Transcribed by Kathleen Hastings Whitlock
June 8, 1950
* CAL’S COLUMN *
While on the subject of poor cooking and housekeeping, we might add a few more observations. In other years, this sort of a “malady” affected certain communities more than others. For instance whole communities were noted for their nice housekeepers and excellent cooks. On the other hand, many sections were “blest” with poor housekeepers and poor cooks. We use the word, “Blest,” in the same way that the old man did who was replying to a neighbor’s question as to how the old man’s wife was. His reply was, “My wife has enjoyed poor health for the past two years.” So we might say in the same light, some sections “enjoyed” poor cooking and housekeeping. We recall perhaps the worst home we ever visited, but of course we cannot call names. This was in 1914 and we were then a “year-old preacher,” which meant that we had not become hardened to sorry cooking. One of our preacher friends, his wife and sons, and our own family of that time visited this home. We had only one meal and this meal lingers in memory till today. We have never been in so filthy a place in life. The yard was full of filth, the house was almost as bad, flies were in swarms, the cook on this occasion was also very, very filthy and apparently had not the least idea of cleanliness. Children were all over the place and they were the dirtiest and most repulsive little ones we ever saw. At the table we found some salmon that had just been removed from the can and that day we “et” only a few mouthfuls of the salmon and we then begged to be excused. The sad part of this was that it was unnecessary. The filth and dirt could have been removed by hard work and persistence, the children could have been cleaned up, the yard could have had the manure removed from it, the kitchen and other floors could have been scoured, the woman of the house could have put on a clean dress, but there seemed to be no idea of cleanliness whatever in that family. The husband was a minister, but he did not seem to notice anything wrong. We supposed that he was “living in his element.” One of the two visiting preachers wanted to return and spend the night in this home, but his wife “vetoed the whole proposal,” and this wife belonged to the other preacher and not to the writer. It is needless to add that this was our first and our last visit to that home.
We recall another event which occurred in the fall of 1916. The writer was assisting one of his preacher friends in a revival in this county. The “pastor-host” said to the writer: “Brother Gregory, I reckon we will have to go down to Brother_____’s and spend the night, but I do not want to. He has no housekeeper.” By this he meant that his wife did not know how to keep house. We replied, “We can stand anything once.” We went to church that night, having eaten our supper in some other home before attending church services. After meeting was over, we went to visit the man “who had no housekeeper.” We informed that family that we had had supper and would not want to eat anything before retiring. Shortly afterward we were told that our bed was ready. It was the third Saturday night in October, 1916, and the coldest night of the season up to that time. As the other preacher got into bed and pulled the cover about his ears, he remarked, “Huh, this bed-clothing has not been sunned in two years.” We never bothered much about our sleeping unless we were disturbed by bed bugs; but when it came to what went into our mouth, well, that was another matter. So we got along very well in spite of the musty covers. But at the breakfast table next morning, we had “the time of our life,” as we sought to go through the pretense of eating. We did manage to get a little piece of bacon and some canned apricots down, but the meal was very, very unsatisfactory. We had shortly before gone into the kitchen to get a drink of water and found five pigeons flying about in that kitchen. This is no exaggeration, but the truth. We never went back “no more.”
Our good friend and brother, C______B______Massey, had a stomach that never revolted at anything, so far as we were ever able to detect. He got a great kick out of seeing our revulsion toward unclean food and we secretly believed that he sometimes deliberately led us into such “nasty places.” And we have somehow never gotten over that feeling. His wife of that day and time, the former Miss Fannie Graves, often revolted at his choice of places to eat and “swore” she would never go back again, and we do not condemn her for that sort of attitude. “The Captain,” as he called himself, and many others did likewise, could easily “sit on a dead cow and eat butter,” an accomplishment (?) that few men we ever knew to possess. Things could not get so bad scarcely that he could not eat with relish. We recall that on one occasion he had a meal with a family who had placed their dining table under a tree in the yard. The weather was very warm and the flies “very plentiful.” In the ham gravy on the table, he “discovered” some flies. But he “fished” 14 flies out of the gravy and then “et” some gravy. We think our stomach would have “revolted” long before we got around to the gravy.
While o the subject of gravy, we recall that one of our good friends, Brother______, once had a singer spending the night with him. We heard this singer tell the following tale on that man at church the next day: “Brethren, I spent last night with Brother______. At the breakfast table, I asked him to pass me the gravy. He sat and looked stupidly over the table, gazing from one end of the table to the other and apparently unable to identify the particular thing I had asked for. Finally his wife came to his rescue in the following words, ‘pass him the sop, fool!” The main idea was that Brother ______ had never heard of gravy, but had always called it, “Sop.”
Well, the Captain’s gravy tale exceeded any other we have ever known from a standpoint of filthy and dirty flies. We would have passed up the “sop.”
But back to our account of “bad things” in the line of eating. We recall that in the years long gone by, we went into a certain home in the Caney Fork Seminary section of Smith County for “dinner,” as we called the midday meal. We found there one of the dirty places in which one has to be half-starved before he can eat. In addition to flies “above measure,” general filth, a dirty house and table, the chief “attraction” was a certain chicken, which was about one third grown, and which had failed to grow any feathers, to speak of. His skin was badly sunburned, and he had evidently been used to getting into the house. Just before we sat down to eat, that “naked” chicken hopped up into a chair, then on the table and in a matter of two or three seconds, he was pecking into the cake that had been prepared specially for the preacher. He was “shooed” off the table and out of the house. But that pesky chicken came right back, mounted a chair and from the chair hopped right on to the table again, and fairly buried his dirty head in that cake. Without any effort to remove the” chicken-pecked” part of the cake, it was cut, and the preacher was offered a slice. But we declined with thanks, our appetite for cake not being keen like it was in 1895 when we were four years old and the Negroes across from our childhood home had a wedding with all the trimmings and a fancy dinner to boot, and we started over to get some cake. We got about half way to that home where the wedding had taken place when we were overtaken by an older cousin, a girl who took her protesting relative into her arms and bore him back into his home, as we said sadly, “Poor Cal, he want cake.” But we did not want any of the “chicken-pecked” cake. And we “hain’t never gone back there no mo.”
We recall another time when we went home with a family in Sumner County one hot fall day. The weather for September was unusually hot, and the family had killed a shoat and had some fresh (?) meat. We took out some of this meat and discovered that it was spoiled. We had to leave it on our plate. We also found that the cornbread had evidently been cooked at least two days earlier and we had to give that up. We “minced” along as best we could, keeping up quite a lot of talk and doing but little eating. As soon as we reasonably could get away, we left that place and went to the store where we ordered food to satisfy our hunger. “And we hain’t never been back than no mo!” that is, to the home of the “spoilt” meat.
These episodes represent the worst of the bad side of the proposition of poor cooking and housekeeping. And they have been the exception and not the rule by a ratio of perhaps 100 to one. This means we have found on an average 99 homes in which we could eat with relish to one in which our stomach revolted.
Many, many funny things about preacher’s eating habits are prevalent. We recall one that happened one summer day when we had supper with a friend of ours residing near Franklin, Ky. The young preacher were helping in the meeting was also a visitor in the home. At the supper table that young preacher ate one of the very biggest meals we ever saw a small man eat. As he dept eating and mound after mound of good food disappeared, a small daughter in the home, a child of about six years, innocently looked across at this hungry preacher and asked just as innocently as she had looked across the table, “Brother ______, do you have a rubber stomach?” Never in all our 58 years of living have we heard a more appropriate question by any person six or 60 years old. Amid quite a lot of confusion and chagrin, that preacher hardly knew what to say. It is needless to ask if there was any laughter. He was the same preacher who walked up to the car owned by his neighbor and in which the neighbor and his wife and little daughter sat. Being quite fond of the little girl and knowing her quite well, this preacher aimed to ask the little girl for a kiss. But instead of speaking the child’s name, he called by mistake the name of the man’s wife, saying, “Sue, give me some sugar.” He walked away in terrible embarrassment and his feelings can be better imagined that told.
The eating of fried chicken by preachers is almost proverbial. In fact many stories of their fondness for this delicacy have been told. We heard one recently about the one hen with 12 chickens, 11 pullets and one rooster. They had a fine time together, a nice little family talking together and searching for food together. The sisters were very proud of their one brother. At last there came a time when night had fallen and brother had failed to show up at roosting time. The pullets kept asking their mother where their brother was. Finally she answered, “The preacher came today and your brother entered the ministry.” Whereupon the sisters began to grieve loudly in chicken fashion. Finally their mother said, “Children, do not take this so hard. Your brother has perhaps done as well as he could in entering the ministry. He never would have made a good layman!” Readers will recall that the usual orders in the church are the laymen and the ministry.
We have a late one on one of our good friends who has false teeth. His teeth do not fit very well and sometimes fall from his mouth. Recently, while this preacher was standing over an old had-dug well, his teeth fell into the well, whose water was clear and the preacher could see his teeth lying at the bottom of the well. He tried for some time to “fish” them out, but it was all in vain. Finally a boy of ten or twelve years of age came by and said, “Brother _______, I can get your teeth for you.” The youth is reported to have gone into the kitchen where he found a chicken leg of drum stick, nicely cooked and brown and ready for eating. He is reported to have let his piece of delicious chicken down into the water until it was very near the lost false teeth. As a matter of habit, the two plates jumped at once and grabbed that chicken leg and held on to it until the boy lifted them from the well and restored them to their owner.
One of our good friends in other years was a resident of the vicinity of Carthage. He did not make any religious claims, but was a good friend to preachers whom he had known all his ife, his father’s home being the stay place of the preachers of that section during revivals at the Baptist church at that place. One day the pastor was invited to the home of the man above referred to. He resided with his mother-in-law and his orphaned daughter. The mother-in-law was one of the very best cooks and one of the finest women we have ever known. She had boiled custard on the menu for that day. The son-in-law’s knowledge, went into the dining room and saw the plate fixed for the preacher and the boiled custard for the guest as well as for the son-in-law. The latter had some whiskey hidden about the place and so he poured some of the contents of a bottle into the preacher’s glass and also into the son-in-law’s glass. Soon the preacher had offered thanks and not long afterward, he had a taste of the boiled custard. He remarked, “Sister _______, did you make this boiled custard?” She acknowledged that she had made it, and then the preacher said, “My wife makes boiled custard, but it is not like this. I wish you would write out your recipe and let me take it home and have her make some of this kind.” To this the good woman agreed. But a second glass of boiled custard did not have the “son-in-law’s touch,” and the minister drank only a small bit from the top and left it, the distinct flavor gone and the preacher perhaps wondering why.
That son-in-law got a great kick out of the event and never tired of telling it to other preachers. We have never tasted any boiled custard and this trick was one reason for our attitude.
We hope that readers will not think we are entirely frivolous and that we never have any serious thoughts. Later we will try to come back with things that are not so funny or ludicrous.