Monthly Archives: December 2017

Remembering the Forgotten

As human beings, we want to be remembered when we are gone. We want to know that someone, somewhere will remember us. We cannot all be a Shakespeare or an Einstein, the world remembers those that left behind great legacies that cannot be surpassed. We settle for our friends and family remembering us and hopefully in a good way, for Death will visit us all.

This blog begins in a cemetery. A particular cemetery in Houston, Texas, The Houston National Cemetery, to be exact. My husband, Richard Kean, is a bagpiper and he plays his pipes all over the state of Texas and beyond. We’d gone out to the Veteran’s National Cemetery in Houston because he was going to play at a funeral there. We’d been there dozens of times before and I always had the intention of visiting my uncle’s grave but I never did, until a few months ago.

I looked for the location of his grave at the kiosk at the front and after Richard was finished playing for the funeral he was at, we went to look for Uncle Bill. It took me awhile, his grave was only marked by a footstone, no headstone. I found him but I’d forgotten to bring flowers or anything! I looked around for a stone to place on his grave but that cemetery is so well managed, not even a pebble could be found. I looked in the van, maybe I had left a rock in it, but I hadn’t. I promised myself to bring flowers the next time.

His name was Billy Gene Craker. He was born in 1928, the half-brother of my Grandfather. I don’t know much about his life. According to one of his nieces, he would come and go and no one ever really knew where he was, he was cursed by the family alcoholism. He did serve in the Navy during World War II though. My grandma always made a point of keeping up with her ex-in-laws though and Billy was no different from the others. My mother, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with any of her father’s people. Billy Gene moved to Houston sometime in the 70’s or 80’s and lived not far from my grandmother. He became a real-estate agent, got married and had a step-daughter. I remember him coming over to our house a few times, the memories are blurry though. That I met him, that was my memory of Uncle Bill, until I got a phone call in 1996, from a woman that knew Bill to tell me that he’d died and she was looking for my grandma.

Grandma was the only Craker in the city and she couldn’t find her phone number. Why? Because grandma’s phone number was under my dad’s name. She and my aunt lived alone together and they all felt it was safer that way. I do not have a clue as to how this lady found me. My name definitely wasn’t Craker and this was 1996 before we could find any information we wanted with a quick click of a button. I lived in a different county too. But she did find me. She told me that she needed to get ahold of grandma to find Bill’s nearest relative. I called grandma and she called the lady and found out the tragic story of Bill’s end.

Bill had been murdered. He was found in his apartment, with a screwdriver driven through his skull. My dad had said that he’d seen Bill selling newspapers on the street months before. I don’t remember if he did stop and talk to him. Something had happened, who knows what? The fact was that he was dead and there was no one to claim him. When things were sorted out, there was a funeral at the National Cemetery. I met his ex-wife, step-daughter and the same friend that had called to find grandma, at the funeral. I was the only blood-relative there. His coffin was basically a cardboard box.  It was so terribly sad. The story was written up in the local paper of his hometown, Monett, Missouri but I cannot find my copy and it isn’t online. If I ever come across it, I will include it in this blog.

Richard and I were at the cemetery again a few weeks ago. I brought flowers this time and I left them between his grave and the grave next to his because no one leaves flowers out in what is basically the pauper’s field section of the cemetery.  I remember Billie Gene Craker, I am perhaps the youngest person that does. His life was hard and his death tragic but he deserved flowers at least.

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Reclaiming my Birth

To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born.

“David Copperfield”, Charles Dickens

 

They say that you choose the hour of your birth. I most certainly did, it was something that was mine, I suppose that I knew that nothing would ever belong to me, even before my birth. But it was my hour, it was my hour of my birth. I shared my birthday with my twin, my wombmate, and an older sister but that time,that hour, that minute, it was mine.

An X-Ray, that is how they found me, in an x-ray. My mother was months pregnant with twins and didn’t know until then. My brother’s heartbeat and mine were in synch, that is all we would ever have in common. The day that Mama got that x-ray she brought it home, commanded my 4 oldest sisters to the big room and locked herself and my dad into their bedroom. The big girls, such sweeties, sent sister #4 to snoop. Jewell Cadell was all of 5 years old. She lay down on the floor in front of my folks’ door, peeked under, and saw mama display the x-ray to Daddy and tell him “I’m having twins”. Not, “We’re having twins, I’m having twins”. They’d found me. I didn’t want to be discovered and I was certainly in no rush to be born.

My mother’s pregnancy went amazingly well for a woman carrying twins in the late 1960’s. She carried us to term, no small feat in those days or even these days! Two weeks before we were born my mother was hospitalized and put on bedrest. I don’t know the particulars of the labor but I do know that my twin, William, was born at 4:49 am, September 7, 1968. His umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck a couple of times and the doctor slapped his bum twice before he made a whimper. Welcome to the world little one! Then it was my turn. Now, I figure that I’d spent 9 months cramped up in the womb of a short little woman and I had room, I was comfortable! I had room to move but I didn’t move down the birth canal.

My mother’s doctor, whom she trusted with her life, decided that I was taking too much time. Things were getting serious. ( I mean what if he was missing his golf game or something?) In all of his medical wisdom, he decided that my mother needed an episiotomy. A woman that had just given birth to a twin and had given birth 4 times prior needed an episiotomy. Genius! When he cut my mother, he cut an artery. She began to bleed to death. She bled and bled as I was being born. My mom died as I was being born. She says she remembered floating above the room and seeing and hearing everything but she was determined to live because she didn’t want the adoption agency to take my newly adopted sister away from the family.

My little brother once told me that we were both born killers. She also died giving birth to him. They revived her both times. Our dad said that he was glad that she lived. He had 5 little girls at home, the youngest having been adopted 6 months prior. When we twins were born, he said: “Well, I wouldn’t have believed he (my brother) was mine if he hadn’t come with a girl.”  That was me, the cereal in the box with the prize. The Toasted Oat pieces mixed in with the yummy marshmallows. If you want a boy, you have to take the girl with the package, sorry. From that day forward, for my mother, it was all about the boy that she’d named for her sainted grandfather, 6 girls faded into the background.me baby.jpg

William and I spent the first few weeks of our lives in the hospital, despite the fact that we were strong and healthy. Mother wasn’t leaving and we weren’t either.  Our first life experience was a cold and sterile hospital nursery of the 1960’s. We were also given cold bottles of formula. Mama told them to not warm the bottles as she had no intention of warming them at home. Cold hospital, cold bottles, cold mother, cold world. I still hate the cold!

To be continued…

 

Christmas Traditions

“Oh! All that steam! The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron. Oh! That smell! The same as the one which prevailed on washing day! It is that of the cloth which wraps the pudding. Now, one would imagine oneself in a restaurant and in a confectioner’s at the same time, with a laundry next door. Thirty seconds later, Mrs. Cratchit entered, her face crimson, but smiling proudly, with the pudding resembling a cannon ball, all speckled, very firm, sprinkled with brandy in flames, and decorated with a sprig of holly stuck in the centre. Oh! The marvelous pudding!”
Charles Dickens, ‘A Christmas Carol’
     When I married Richard I wanted to incorporate new traditions into our family Christmas. Making a proper British Christmas Pudding is one tradition we have added. My Grandma Baah, would always buy a Collin Street Bakery Fruit Cake, https://www.collinstreet.com/ but no one in my family ever steamed a pudding. I did find a Christmas Pudding recipe in my Grandmother Macafee’s cookbook but I am not going to use Corn Syrup or suet. Sorry, Grandma. My recipe is a bit more modern and comes from the “Traditional British Cooking” cookbook that I bought a few years ago.
The recipe looks complicated and there are a lot of ingredients and steps, so here goes.
Ingredients
Serves 8
1/2 cup butter
1 generous cup soft brown sugar
1/2 cut self-rising flour
1 tsp. mixed apple pie spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
My secret ingredient: Bolillos toasted and grated into fine breadcrumbs 
2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs
2 cups golden raisins
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup currants
3 Tbsp mixed candied peel
1/4 cup almonds
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored, and coarsely grated
finely grated rind of 1 orange or lemon
juice of 1 orange or lemon mad up to 2/3 cup brandy, rum, or sherry
  1. Cut a disc of greaseproof (waxed paper) to fit the base of the basin and butter the disc and basin.
2. Whisk the butter and sugar together until soft. Beat in the flour, spices, and eggs. Stir the remaining ingredients in thoroughly. Don’t forget to put a clean penny into the mixture so that the person that finds the penny will have good luck in the new year.
3. Turn the mixture into the basin (I use a glass bowl);level to the top. Cover with another disc of buttered greaseproof paper.
4. Make a pleat across the center of a large piece of greaseproof paper, folding in both directions and cover the basin with it, tying it into place with string under the rim. Cut off the excess paper.
5. Pleat a piece of foil in the same way and cover the basin/bowl with it, tucking it around the bowl neatly. Tie another piece of string around the basin and across the top, as a handle. My steamer has a handle on it, so no extra string.
6. Place the basin in a steamer over a pan of simmering water. Steam for 6 hours if a large pudding, 2 hours if it’s a small pudding. Check the water level often and refill pan with hot water as it evaporates. When the pudding has cooked leave it to cool. Remove the foil and greaseproof paper. Wipe the basin clean and replace the paper with clean pieces, ready for reheating. Do not butter the new pieces of paper.
7. This pudding can be made a month in advance and stored in a cool-dry place.
8. Decorate the pudding with a sprig of holly for your Christmas table.
     I could not find any golden raisins or a mixed bag of raisins this year so I bought a mixture of raisins, dried cherries, and cranberries instead. I think it will bring a very nice flavor to the pudding. We shall see.
     Now the fun part. When you are ready to serve, you douse the pudding in rum, brandy, or sherry, and light it! This is fun for the kids and I admit, I like this part as well. Cut the pudding into serving size pieces and serve with custard sauce. You can find Bird’s Custard Powder (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird’…) in most grocery stores in the US.
Reference
Walden, Hilaire. Traditional British Cooking / The Best of British Cooking: A Definitive Collection. London: Hermes House, 2010.
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