Tag Archives: life

Stew Day

This is a repost of a piece I wrote a few years ago about my family’s annual tradition of making Brunswick stew. I hadn’t thought about those times in a while, but today while outside in the crisp air a slight whiff of wood smoke took me back…

My morning walk took me by our local farmers market. It was a lively scene as vendors slid from their truck seats, stretched, and waved to others setting up for the day. I watched as a hardworking woman spread out ears of corn alongside tables of huge tomatoes and I was reminded of summers back home when it seemed everything in the garden ripened at once. Our piles of corn and tomatoes rivaled any farmers market.

Mounds of homegrown produce also meant it was time for a Brunswick stew.

I was an adult before I realized just how fortunate I was to grow up the way I did. My grandparents had a small farm and gave each of their children a bordering piece of land on which to build their homes. My grandparents’ farmhouse and the huge garden worked by our families were focal points for us all. I grew up surrounded by best friends – who just happened to be my cousins.

From my backyard I could look across garden, field, or pasture to see a cousin on their swing set, Daddy on the tractor, or my grandmother, Nannie. She might be picking beans, shucking corn, or emptying a bucket of tomatoes onto on old metal table under the apple tree. With so much ripe and ready at once, it was time for the stew.

It was exciting to wake up to the faint smell of wood smoke wafting across the field. Daddy and the uncles gathered early to start a fire beneath the huge cast iron stew pot. By the time we kids showed up the fire was at perfect peak, gallons of water were boiling, and Nannie, Mama, and the aunts had readied the vegetables and cut up the meat.

For the next several hours we kids played – usually as close to the fire as we could without getting fussed at – while Mama and the aunts scurried back and forth between the kitchen and the stew boiling outside. Daddy and the uncles would talk and take turns stirring the stew with what seemed to be the oar from a sizeable dingy. How interesting that Mama and the aunts were in charge of family cooking all year long, but on stew day Daddy and the uncles took over. I think they just wanted to play with the fire.

I never paid attention to what went into the stew. Even today I have no idea what recipe was used, the proportion of ingredients, or how long and how often the boat oar needed to swirl around the giant pot. I do remember timing seemed important and there was debate over several points: add the corn, no add the butter beans first, is the meat already in, should we add more water, have the tomatoes cooked down, add salt, don’t add salt, get that oak leaf out that just fell in, and on and on.

Hours later, after being properly talked over and paddled, the stew was ready. It was always good, but with Nannie’s homemade rolls alongside, it was even better. Naturally we washed it down with sweet tea.

As I walked back home after passing the farmers market I thought about the many family stews and how long it had actually been since I’d had any “real” stew. When I got home I checked the kitchen cabinets. There was one can of store-bought Brunswick stew. It might be ok, but it won’t be as good as “real”. I don’t know if it was the fresh vegetables, the boat oar, or the occasionally fallen oak leaf in the pot that made those stews so memorable.

It was more likely the fact that each time I ate real stew I was surrounded by laughing aunts and uncles, Nannie in her apron, and a gang of cousins. All gathered under a tree with bowls of stew in our laps, a roll in one hand and sweet tea in the other.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Home Game

The girls and I watched the ball roll to a stop against the trunk of a tall shady crepe myrtle.

As kids, we were mesmerized by most anything. Seconds earlier, from the bottom step of the back porch, one of my sisters had given our well-worn kickball a final punt towards the shrub before we ran inside to wash up for supper.

From somewhere we heard Mama’s voice. “Don’t leave that ball laying out there in the yard.”

We pretended not to hear. Our game wasn’t over. It could restart at a moment’s notice and we must be prepared! Put away a bike yes, a skateboard maybe, a kickball never. Unwritten rule.

My sisters and I, along with various cousins, played together in our backyard constantly. Most any time we could be found in the throes of Hide and Seek or Simon Says, but our pick-up kickball games made memories. Some of the best lasted from just after supper to just before lightning bugs. It was a fun, exciting, laugh-filled summer routine we knew would never end.

But it did.

Somewhere along the way, kickball took a backseat to other activities. Maybe a cousin “got too big” for it. Maybe summer vacations took up more time. Or maybe it was a childhood ritual that had simply served its purpose teaching us how to follow rules, be good sports, and recognize the value of family fun. While it lasted, it was our world. Surely, none of us realized the last time we played would be the last time we’d play.

But it was.

My sisters and I, cousins too, eventually moved on and away, but stories of kickball glories resurfaced whenever we regathered at Mama’s. We’d laugh over who was the best kicker, fastest runner, or loudest screamer. Mama would roll her eyes and remember we always made such a terrible racket. We reminded her she must have enjoyed it since she always watched from the kitchen. She’d grin and say she was just making sure somebody put away the ball. We liked Mama watching us. We knew she always would.

But she won’t.

Mama passed away last month. After the funeral and on my way back out of town, I rode by our old house. It had been sold months prior just after my mother moved in with one of my sisters. She wasn’t thrilled to leave the home she’d been in for sixty years, but she was happy knowing the new owners were a couple with children. Young children who would enjoy the yard the way we had.

I thought about that as I eased slowly up the driveway like a stranger. The same old driveway I’d pulled into my entire life, but now it wasn’t Mama’s. I sat behind the wheel and stared first at the house, then out across the yard where so many memories were made.

Images flashed before me of games we played, laughs we had, and suppers we bolted down so we could get back outside for more. While in thought, from the corner of my eye I noticed movement in the direction of the back porch. Two little girls stood on the bottom step, mesmerized by something they saw in the yard. I leaned forward on the steering wheel to see.

From somewhere I heard Mama’s voice. “Don’t leave that ball laying out there in the yard.”

The girls and I watched the ball roll to a stop against the stump of a long gone crepe myrtle.

Stuart M. Perkins

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The Local Scoop Magazine – It’s What We Do

A little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know that my essay about my family traditions on the Chesapeake Bay appears in the current issue of The Local Scoop Magazine!

This essay has been published elsewhere, but I’m thrilled that The Local Scoop was also interested in using it – along with some old family photos!

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine. Having enjoyed time at the bay my whole life, it was especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of The Local Scoop Magazine. They have a space under the essay for comments, so feel free to leave one. We love the feedback!

https://www.localscoopmagazine.com/life/it-s-what-we-do/

Thanks again to all who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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That’s Noody

This is a repost of a piece from a few years ago. I don’t know what it is that causes someone to be on your mind several times throughout several days, but she’s been on mine quite a bit lately. I wanted her to be on yours too.

That’s Noody

Signaling us to quiet down, my ninth grade English teacher rapped a pencil against the top of her desk. She then gave us our next assignment. We were to write a paper about someone we respected. Someone influential to our thinking and whose character we admired. The paper was due the next week and should be three pages long.

She rapped the pencil several more times to silence the groans.

We had the rest of class time to discuss the assignment and choose who we would write about. After deciding, we were to write our choices on the blackboard. Since the person could be anyone, from any point in time, many chose religious, historical, or political figures. After the last student went to the blackboard, the teacher read all of the choices aloud.

She went slowly down the list reading off names of famous figures like George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, and Neil Armstrong. She paused when she got to my chalk-written choice.

“Margaret Nelson Perkins Lankey?” she frowned and turned to the class, puzzled.

I raised my hand. “That’s Noody.” I said. “She’s my aunt.”

I was never sure why we called her Noody. It didn’t matter. I come from a large family and almost everyone had a nickname. That’s how it was done. Extended family lived all around me but I was lucky having Noody right next door. She and my uncle were as much a part of everyday life as my parents and sisters.

Noody had an old picnic table under her tree where she did everything from shelling butter beans to cleaning fish to cutting watermelon. When I saw her sitting there I’d walk over to visit. If she said “Let’s go sit in the swing.” I knew I was in for a treat. I loved hearing old family stories and she loved telling them. She taught me to remember where I came from while never forgetting where I wanted to go.   

She could drive a pickup, haul firewood, or cut grass all while holding a handful of cookies to snack on. Once, using a hoe, Noody cornered a snake near her shed. Feeling she was perfectly lined up for a quick decapitation, she raised the hoe over her head and came down full force. She missed, leaving a hole in the ground so deep it took a shovel-full of dirt to fill it. She giggled. Do your best and if it doesn’t go as you hoped, laugh it off.

Many snowy winters we cousins took sleds to a nearby hill and Noody would come along for the fun. She took us roller skating on occasion, showing us up by strapping on skates and heading into the rink like a pro. At the family place on the Chesapeake Bay, while other adults sat in the shade, Noody joined us kids in the water. She taught me how to float on my back, and that working hard may be necessary, but playing hard is just as important.

I once stayed with out of town relatives for some summer fun. When I returned home I met Noody in the swing to tell her about it. She asked if I sent them a “bread and butter note”. I told her no but didn’t tell her I had no idea what one was. She went inside and brought back some of her stationery. There at the picnic table she helped me write a proper thank you note. She taught me that and many other lessons over the years.

Not just a mentor, she was also an ally. Before my thirteenth birthday I saw an ad in a magazine for a tiny incubator and six quail eggs. Mama, not thrilled to add to the animals I already had, gave an instant “No”. Logically, I went to see Noody. I told her I wanted to try hatching eggs. Noody read the ad, put her hand on her hip and said, “Run bring me my checkbook.” With help from Noody, my uncle built an enclosure and the quail I hatched were part of my life for the next few years. She always told me if you want something bad enough, you can find a way.  

Many of my relatives are buried at the church near home. The same church most of my extended family attended, and many still do. When my kids were younger I took them for a walk around the cemetery there. As they read a name from each of the family tombstones I would say, “That’s your great grandfather.” or “That’s your great grandmother.” or “That’s your great uncle.” From a spot a little further down than some of the older tombstones, my daughter read a name.

“Margaret Nelson Perkins Lankey?” she called out.

“That’s Noody.” I said.

When I heard her name I remembered the years of good times with my fine aunt. I also remembered what my ninth grade teacher wrote in the upper right hand corner of my paper.

“Please show this writing to Noody.” it said.

I still wish I had.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Alexandria Living – “The Future is Up to You”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in the current issue of Alexandria Living magazine!

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it is especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living. If you like, please comment on the magazine website in the space they provide just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/the-future-is-up-to-you/

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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One Man’s Trash

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.” Mama said over her shoulder as she washed a plate and arranged it with others in the rack.

I was just a kid, so didn’t ask why I couldn’t have it. I dropped the rusty key back into the drawer and watched it disappear between a crushed matchbook and a small ball of frayed string.

When I was little, the drawer by the refrigerator was a forbidden mystery. The clanking sounds made as Mama or Daddy dug around in there were so intriguing. Finally tall enough to open it myself, I spent a few minutes running my hand through the odd assortment of things it contained. If Mama wouldn’t let me have the rusty key, I didn’t dare ask about the torn business card, the bent thumb tack, or the random assortment of colored bread ties. They must really be valuable.

Years passed before I opened the drawer again. Although it was directly beside the refrigerator, which I opened often, the drawer went mostly unnoticed. When I did open it again, I was taller and could peer even further into its mysterious depths. I fished out a cracked cigarette lighter with half a crayon stuck to it, the words “Burnt Umber” still visible on the fragile paper. Tucked behind the microwave’s yellowing owner’s manual was a pair of broken sunglasses. With a questioning look, I held them in the air as Mama came in from the grocery store.

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.” She maneuvered around me to put milk in the refrigerator.

I looked in the drawer several times over the years, at first to ease my curiosity but later to laugh and wonder how the collection of random items spent decades in that sliding time capsule without becoming trash. I never saw anything missing and rarely saw anything added other than a corroded AAA battery, an occasional rubber band, or the cracked cap of a long-gone ballpoint pen.

I vowed never to have a drawer like that.

Years later in my own home, I hung pictures one afternoon. When done, rather than put away the extra nails, I lazily dropped them into the drawer by my own refrigerator. I giggled when I realized the number of bread ties and shoelaces already taking up space there. Sometime later I lost the key to a small lock. Thinking I’d eventually find it, I put the lock into the drawer for safekeeping. When my daughter’s doll lost a hand, I put it in the drawer along with the tiny tire from one of my son’s toy cars. I knew they’d be safe there with the dried up glue stick and a feather.

As my kids grew older and taller, they discovered my drawer. They caught me off guard the day they asked to play with a broken wristwatch dug from its contents.

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.” I heard myself say.

I was puzzled by my parents’ junk drawer but more puzzled by my own. Why do we keep odd bits of trash? I had locks with no keys, keys to no locks, and actually struggled one day before throwing away a peppermint I found stuck to a cracked shoehorn.

My kids are grown now and I used to wonder whether they would collect various bits of invaluable debris like the rest of us. I stopped wondering the day I rode in my son’s car. As he drove, I looked in the glove compartment for a napkin. While rifling through crumpled receipts, a lone sock, and several packs of petrified chewing gum, something fell out and hit my leg.

I reached down to pick up the eraser-less end of a broken pencil.

“Well you can definitely throw this away”. I laughed. My son wasn’t laughing, but did have a slight grin as he spoke.

“No, let’s just leave it in there for now.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Motherwell Magazine – “Perfect Fit”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in Motherwell Magazine!

Motherwell is an online publication that tells all sides of the parenting story, with original content on family life, culture, obstacles and the process of overcoming them. 

Below is the link to my piece on their Facebook page. If you like, please comment on their Facebook page just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Motherwell Magazine – “Dumb Little Dish”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have an essay appearing in Motherwell Magazine!

Motherwell is an online publication that tells all sides of the parenting story, with original content on family life, culture, obstacles and the process of overcoming them. 

Below is the link to my piece on their Facebook page. If you like, please comment there just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Just Some Vanilla

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I had another essay appear in Alexandria Living magazine!

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it is especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living. If you like, please comment on the magazine website just below the essay itself.

We love the feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/perkins-just-some-vanilla/

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Tasty Truth

My daughter is an intelligent, funny, beautiful young lady. Only in her twenties, she already has a husband and a two year old son. On a recent phone call, as we discussed her fast-paced sales job, I was reminded that I wasn’t talking to my little girl anymore. Where did the tiny kid go I used to carry in my arms? I stopped mid-sentence and made a wistful comment about her being so grown up.

“Will you always think of me as a five year old?” she sighed. I could almost hear her rolling her eyes.

“Yes Baby Doll.” I answered, calling her the name I’ve called her since the days I carried her in my arms.

Even as a five year old, she was outgoing and curious. She sometimes asked questions that forced me, I felt, to come up with the tiniest of white lies. I wanted to shield her from the harsher realities of life for as long as I could. How dare anything ruin her happy, innocent world?

For instance, the time she asked why the raccoon was lying, belly-up, on the side of the road. I told her it was napping and I rolled up the window before she questioned the odor. And who could fault me for saying our goldfish was practicing the backstroke the day it floated lifelessly at the top of the tank? Or the time she saw two lewd Labradors lost in the throes of passion. Clearly, they were just playing leapfrog. I ushered her into the house.

I didn’t want her innocent mind tainted by such things and I found myself constantly on guard for realities I might need to filter. However, I was off my game the day the chicken truck pulled up beside us at a red light.

A few miles past where we lived at the time were huge chicken farms. Periodically, trucks loaded with live chickens traveled down a major road near our house. I’d made illegal U-turns several times just to avoid them. I couldn’t imagine what I would say if she ever asked about those trucks full of caged chickens being hauled to their deaths. I was always on watch.

Except that day.

I hadn’t noticed that it was an actual chicken truck when it stopped beside me. I was aware that a vehicle was there, but nothing prompted me to look over until I reached to change the radio station. That’s when something floated down and landed on my windshield. A feather.

Chickens!” I gasped.

As I glanced over, afraid to confirm, I noticed my daughter in the back seat looking intently through her window. Just feet away from her little face were hundreds of white chickens crammed into metal cages. Feathers floated everywhere. I can still see my daughter’s wide eyes as she stared at the sight.

I stopped looking at her, whirled around to face forward, and prayed for a green light. It remained agonizingly red. I thought maybe she wouldn’t ask anything.

Silly me.

“Daddy?” I heard the sweet little voice.

This was it. Please let me think of a good one.

“Yes?” I answered, willing the light to turn green. It didn’t.

“Is that what chicken nuggets look like before we eat them?” She pushed her face against the window for a better look.

I couldn’t think of anything to say. I had no idea she even knew chicken nuggets came from chickens. She obviously didn’t pay attention the day I told her they were made by nugget elves.

Well, she was five. I guessed it was time she started processing some of those realities I’d kept from her. I couldn’t avoid this one. She was staring at a truckload of misery and there was no way I could save her. I nearly teared up as I resigned myself to the answer.

“Yes, Baby Doll.” I said gently. “That’s what chicken nuggets look like before we eat them.” I gripped the steering wheel, stared at the stubborn red light, and waited for her to wail at the awful truth. I kept waiting.

Finally, she spoke.

“Mmmm!” she said with a huge grin. “I love chicken meat!”

The light turned green.

Stuart M. Perkins

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