Mama Lay’s House: More Southern Traditions

18 Jan

I’ve discussed my paternal grandparents a bit, and true, I’ve a bit more to say about them, but for now, let’s turn to my maternal grandparents.

They, too, were fondly given the names: “Mama Lay” and “Papa Lay.”

Unlike Poppy, Mama Lay and Papa Lay lived about five hours away from us, and we thus saw them far less often. Going to see them required a trip, a long drive that was often more irritating than not.

Driving five hours is not a fun experience.

Riding five hours can be even less fun, but by the time I became a teenager, I had skillfully learned to listen to music on a portable CD player (back in the days when we used to actually have a use for CDs), and thus the trip was not nearly so bad.

We established a kind of ritual on the way to Mama Lay’s house- we would stop in Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, and eat at Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel served good, country breakfasts- the kinds of things that Southern folks are known for. Scrambled eggs, grits, bacon, biscuits, and gravy were all part of the menu.

When a Cracker Barrel opened years later in Dothan, I refused to go. I haven’t eaten at Cracker Barrel in Dothan at any point in time. As my grandmother has passed away, I have no real reason not to eat at the Dothan Cracker Barrel as I make no such journey to north Alabama.

Mama Lay’s house was tiny in comparison to my own house and the houses of most of the people I knew. To wit, she and Papa Lay had only five rooms- the living room, the kitchen/dining room, a bathroom, and two bedrooms, one which served as their bedroom and the other which served as a guest room.

Mama Lay’s bed had an extra mattress on it or something. I remember that I slept in the bed with her a lot when I was a kid, and that there was a strange incline that let up to her and Papa Lay’s room. Her room also had an incredibly creepy picture of Jesus that hung in it; He’s in the picture, sitting at a table, just staring at the viewer.

My grandmother made breakfast for us every day. She would also boil water in a tea kettle, and this was one of the few times in my life I remember anyone using a tea kettle. The premise of a tea kettle is that it whistles at the spout when the water has reached boiling temperature. I remember waking up to the sound of the whistling kettle and the smell of bacon and sausage frying in the pan, as well as seeing Mama Lay make biscuits. Eggs came next. She would also make coffee, I think.

Mama Lay was also a big fan of sweets- she invariably had some kind of cake in her house, and she enjoyed eating a piece of cake with a cup of coffee for breakfast.

I inherited that tendency!

Also, she was a big fan of the Price is Right, just like Ms. Alice.

Mama Lay’s filled her house with various knick-knacks; her shelves were lined with them, literally. She had a fake fireplace that I never quite understood when I was a kid, and around the fireplace were three cat statues and some stuffed chickens. The chickens always creeped me out.

Without fail, Mama Lay always wore dresses. I never, ever once saw or heard tale of her wearing pants. I thought this was something to do with her upbringing and generation for the longest time- until my grandfather passed away, and her siblings came to visit. One of them in question was wearing pants- so it was peculiar to Mama Lay to wear only dresses.

She was a fairly reserved person; I never once heard her complain, other than to say she was cold, and that seems to also be my main complaint these days. She kept quiet most of the time, but I know from personal experience of secret conversations we had that she was far sharper and aware of what exactly was going on than most people realized.

Since I’m taking this trip down memory lane, I’ll probably continue the blogs for a couple of entries.



Posted by on January 18, 2011 in food


Tags: , , , , , , ,

8 responses to “Mama Lay’s House: More Southern Traditions

  1. Magnificent Minimalist

    January 18, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    That was fascinating and heart-warming to read. I make my coffee in a French press and use a tea kettle to heat the water. Since I’m a coffee addict, I do this several times a day–sometimes I think the rhythms of my life are measured by the whistle of my tea kettle.

    • enamouredslave

      January 18, 2011 at 6:31 pm

      That sounds just lovely! It’s interesting to think of telling time that way.

  2. gigi

    January 18, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Yes, your Mama Lay was a very wise person in that she said very little, listened very carefully, and filed the info for a whammy later on.. She had a knack for that but not in a mean or vindictive way. She could really get into some deep conversational topics when she so chose and not on anyone else’s terms but her own.
    I always said when I was a teenager that I would never have doo-dads and knickknacks and whatnots when I had my own house. Wowee, don’t ever say never….

    • enamouredslave

      January 18, 2011 at 6:50 pm

      I just remember her mostly being quiet and generally pleasant.

      Oh, yes, we have knickknacks galore here, don’t we? I think the difference is that people gave Mama Lay a lot of hers and assumed she just wanted more and more.

  3. gigi

    January 19, 2011 at 7:09 am

    She really enjoyed them. And, she could touch every one of them and tell you where she got it and from whom and for what whether it was Birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas, or Just Because…She did buy some for herself, but yes, you are correct, most were given to her. I still wish I could make biscuits that taste like hers did. And dressing; mine just does not nor will it ever……

  4. The Onyx Plate

    January 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Memories are nice to have. Along with your momma’s comment on making biscuits as Mama Lay did…it’s true. It’s hard to replicate the biscuit making of older generations. There was some technique they had, some extra heart in it, some extra secret ingredient. Something they never told us…a grandparent secret? Although, it could be that the chemical make-up of different brands of flours have changed. And, there are articles online talking about…I believe White Lily is one that has changed.

    With that being said…maybe you’re doing everything right, Gigi, and it’s not you but in essence it’s the flour. πŸ™‚

    • enamouredslave

      January 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

      That’s a good point; I don’t think many of us have considered that. Or maybe there’s a kind of simplicity to the food that older people made.

      Understandably, it seems to be across the board with the older generations, especially in the South, that their food just in general tastes better. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to leave that legacy to grandchildren or great nephews and nieces.

      Also, Gigi’s being slightly modest- her biscuits are still really good.

      • The Onyx Plate

        January 19, 2011 at 7:12 pm

        I’m sure they are great…all Mom’s are modest. πŸ™‚

        Maybe that is something that comes with age as well? So we will all have that legacy to leave one day.


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