Sunday, November 8, 2009

Eating Meals with Grand Daddy Ben

I think I'll give Mother a break and pick on someone else today; Ben Neville LeDuke.

Many of my memories of my Grand Father seem to center around the dinner table. I suppose if you can remember how "round" Ben Neville was that would not be hard to understand. It's not his fault however. If you ever had a meal cooked by Miss Maude, you would understand why Grand Daddy Ben never wanted to miss a meal if it could be helped.

Ben Neville married his first wife, Odie Lee, in 1914. They had two children, James Neville and Martha Naomi (Carter). Odie Lee died in the early 20's. Ben Neville took his second wife, Maude MrCreery, in 1926 and she bore him a son, Charles Franklin. James Neville, Martha, and Charles Franklin grew up on "Miss" Maude's cooking being served around a large dining room table at 325 Cherry Street in Tiptonville.

It was around this beautiful oak table that I learned what a real "southern" meal was suppose to look like. Miss Maude performed miracles out of her tiny kitchen. When we went to her house for a "Dinner" you could count on just about every meat imaginable being served: fried chicken, baked ham, fried rabbit and squirrel for the "gamier" eaters, and roast beef was not an uncommon spread. Veggies would be equally represented: corn (on or off the cob), greens, fresh pole beans, boiled potatoes, and green peas shelled that morning. Sliced tomatoes, spring onions, and two kinds of rolls would find a place somewhere on the table or on the side board.

I seem to remember taking a short break to clear the table after dinner to make room for the desserts that would follow: pecan pie, apple pie, strawberry shortcake, and some kind of layer cake would appear. It would be insulting not to take a small slice of each offering; so most of us did.

Now not every meal that Grand Daddy Ben ate was like the "Dinner" just described. Just as fine a meal to Ben Neville was another country favorite which I remember consuming with him when he would take me on an outing to hand out "hand-bills" to advertise one of his up coming auctions. We made the rounds to every small country store within 20 miles of the location of his next sale.

There was a time when I knew every old-time country store in Northwest Tennessee and Southeast Kentucky. I'm talking about pot-barreled stove in the middle of country store. Pickle barrel at the front counter country store. Candy dishes full of licorice lined across the counter country store. Checker board on a barrel country store. I'm talking "Norman Rockwell" country stores.

And every one of these stores had a deli-box of some description in the back where I got to have that other special southern favorite of Ben Neville LeDuke's; bologna and crackers, a moon pie for dessert, all washed down with an RC cola.

Now there is no doubt in my mind that some of you are thinking that I'm just making that up just to sound like some old cliche: Moon pie and an RC. Think what you want. Those memories are real. Just as real as the memory of how those crackers and moon pie stuck to the top of my mouth. But when you had been riding dusty roads all morning nailing hand bills to phone poles and trees and talking to every store owner in every little holler in the hills, I came to look forward to those crackers and RC almost as much as Miss Maude's dinner table.

Now I don't want you to think that Ben Neville chained Miss Maude to the kitchen. She did not have to cook every "fancy" meal that Grand Daddy Ben ate. He gave her a day off every year; Christmas Eve. That's the night the whole "LeDuke" clan gathered at Lakeview Restaurant for our annual family dinner and gift exchange. We always had dinner in the private dining room in the back corner of the restaurant and every LeDuke who was able attended.

Most years saw Grand Daddy Ben and Grandma Maude; James Neville and Catherine with Cathie, Jimmy, and Richard in tow; Martha and Shelton Carter and their daughter Martha Sue; Charles Franklin and Chris bringing Linda Lu and Buster. Also we had Grand Daddy's two sisters; Aunt Mary Belle Campbell and Aunt Ethel with her husband Uncle Pete Smith.

Anyone's who's eaten at any of Reelfoot Lake's restaurants knows you won't go hungry with the spread they all put out. The Christmas Eve dinner table at Lakeview was always full of fried chicken, baked ham, catfish and crappie, a large assortment of vegetables and, of course, baskets full of hush puppies and soft dinner rolls. However, we never ate dessert there because after the dinner we would all retire to Grandma Duke's house while she was still living and then later to Uncle Charles Franklin and Chris's house for our gift exchange.

Extra special at Aunt Chris's house was the "Gourmet" assortment of Christmas Cookies which were a tradition with Aunt Chris. She would start baking weeks in advance of the Holiday and her cookie spread covered her entire dining room table. I'm not talking about simple chocolate chip thingies. Go find a holiday edition of a fancy cooking magazine and somewhere inside you will find the kind of cookies made by Aunt Chris; thousands of cookies; hundreds of varieties. Many trips to the "cookie area" were made by everyone during the evening. Being around Grand Daddy Ben was a good thing because where he was, good food was.

Ben Neville didn't rely on the groceries of Lake County to stock his dinner tables. He was an avid hunter and fisherman. Two good things stand out in my mind about hunting or fishing with Grand Daddy Ben; gathering the game that would eventually end up in Miss Maude's kitchen on its way to her dinner table, and eating the lunches she would pack for Ben Neville and crew to eat while they were out in the wilds. Fried chicken, deviled eggs, biscuits, and pecan pie were staples in a Miss Maude prepared lunch box. Sometimes I think Grand Daddy Ben went fishing just so he could show off his lunch fixings to whom ever was near by.

As to the actual hunting experiences; I will have to leave that for a future posting. There are simply too many memories of our adventures and miss-adventures to cover at this time and I've probably bored you enough already.

Besides I'm hungry and I think I left some chicken in the fridge.

1 comment:

  1. Since you're broadening your horizons subject-wise, I'd like to request an "Aunt Mary Bell in charge of handing out gifts" posting, please. As the caretaker of this title for the last 30 years, would love to see how she fit in with the Bubba and Papa story.