My father’s oldest sister in a family of nearly all boys was named Myrtle. Everyone called her Sister which seemed to be the norm in southern families for the oldest female sibling. She was about 10 years older than my father and for me was more a grandmother figure than an aunt. The winter after my 5th birthday my grandmother died. I hardly remembered her at that young age.
My father was raised in the Deep South and I was raised with many of those traditions even though I was a first generation Texan on his side of the family.
Aunt Myrtle was an amazing cook and no one ever left her table hungry…family, friends who were visiting or happened to be there at meal time, the postman, or any of numerous deliver men who happened to come up her drive when a meal was on the table were expected to stay. They could not even think about saying “NO” to an invitation to sit at her table.
What fascinated me about her the most was that she ‘dipped’ snuff. This was a common thing in those days for women of good Southern breeding to dip…smoking was scandalous and unheard of at that time for any woman who had a taste for tobacco. The snuff of choice was Garrett’s Sweet Snuff. To me it looked like cinnamon in a juice size glass jar covered with a tight-fitting aluminum lid.
An elderly Texas family friend also dipped Garrett’s by placing a pinch in her cheek and replaced it several times during the day. A new dip always after dinner – the noon meal – and supper – the evening meal.
What fascinated me with Aunt Myrtle’s dipping method was something she called a ‘toothbrush’. Not something a person would use to brush their teeth with, but something all together different. She had a collection of twigs in a can that in its original life held fruit or vegetables of some type — the source long gone with the wrapper that was removed when the can went on to its next life.
After breakfast each morning Aunt Myrtle’s ritual was to choose a twig and prepare for her daily toothbrush. She would whittle the bark from one end and start chewing on the exposed wood. She worked that wood until it was all ‘brushed’ out and looked like a mini-broom to me. When it was just right … soft and supple … she was ready for the first dip of the day as she went about her chores and cooked lunch.
Now this is what fascinated me … Aunt Myrtle would she carefully open her snuff jar and placed her newly prepared moistened toothbrush deep inside the sweet-smelling snuff. Then she would swirl it around and around until it was coated just right. That snuff coated toothbrush was popped in her mouth, chewed a few times and used to ‘scrub’ her back teeth as the dipping began. After this little ritual, the bark covered end rested in the corner of her mouth until she either needed to ‘spit’ or scrub her teeth again. More snuff was added as the morning went on.
Before eating lunch, she cleaned out her mouth, cleaned off her toothbrush then sat down for the noon meal. If none of the men of the family or a male visitor was sitting at her table to offer the blessing it was her job before we all dug in to share the bounty of her groaning table.
After lunch, dishes were washed but food was never put away. It remained in the center of the table and covered with a small table cloth until suppertime. Supper was leftovers that may or may not be reheated before eating. The glory of this Southern Tradition was being able to lift that cloth in the middle of the afternoon and steal a cold piece of fried cornbread for a snack. The wonder of this tradition is that no one ever got sick from these unrefrigerated left overs.
Of course, a new toothbrush of snuff got her through the afternoon and again after supper we all sat on the porch, rocked, gossiped and the little kids (I helped when I got older) chased lightning bugs. There was no TV and no AC in those days. We made our own fun and tried to stay cool on the porch as sultry air blew in from the coast.
For me that was a time of simple joy and freedom without a worry in the world. Everyone should have these kind of memories, but I know not everyone was a lucky as I was growing up in a family of many Southern Traditions!
Copyright © 2016 Annie Original Nonfiction
Always…I wish you peace, joy and happiness, but most of all I wish you Love.
As Ever, Annie