself, “Self, did this dish towel really come from one of those woven, hard plastic bags that contained the horse and hogs’ food? If so, how did Mom turn it into cloth? Is she a magician?”

That evening, I asked my mom for the dish towels’ origin story. She once again told me they came from feed sacks. When I expressed confusion, my sister noted that Mom wasn’t referring to the aforementioned woven, hard plastic bags. As it turns out, back in the day, feed sacks were made of cotton. What’s more, in addition to making dish towels, my mom’s mom crafted dresses for her daughters from feed sacks.

As is my way, I needed to learn more about these feed sacks. I turned to the Internets where, in no time, I discovered that animal feed as well as pantry items like flour and sugar were sold in cotton sacks. Homemakers across the country figured out that the cotton could double as fabric. Once the feed companies learned of this phenomenon, they began printing patterns on their feed sacks.

Alas, the companies started using less-expensive paper bags in the 1950s, which put an end to the days of feed sacks doubling as high fashion. Fortunately, my mommaw amassed such a supply of feed sacks that her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are enjoying the benefits of feed sack dish towels more than half a century later.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.




Making do with what you have

One recent warm day, my adorable great niece allowed her hand-me-down Barbie dolls to skinny dip in a cooler. (For what it’s worth, my niece also never dresses her baby dolls. Not even when they go to the doctor or to church.)

I smiled when I saw a photo of the naked dolls surrounded by water, ice, and the leftover refreshments my nephew-in-law had packed to work. My niece’s resourcefulness reminded me of how my Barbies and I had made do without a swimming pool.

Before I go further, I need to explain that I did not pine for a Barbie swimming pool. I had a Barbie Dreamhouse, aka the best Christmas present ever, and that’s all I wanted. But there’s no denying that Barbie dolls need to cool off. Even thinking about carrying around all that hair during a sweltering summer makes me sweat.

So, when my Barbies required a break from the humidity, I took them for a swim in a mud puddle. And not just any mud puddle, but the one created by the massive tires on the school bus. (For what it’s worth, my adorable niece calls mud puddles “muddy puddles.”)

Careful not to let the dolls’ hair touch the water – once you wet a Barbie’s hair, you might as well shave her head – I let them splash around in the water until their clothes and plastic skin became stained by the brown water comprising the makeshift pool. Then, I shook off the water and placed the dolls on the ground to sun.

Later, I washed away the grime and dressed them in clean clothes, accessorizing with matching earrings. And by earrings, I mean stick pins because my Barbies didn’t have store-bought jewelry. Although, technically, the pins were bought in a store, so I guess that’s not true.

I had to be careful when putting pins, aka earrings, in Barbie’s ears. Indeed, I had to insert them at an angle or the pins would protrude the other side of her head. Not only would this hurt her, but the pins would also pierce my fingers every time my hand accidentally grazed her head.

With my Barbies attired for an exciting night on the town, they hopped in their cars. And by cars I mean my coloring books, which I pulled around the room, because I didn’t have a Barbie car.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Take your medicine

The board game Loaded Questions tests how well players know one another by asking such questions as “What’s the best part of being sick?”

When that question came up during a rousing game of Loaded Questions, I gave the obvious answer – getting to take cough syrup. Of course, from the way my family reacted, you would have thought I had admitted to Robotripping. For the record, I do not get high off cough syrup. I enjoy taking it because I like the taste. (For what it’s worth, I also like the taste of generic, liquid Mucinex.)

Anyway, the best cough syrup cannot be bought in stores or prescribed by physicians. It can, however, be made at home with only three ingredients – whiskey, lemon juice, and honey. Although some folks refer to this potion as a hot toddy, my family and I simply call it whiskeylemonjuiceandhoney. Yes, that’s one word with no commas, spaces, or pauses.

When I was growing up, whiskeylemonjuiceandhoney played an important medicinal role in our household. At the first sound of a cough from one of his children, my dad would stop at “the top of the hill,” aka the friendly bootlegger, for one of the medication’s main ingredients. Then, my mom would mix up a batch. Those of us lucky enough to have contracted a cough would line up for a tablespoon of the smooth, sweet syrup that spread its warm healing powers from the top of our infected heads to the bottom of our aching toes.

I loved it. I loved it so much that when I got older, I self-medicated. At least I did until I could no longer find the jar in the cabinet. It seems like some people in my family didn’t want me to get better. I’m not saying this lack of access to a needed medication contributed to my paleness, but I’m not saying it didn’t. I guess we’ll never know.

Nevertheless, until recently, I had never made whiskeylemonjuiceandhoney. But with one of my sisters suffering from strep, bronchitis, a viral infection, and who knows what else, I intervened. I don’t want to sound like a braggart, but my first attempt was a success. I know this because I licked the spoon and held the measuring cup above my head, letting the excess elixir drip into my mouth.

Now that I’m in possession of our family recipe – equal parts whiskey, lemon juice, and honey – I’ve decided to make some cough syrup for my own use. In hindsight, I can’t believe I haven’t done so before. Think of all those nagging coughs it could have cured. Think of all those times it could have been the best part of being sick.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The legend of Big Tom’s Toes

My dad, the late, great Burton Goff, loved to work in his garden. And although not a worrywart by nature, Daddy fretted over the health of his plants. He worried that the blight would afflict his tomatoes, that bugs would ruin his potatoes, that birds would eat his berries, and that deer would trample and/or feast on crops in general.

In an effort to be proactive, Daddy sought advice on how to combat obstacles to a bountiful crop. In the last year or so of his life, one gardening issue in particular vexed him so that he contacted the extension office. I can still see him sitting in his recliner, poring over papers.

“What are you reading?” asked I.

“It’s from that professor,” he explained.

Thinking that Daddy had withheld from me his decision to continue his education, I asked, “What professor?”

He then explained that the extension office had sought counsel from a University of Kentucky professor on his behalf. He seemed pleased with the response, but I must admit that I can’t remember if we ever again discussed this topic.

Nonetheless, Daddy wasn’t afraid to experiment with different gardening techniques. He surrounded his beans in bright orange plastic fencing that could be seen from space because someone told him that would deter critters. That’s also why I passed along bags of used kitty litter to him and why he draped tape from cassettes amongst his plants.

Whatever he did worked. None of us ever went hungry. Indeed, we enjoyed our share of, in his words, “garden suppers.”

As much as I might want to believe it, though, Daddy wasn’t perfect. Indeed, he didn’t have much luck with his “cabbages.” But he always raised such a bounty of corn, potatoes and tomatoes that he had to give away produce.

And after all these years, I think we’ve discovered the secret to his success. It wasn’t his use of “Miracle Growth” or his dedication to hoeing. It was his seed collection.

Whilst going through a deep freezer in Daddy’s old work building, my sister, Pam, located enough tomato seeds to yield plants for decades. We had known for some time that Daddy stored seeds in the freezer. In fact, that’s where we found the peaches and cream corn seed that produced a harvest the year after his death. But we hadn’t paid that much attention to the oodles of seed saved in and on such miscellaneous containers as plastic freezer boxes, baby food jars and paper towels.

That’s right. He affixed tomato seeds to paper towels.

Who knows how many years those seeds have managed to remain stuck to paper towels. Who knows how long they’ve rested underneath the description, “Big Tom’s Toes.”

Although I am well-versed in Daddy’s unique vocabulary, this description stumped me. At first, I thought it might refer to Daddy’s great-grandfather, Tom Collins. But I had never heard the man referred to as “big Tom.” What’s more, Daddy wouldn’t have preserved his grandpa’s toes. Unlike at least one of his children, Daddy wasn’t morbid.

Before I could spend too much time trying to translate the sentence, Pam explained that it meant tommy toes. (For those of you not fortunate enough to have grown up in a holler, tommy toes are also known as cherry tomatoes.)

As a writer, I felt proud that Daddy had inserted the apostrophe in the right place. More than that, though, I felt happy to see his handwriting again. I imagined him placing the moist seeds on the paper towels and then rummaging through drawers until he found a marker. As he spelled out “Big Tom’s Toes,” he probably thought he would plant those seeds in the soil of the land that his family has owned for more than 200 years. If not the next spring, then another one. They wouldn’t go to waste.

Now that Big Tom’s Toes have been located, something tells me they’ll be put to excellent use.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Murder on Calf Lick Fork now available


“Murder on Calf Lick Fork,” the third book in my Maggie Morgan cozy mystery series, is now available at amazon.
As “Murder on Calf Lick Fork” begins, all Gentry Harris wants for Christmas is to find his grandson, Jay, who disappeared months earlier on his way to work. Learning of Gentry’s plight, reporter and amateur sleuth Maggie Morgan volunteers to look for Jay. Her investigation takes her up eastern Kentucky hollows and leads to a butcher shop, a funeral home, and an emergency room as well as to encounters with a pair of dim-witted brothers. As Maggie uncovers Jay’s secrets and lies, she wonders if harm came to the young man or if he drove his pickup truck into a new life.