Mama always started a rough draft of a grocery list as early as Wednesday. Looking back I think she was very organized and disciplined. She was hard working and as a little girl I didn’t appreciate her enough. I think children are self centered by nature. It was hard for Mama to concentrate with Grandma looking over her shoulder. Grandma wanted to edit and critique her list. She would say, “Now, Jessie, you can mark that off, you don’t need it.” She was referring to a bag of stick candy; Daddy loved it. Grandma was scared her can of Garretts Snuff might get left off.
Mama poured over the list much like balancing a budget. She would add one item and mark out another. It had to come out just right for the amount of money she had. She was always able to stay within the limit. I never attempted to change her list or even look at it. I would however make a request every week. “Mama, can we get a bag of 25-cent potato chips and a pack of cookies?”
She never promised but would just say, “I’ll see, if I have enough money.”
The cookies were always a pack with a row of vanilla and a row of chocolate. The vanilla was my favorite and I remember neither Mama or Daddy ever got one. They always said they didn’t like them. I believe they did like them but wanted Wilma and me to have them.
If Daddy had a short week then Mama had to mark off some items. If he had a full week then I would get the cookies and chips. If I remember correctly, a full week gave Mama 10 dollars to spend. After carefully scrutinizing the list she would call them in over the phone. Mama would say, “Now, everybody be quiet while I call in my bill.”
She always ordered her groceries from Glenn Hooper’s store. The delivery man brought everything in boxes. A few items might be in a paper sack that Mama referred to as a poke. Among the most needed items were a bag each of pinto beans and white beans, Snowdrift shortening, Blue Bonnet margarine and streaked side meat. Also canned milk, sugar, coffee, self rising flour, corn meal and buttermilk. She also ordered several No. 6 paper sacks for lunches.
Mama packed Daddy’s lunch every morning and wrapped it all in wax paper. She made him fried pies from dried apples and apricots. Mama fed a family of six for 10 dollars. How she did it I’ll never know. She just knew how to make do. I never remember going hungry but no one stuffed themselves either. The only leftover was a piece of cornbread and Daddy would crumble it in sweet milk if we had any. He loved eating it before going to bed. We were all probably healthy as a result of her cooking. Everything was made from scratch, even her pie crusts.
Sometimes Mama made what she called a plain cake. It was kind of like a pound cake and she baked it in an iron skillet. It must have been a big responsibility to come up with meals every day and know your family is depending on you. Mama was almost always in the kitchen area and that’s where I can find her in my memories.
I don’t know if she enjoyed making out her list. She may have found it painful — having to scrape by all the time. If only I could go back and give her all the money she needed. Money for luxuries that were never written on her little tablet. It would be so much fun to say, “Mama, you don’t have to mark off that item this time, you can have it all.”
Kaye Steadman is a story teller and author of the book “My Names Not Verly”. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Facebook.