The jelly, the jam, and the marmalade,
And the cherry and quince “preserves” she made!
And the sweet-sour pickles of peach and pear,
With cinnamon in ‘em and all things rare!—
And the more we ate was the more to spare
Out to Old Aunt Mary’s!
My great-aunt Laura, one of Grandpa Kelly’s sisters, lived well into her nineties as did Grandpa. Still vigorous in her eighties, she wallpapered her living room by herself, including the nine-foot-high ceiling. My great-grandmother Christina lived with her. Bedfast, she lived to be a hundred.
Every summer Uncle Nolan Kelly, Aunt June, Grandpa, Mother, my cousin Carole and I made a pilgrimage to Michigantown for Sunday dinner at her home. We called it “dinner,” and the evening meal was “supper.”
There was no calorie counting or Weight Watchers, Atkins, or South Beach diets, yet few people were fat, compared with today. Women used wringer washers, hung the laundry out on clotheslines and ironed it, there being no such thing as dryers and polyester and permanent press. There were no riding mowers, and many tended gardens and canned the results.
People didn’t eat out as often. There were no calorie-loaded “fast” food restaurants, boxed foods or frozen entrees. Everything was made from scratch. Aunt Laura started cooking Sunday dinner on Saturday and got up early on Sunday to finish — as did my mother. When we arrived around eleven o’clock the table was set, and the food was keeping warm in the oven.
Some people eat to live, but I live to eat, and my middle shows it! I enjoy French and Italian cuisine, but nothing tastes better than made-from-scratch Hoosier cooking. There was no concern about the calorie count. Indeed, Aunt Laura probably never heard of a calorie! Her menu for this special meal never varied: both ham loaf and chicken and noodles, home-canned corn, mashed potatoes, sliced tomatoes, green beans fresh picked from her garden and slow-simmered with ham, “relishes” such as homemade pickles and cucumbers in vinegar, slaw, hot rolls, strawberry preserves made with her homegrown berries, cake and a couple of kinds of pie. My cousin, Carole Kelly Pittman who makes excellent pie herself, remembers that she had rhubarb pie for the first time at Aunt Laura’s.
After dinner, we sat in the parlor while the adults chatted. Aunt Laura’s children, Mother’s first cousins who lived in Frankfort, arrived with their children. I remember Dorsey Pittman who was Superintendent of the Clinton Co. Schools and his sisters, Charity and Dana. After they left, Uncle Nolan would say, “Well, Dad, shall we go out to the Old Home Place?”
Grandpa, Uncle Nolan and my mother always spoke in a reverent tone about the Old Home Place that my Kelly ancestors pioneered about three miles from Michigantown which is a few miles from Frankfort. It was the true North of their family compass. Knowing that it existed gives me a sense of the deep roots of my Hoosier heritage.
Riley came to the end of his story:
. . . Memory now is on her knees
Out to Old Aunt Mary’s.
For, O my brother so far away,
This is to tell you . . .
Aunt Mary fell asleep this morning, whispering,
“Tell the boys to come.”
And all is well out to Old Aunt Mary’s.
And now? And now all that remains of the Old Home Place with its famous round barn that people came from miles away to see is an old cemetery with tilting, crumbling stones on a woodsy knoll above a modern farmer’s soybean field. My great-grandmother was the last to be buried there. Other ancestors lie in the cemetery on the highway south of Michigantown.
Following Mother’s death, we lost touch with the Clinton Co. branch, and I don’t know the whereabouts of Aunt Laura’s descendents. My cousin, Carole Kelly Pittman and I are the only ones left who remember Sunday dinner at Aunt Laura’s . . . email@example.com