Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Unca P, Aunt Carrie, and Beans and Cornbread

JP and Carrie Wallace were like my Grand Parents. 

Carrie Wallace was my Dad's older sister - Carrie Mae Bain. Born and raised on what was to one day be named Bain Road in Limestone County, Alabama.

JP (that was his name, not his initials!) Wallace was from a large family also from Limestone County. Soon after they married they ran away from the sharecrop-farming life and headed toward industry and a chance for change and a better life. Automobiles.

Pontiac, Michigan.

They did not strike gold or oil . . . but they did blaze a trail and show that escape from abject poverty was possible. My Mom and Dad (Elizabeth and John Walton Bain) did the very same thing . . . very literally following in JP and Carrie's footsteps.

The Wallace's had three children that all later became like my older brothers and sister.

After Mom and Dad hit Michigan (first living with the Wallaces, then finding their own apartment then a house) they began to populate their family, too.  I was born in Pontiac in 1956 and my brother, Danny, followed a few years later.

How the Wallaces spoiled us!

Aunt Carrie was the very best country cook that I have ever known. She always prepared a feast for us every time that we were in their home or at their table. She is the only person that I have ever known to cook yellow mashed potatoes!

They weren't really potatoes . . . they were yellow elbow squash that she had raised in the garden the grew down the back side of her house. She would cook the squash, then put them in a mixing bowl and whip them into the buttery consistency that looked like yellow mashed potatoes. I'd never eaten that, or heard of it before. I've never seen any one else cook it.  It's just as well . . . it just wouldn't be the same.

Last Friday night I was out for supper with family and friends and I ordered a plate of pinto beans and cornbread. It is my favorite thing to eat in the whole wide world.

Not just because it always tastes so good . . . but mostly because it is a delicious memory.

My Mother has told me many times that the first solid food I ever ate was pinto beans and bean soup mashed up in fresh homemade cornbread. And I ate it when I was so little that I couldn't even hold my head up. I ate it at the Wallace's table, from Aunt Carrie's stove and oven . . . on JP Wallace's knee.

Danny and I just always called him Unca P (Uncle JP).

I heard, over the years, that Unca P had been a very hard and rough man. He was harsh and had a problem with the drink and all of the problems that the bottle brings.

I never knew or saw that man . . .

I remember the day (as still a small child) when Michigan called Alabama and my Daddy answered the phone, spoke a minute or two and then . . . in amazement . . . turned away from the phone receiver and said to my Mama . . . "JP got saved!"

I had no idea what those words meant . . . but my Daddy's face was dressed in astonishment and my Mother smiled all over. I didn't know what Unca P had been saved from, but I remember being happy for him. Remembering that conversation has been a gift that God gave me that I will never forget.

I remember most . . . the man that Unca P became after he became a Christian. He truly WAS saved.

But he was never a purely terrible or bad person . . . or my sweet Aunt Carrie would never have married him. And he fed little babies pinto beans and cornbread.

My Mother told me this story every time she saw me sit down in front of a plate of pinto beans and cornbread (which she provided many times in my life). As I carefully used my fork to mash the beans and bean soup into the cornbread to make a mash that looks like BROWN MASHED POTATOES (!) . . . she would tell me how it used to make her so mad that JP was feeding her little baby, who was still NURSING . . . beans and cornbread!

She was sure that I would strangle to death!

But Unca P would have it no other way. He'd fed HIS kids from the dinner table when they were tiny . . . and he would also feed his nephews.

Well, I survived . . . and Mom told me this story grudgingly, but with fondness.

A meal, a smell, a sight, a sound.  A photo, a sign, a face. They make wonderful memories flood to the front of my mind. How wonderful they are. I wouldn't give them up for anything. I will probably cling to them and remember them long after my sense and rationality have faded into age or dementia. 

I thank God for my wonderful life!

Thank God for family, friends, good food and great remembrances.

Thank God for Yellow Mashed Potatoes, for Pinto Beans and Cornbread!

Thank God for saving Unca P . . . . . . and for saving me.

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