Something nudged me the other day and sent me to a closet where high on a shelf, tucked back in a corner, was a collection of Mama’s gatherings.
That box of mishmash told a lot about the woman.
There were three magnifying glasses of varying sizes, a clock that had long stopped, an emery board from a bank that closed 40 years ago (it still works great), a New Testament, newspaper clippings that had to do with her family, including one of her grand-nephew flying a kite when he was 9, and my favorite item: a half-used pencil from the 1964 sheriff’s election.
I laughed when I pulled out a pair of homemade angel wings that I had worn in a church Christmas pageant when I was about 8. I have to hand it to Mama – she was mountain smart and resourceful. The wings were made from two wire clothes hangers that she had twisted together at the hook. She then spread them and covered them with a pair of my old, white tights (I wore white tights a lot, usually with black patent shoes, but I did have a pair of shiny red ones and a pair of mustard-colored ones that I had worn as a flower girl in my sister’s wedding). Mama never stopped where most people would have. She did not halt her efforts at “good enough.” She always added something special. To these wings, she sewed three small silver bells so they jingled as I walked across the tiny stage.
Not surprisingly, those wings are dirty and tattered. It’s symbolic, I suppose.
Also in the collection I found was a TV instruction book on which Mama had written precise directions on how to make the TV work on cable (make sure it is turned to Channel 3. Remember those days?) In the summer of 2007, she had torn from a magazine a poem about “God’s Kind Care.”
Owing to Mama’s careful attention to the kind of doctoring that mountain people believe in, she had a booklet on “Folk Medicine” (ease aching muscles with ginger, heal wounds with blackberries and infection with juniper) and a much larger one on “The Miracle of Garlic and Vinegar” with the headliner “Flush Out Fat and Cholesterol.” Y’all have to admit: Mountain people knew things like this long before big city doctors with high degrees figured it out.
It’s hard to pick a favorite from this wonderful box of Mama’s, but I’m partial to a small notebook in which Mama had written down a few things. Apparently, she had consulted the almanac – or talked to my Aunt Kathleen or Uncle Delbert – about the best time to make what the Germans call sauerkraut but our people call “sour kraut.”
Mama noted at the top of the page: “Signs good now. Anytime.” Lower, she had written, “Make kraut when signs are below the hips, in legs or knees. Today is a good time. October 26. Through all this week.”
Now, first of all, anyone who has ever made sour kraut knows that if it isn’t made when the signs of the moon are right, that it will be bitter and uneatable. My brother-in-law, Rodney, loves sour kraut. Frances West, a member of his Sunday school, used to make it and give him a few Mason jars every year.
Frances once said to me, “It’s true about making it by the signs. One year, I didn’t and it didn’t make. I throwed out the whole batch.”
Mountain folks believe that the cycle of the moon dictates gardens, healing, hair growing, tooth pulling and sour kraut making.
The next page over, Mama had written phone numbers for six people. None of our phone numbers have changed.
And neither have the signs for making sour kraut. In a world of shifting sands, some things are timeless.
Mama’s collection of mishmash reminded me of that simple truth.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.