Launch date of Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar will be . . .
January 29, 2015
More details to follow soon. Thank you for your patience.
Thankful to the good Lord for the journey.
Thanksgiving—Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house . . .
Our family nearly always went to Ethel and James Hopper’s house, my mother’s parents, along with cousins and aunts and uncles—a gathering of the clan dressed in their finest attire.
Along with the chatter, the laughter, sometimes drama and tears, and playing games with cousins, I will never forget the food.
My favorite was dipping into the steaming bowl of chicken and dumplings and we never seemed to run out. There were probably dozens of other dishes around the table, but I chose that one more than any other. I did sample the home-canned corn cooked in an iron skillet, bread-and-butter pickles, and finally the jam cake with Carmel icing.
Today, one of our family's favorite is made from some of the Thanksgiving leftovers and we always enjoy it the next day: Kentucky Hot Browns.
The recipe originated years ago at The Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, but the cheese sauce—perfected by my mother—turned an ordinary-sounding dish into something scrumptious. The secret is in the sauce.
Kentucky Hot Browns
6 T. Butter
1/2 Cup Flour
3 Cups whole milk or you can use part half-and-half
½ t. Salt
½ t. Dry Mustard
1 T. Worcestershire Sauce
2 t. chicken bouillon granules
1 Cup shredded extra-sharp cheese
Melt butter, add flour, and cook one to two minutes or until browned, stirring constantly. I use a whisk. Gradually add milk. Heat until thickened. Add seasonings & cheese.
6 slices toast
Turkey, sliced thin
Ham, sliced thin
6 slices tomato
6 strips Bacon, cooked
Shredded Parmesan cheese—about ¾ Cup
You can make these in individual baking dishes or in a 9x13 pan. Spray dish with Pam.
Arrange toast slices in dish. Add turkey & ham. Cover with cheese sauce. Top with tomato & bacon. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 425 degrees until bubbly.
My daddy joined the Army during WWII, but soon after completing his basic training, he was honorably discharged. I think it was due to his lack of nighttime vision and though he didn’t like to talk about it, I once heard him admit to a friend that being unable to fight alongside his fellow countrymen brought feelings of guilt and shame.
After his discharge, he was determined to help in any way he could so instead of going back to a job he knew, as a coal miner in Kentucky, he became a welder in the shipyards of Mobile, Alabama. He learned to repair damaged battleships or helped build new ones. He could no longer wear a military uniform, but his skills were needed for those thousands who did.
Thank you, Daddy, for serving your country.
My sister, Bonnie Rae, and I were born in 1941 and 1943, respectively. We endured chicken pox, cod-liver oil, and having our tonsils removed—together. Mother sewed us plaid, white-collared dresses with puff sleeves. She platted our hair or clipped it with beribboned bobby pins.
When Bonnie entered first grade, I turned a clock’s hands forward because I thought it would speed her return home. I was a tag-along and a pest.
One day she told me to climb inside an abandoned truck tire. I did, and she rolled me down a hill. When she said a hobo living in the miners’ bathhouse was a boogey-man, I believed her. As young teens, when she walked down our church isle during revival, I followed.
In a school musical, she was cast as a southern belle. I had to black my face and ‘pick’ cotton. She played clarinet. I attempted trombone. She liked to sweep and dust. I baked cornbread and pastries. She favored one aunt, I another. Yet we double-dated, shared prom formals and a wedding dress.
At thirty-eight, Bonnie chose scriptures and hymns for her funeral, gave me her string of pearls. She died of bone cancer. I miss her; wish I could be her shadow still.
I am thankful for the promise of eternal life. One day, when I see her again, we will laugh and dance along the hillsides of heaven.
Who has touched your life with joy?
Give thanks to the good Lord for them.
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Romans 9:7 NIV
Bonay pulled weeds under a hot, Haitian sun. Hours later he carried an armful to the missionary’s gate. “For your new rabbit,” he said.
Judy Revis, known as Madam Steve, knew this boy from their village was not only thirsty, but hungry as well. So when she brought him water, she handed him a peanut butter sandwich as well.
“Merci,” Bonay said with a broad smile.
From this simple exchange, a new ministry was born.
Bonay ran and shouted to his brothers and sisters and all of his friends, “I traded weeds for peanut butter!”
Soon scores of children combed the countryside, pulled more armfuls of weeds, and carried them to Madam Steve. This time she had prepared lots of limeade and a basketful of peanut butter sandwiches.
Through out that afternoon the same children returned time after time as the weed piles grew taller. Too much food for one lone rabbit, but Steve soon acquired three goats and that problem was solved.
Still, Judy was puzzled. The children could not have eaten all the peanut butter sandwiches she had given to them in such a short time. She turned to Bonay and asked him,“What are the children doing with their food?”
Bonay hung his head, but then he looked up and told the truth. “They are giving it to others in our village who are hungry.”
Elated, Judy laughed and cried and hugged the little boy. The Haitian people had been too proud to accept “handouts” from the missionaries. But they were willing to enjoy the fruits of the children’s hard labor.
Before long, the supply of bread and peanut butter was depleted. But the story does not end there.
Word about Madam Steve’s “peanut butter kids” spread stateside and cases of peanut butter began arriving in Haiti, shipped by the Revis’ family and friends.
Months later, the children who first traded weeds for peanut butter began coming to the missionaries, not only for food, but for another reason: a backyard Bible study where they eagerly learned about the “Bread of life.”
More months passed. Then, some of the parents of those children asked the Revis couple if they would hold church services in their yards.
Look how God used a hungry, skinny boy with an armful of weeds and a missionary with bread and peanut butter, both with giving hearts, to bring hope to a Haitian village.
If you think you don’t have anything grand to offer to the Lord, give willingly whatever you have. The Lord will bless it and use it for His glory.
In my younger days someone might casually ask, “Do you work or are you a stay-at-home Mom?”
Even though I knew what the person meant, the question bothered me because the implication was that if you stayed at home, you didn’t work.
I taught school, mostly second grade, until my husband and I were blessed with our first child. Soon afterwards, I was fortunate to be able to stay home, and eventually helped raise two children. But I could never match the work ethic of two women in my life.
My mother nearly always had an outside job, from office work to managing a coal-camp’s commissary to seamstress and part owner of a drycleaners. Even though my sister and I, when we were old enough, had supper ready most evenings, she had other chores to do before her day ended.
My mother-in-law worked entirely at home. On their farm—that had electricity, but no indoor plumbing—she cooked three meals a day for her family plus field hands. She raised and canned vegetables, fed chickens, cows, and pigs, and washed endless mounds of clothes that she hung on lines in the backyard. She did all of this, and much more, with a stiff right leg. As a young woman she had contracted TB that resulted in a kneecap that wouldn't bend. I never heard her complain and her handicap never slowed her down.
Both women worked hard all their lives—they did whatever needed to be done—for their families.
When you were growing up where did your Mom work?
What were some of your responsibilities?
Coal Camp Living
Like children in most communities across our land, we dressed up for Halloween. In the early fifties, if store-bought costumes existed we weren’t aware of them. We scrounged around for old, usually over-sized clothes of our parents and outfitted ourselves as hobos, pirates, or my favorite—a gypsy lady with a long, full skirt and lots of jewelry. We set out with pillow cases in hand and a piece of soap in a pocket just in case someone didn’t have treats we would be prepared to mark on any window we could reach. We didn’t usually have to do any tricks because we knew all of our neighbors and they knew us, even though they pretended not to when they opened their doors.
Sounds like a calm, idyllic Halloween.
Yet there was bone-chilling fear about one place in our coal mining camp and we especially avoided walking anywhere near it on any day or night of the year: the miners’ bathhouse. It was as big as a barn and a scary place—I had peeked inside one time—with rows of miners’ clothes hanging on hooks pulled high up to the tall ceiling. In the early morning the men could leave their regular clothes here, put their work clothes on and then at the end of the day shower and make the switch again. So there were always clothes hanging there and to me they looked like men who had been hung in the dark shadows, minus their heads and feet.
If that place were not scary enough all by itself, an old man showed up one day and began living inside. He was homeless, and I’m sure harmless, but the camp children whispered horrible tales about him grabbing anyone who strayed too close. And if he caught you, you would disappear—forever.
Even so the camp’s mothers took up the task of feeding this man his supper every evening. When my mother’s turn came around, my sister and I had to carry his plate down our hillside, across a small bridge, across railroads tracks, and finally up to the bathhouse. Once there, we sat his plate down, banged on the door, and ran all the way back home. That was heart-thumping fear.
Did you celebrate Halloween as a child?
What were some of your childhood fears?
No, this is not the name of a new band or even a new song, though it could be.
My mother often told us about walking to school when she was a child. We have told our own children such stories about walking for miles in the deep snow, up hill both ways. No wonder they rolled their eyes.
But my mother swore this tale was true. On her way to and from school, she had to pass a neighbor who had monkeys in his trees and they screeched at her as she passed by. She was petrified that one, or more than one, would swing out over the fence and jump onto her back.
Every morning her mother would warn her, “Stay away from those monkeys.” Mother did her best, running as fast as she could go down the sidewalk. She didn’t slow down until she felt like she was safe.
We laughed at her story. Mother told us to call her older sister, Eula. “She’ll vouch for me. Eula remembers everything.” We called. She did not remember.
“How could you forget those awful monkeys?” Mother yelled into the phone.
And so we teased mother about monkeys in the trees. After awhile, she stopped being mad and laughed along with us. We started giving her things with monkeys on them. Daddy even gave her a huge, stuffed monkey that made terrible sounds and we bought little ones that sounded even worse.
Then came the monkey bags that an artist friend painted for her. Mother especially loved this one. She carried it to doctor appointments, to the beauty shop, and down to dinner in her assisted-living home.
Now I use it to carry books when we travel or my Bible to church, but I haven’t yet carried it to dinner. Maybe I should, in memory of my mother and her monkeys.
Daddy was always the first to rise before daylight. If our small wood-frame house was chilly or cold, he would stoke the fire in our warm-morning stove with pieces of coal from a nearby bucket. Soon I would smell coffee perking and bacon or ham sizzling in an iron skillet. By then I was up and joined him in the kitchen as he fried eggs and then laid pieces of bread in that same skillet to brown. While he cooked, he packed his lunch in the miner's bucket pictured here. Fresh water filled the bottom section. The top often held a bologna sandwich, a Moon Pie, a small jar of pinto beans, and a piece of leftover cornbread.
My daddy was a Kentucky coal miner for most of my childhood. He was little more than a child himself when he stood over the sifters high above the temple, where pieces of coal tumbled down a long chute into one gondola after another. He was small and lithe and perfect for the job. He said he felt like a dancing monkey up there, but at least he could catch a glimpse of clouds moving across the sky.
As he grew into a teenager he learned how to weld a two-headed pick deep inside the earth. He told me of setting a big rock on top of his lunch bucket to keep the rats out. He faced other dangers as well: methane gas, rotten timbers, rock slides, and dust-filled air. I never knew him to complain of his working conditions. He was a coal miner until he was thirty-nine years old. In 1958 many coal mines were shutting down and we moved to Frankfort where he joined a brother-in-law in the dry cleaning business. Before long Daddy and Mother bought a cleaners of their own, where they worked for nearly thirty years.
My daddy came from a family of coal miners. Many of my husband's relatives were farmers.
What did your dad, or mom, do to provide for your family?
Whatever you call them, they are an essential item in most women’s wardrobe.
I have a collection of old ones that I hold dear. The largest, tapestry one, as well as the tiny, beaded one belonged to my great grandmother. Mother’s oldest sister carried the soft, black purse. I found the black one with the silver handle in an antique shop.
Agnes Marie Hopper, the main character in my book, also loves purses. She found her favorite, a red-leather soft as a baby’s behind, in a garage sale. She carries it everywhere, even to the retirement home’s front porch where she rocks and knits and tries to straighten out her tangled thoughts.
Agnes always has a Cox Brothers Funeral Home fan resting in an outside pocket of her big purse. The small southern town of Sweetbriar can be sultry hot, just like that July day when she moved to The Manor. Only on that day, when she needed it the most, her fan had seemed to vanish.
Agnes believes: “Every woman ought to have a rain bonnet, a fan, headache powder, and a clean hanky in her purse at all times."
Do you have a favorite purse?
Is it old or new?
What items do you carry?
This page is dedicated to my inspirations and those who have enriched my life along the way.