Cheryl Parham is a middle school educator I happened to meet while peddling books at the Prater's Mill Country Fair back in October of last year. She stopped by the authors' tent and talked to me and Janie Dempsey Watts for a few minutes about our books and keepsakes. A few weeks later, she invited me to come to her school and talk to her students about the writing process.
And so in February, I spent three fun days working with teachers and students at Heritage Middle School in Ringgold, Georgia. I explained my method for writing keepsake stories and encouraged them to write their own stories. Some did, and in the next week, I will feature a few of their stories on my blog.
But I start with Cheryl's story about a Jadeite biscuit bowl. As I read it, I could see the wrinkled hands of both of my grandmothers working dough into buttery biscuits.
Don't know what Jadeite is? It is a stain- and heat-resistant, milky green glassware that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s. It was commonly sold in dime stores. Sometimes, a bag of flour or oatmeal would include a piece of Jadeite dinnerware in the bag. Wanting to collect more pieces, consumers—like Cheryl's mother—would loyally continue to buy the product brands featuring Jadeite dinnerware.
I love Cheryl's story titled, "Mama's Biscuit Bowl." What do you think? Leave a comment.
“Mama, guess what happened to Sharon at school today. A bird pooped on her head. Out of all of us kids on the playground, the bird pooped on Sharon’s head. We laughed so hard at her.”
Mama just smiled as she continued to knead the biscuit dough. Nearly every weekday night you would find me perched on the counter rattling off about my day at school as Mama stood at the counter and made biscuits. I knew the routine by heart. She would get the biscuit bowl from the cabinet. With the flour and sifter already in it, she would set it on the counter, get a snuff glass from another cabinet, walk to the refrigerator and fill that glass half full of milk and then stop by the sink to fill it the rest of the way with water. Our time to talk would then begin.
Mama was all mine during those years. I was the youngest of eight children, but the closest to me was seven and a half years older. Three of my sisters were already married by the time I was born. The other four were working on it. I grew up—just mama and me.
As I watched and talked—mostly talked—Mama would sift the flour, hollow out a hole in the middle of the flour, and then scoop three fingers full of Crisco into the hole. After pouring the glass of milky water in as well, she would begin to knead.
“Why are girls so mean? I think I would rather play and talk to the boys at school instead of the girls. They talk about me all the time.”
“People only talk about you when they’re jealous of you,” she explained. “I wouldn’t worry about it if I was you.”
The kneading was done and now she was rolling the dough in soft balls in her hand. I continued to mull over my thoughts as she patted them flat and spaced them equally in rows of three in the bread pan that she had already greased with another scoop of Crisco.
“Mother, I was soooo embarrassed today!”
“Well, what happened?”
“It was very quiet in English class. Everyone was working. I sneezed and pooted at the same time. You should have heard everybody laugh at me. My face was blood red!”
“What did the teacher say,” she asked with a huge grin.
“She didn’t say nothing. She just looked at everybody. They all made fun of me in the hall though."
“Oh well, it will be alright,” she said.
By this time, the biscuit bowl with sifter had been returned to its place, along with the Crisco. Mama would open the oven door from time to time and check the biscuits by touching them. She knew when they were done by touch. She would pull those beautiful, lightly browned masterpieces from the oven and pour them onto the plate so that they folded over into a perfect stack. I never figured out how she did that.
There were so many conversations. So much of my junior high and high school life was shared over that Jadeite biscuit bowl. I could go on and share the “facts of life biscuits,” “the how do you get saved biscuits,” or the “why I cussed the softball coach biscuits,” just to name a few. Almost every mama lesson I remember was learned in the kitchen, and most of those were while making biscuits. No matter the topic of the day, the setting was the same—me on the counter and Mama making biscuits.
Years later, after my Daddy died, Mama wasn’t able to live by herself. It was not necessary to take her homemaking items with her so she went ahead and gave all of her children the things they wanted. All of the “Mama, can we have this or that when you die” things were being dispersed. The biscuit bowl had to be mine. None of my sisters argued with me over it because it did not hold the memories for them that it did for me.
The biscuit bowl has been retired from service now and holds a special place in my dining room. Not too terribly long ago, I learned that Jadeite is considered an antique and that you can find bowls like Mama’s in antique stores for about $50. That may not sound like a lot but considering it was probably bought new for a few bucks fifty or sixty years ago, that it is a pretty good rise in value. Nevertheless, it is, and will always be, priceless to me.
—Cheryl Parham, 2014
Thank you again Cheryl for inviting me to Heritage Middle School. I enjoyed my time there, and I hope that I inspired several young writers. Maybe they will put their pens to paper and begin their writing journeys early. I hope! And thank you for sharing such a lovely keepsake story with me and with Project Keepsake readers.
Do you have a keepsake? If so, share its story with friends, family, and the world. Keep storytelling alive. If you don't know where to start, consider buying a copy of Project Keepsake. The book's fifty-five short keepsake stories are examinations of why we keep the objects we keep. The last chapter takes you through the process of writing your own story.
To order a signed copy, click the link on the right. Shipping is free. Or you can download the book in electronic form from Amazon. Happy reading! Happy writing!