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Stirring up memories


It’s Saturday—let’s go to town!
February 5, 2003

I stopped by Helen Lee Sanders’ house one morning to pick up some childhood photographs she wanted to share.  A most welcoming aroma swept out the door.  How else would Helen be spending her morning?  She was cooking.

Cookies particularly caught my eye.  It couldn’t be otherwise, the counter tops were full of them.  Helen explained that she always keeps good, homemade snacks on hand for her husband, J. R. Sanders.  “And we’re down to the last slice of cake.”  I glanced at the cake keeper, sure enough, just one lonely slice lay on the plate. 

            While we enjoyed the smell of the baking cookies and the good lunch on the stovetop, Helen shared some more memories with me.

            While her stepfather, Turner Burke, mostly farmed cash crops like peanuts and cotton to keep his family going, he also raised plenty of food for them to use at home.  Corn was important, not only because it could be cooked up and served fresh from the field as a summer treat, but also because it provided the important cornmeal and grits for family meals all year around.

            Helen explained that the corn was left to dry on the stalk in the field.  Then Turner stored it still on the cob in the barn.  When it was time for cornmeal and grits, one of the children went to the barn and ran the cobs through the corn sheller.  Then the fun began.

            Everyone loved going into town to get the corn ground.  Turner harnessed up the two mules and the children piled into the wagon.  The family depended on the mules and wagon for transportation well into the 1940’s. 

I asked if it didn’t take a long time to go the twelve miles into town by wagon.  But Helen replied that it didn’t seem to take long at all.  Everyone was so looking forward to being in town.  Most often this was on Saturday afternoon.  First stop would be the mill where the family dropped off the corn to be changed into grits and meal. 

Helen remembers the mill being near the intersection of Albany Road and Carter Street just north of the railroad track (near Murphy’s Home and Garden Shop—I drove by, and there’s not a trace).

The real fun came after the stop at the mill, when the family made a special stop at the Bainbridge courthouse square.  “We all loved to go into town and visit the shops.  That’s when we saw our friends and got the news,” Helen said.  As the evening grew long, the family climbed back into the wagon and headed home for a good night’s rest before going to Pilgrim Rest Church on Sunday morning.

            Helen finished the seventh grade at Magnolia Elementary School, and she no longer had to wait until Saturday afternoon to get to come to town.  At that time, there was no school bus service to Hutto High School for children who lived in the rural parts of the county.  But Helen was determined to finish high school.  She moved to town living at first with her cousin, Bessie Williams, and later with Julia Smiley.  About this time, too, she began to be courted by a young man she met at church, J. R. Sanders.  When she graduated from Hutto High in 1951, he thought it would be fine idea to get married.

            But Helen had another idea.  A cousin in Tallahassee offered to help her through Florida A&M if she helped with the babysitting while his wife got her master’s degree at the school.  Helen was off to study cosmetology at FAMU. 

            When she graduated, J. R. once again suggested getting married.  No, he didn’t suggest it, Helen laughed.  He insisted.  And this time, Helen said, “Yes.”  They married in 1955 and are happy together today in the house they built in Bainbridge in 1958. Through the years the house and their family have grown.  They have four children, three daughters in Atlanta and a son in Tallahassee. 

            For several years Helen ran her own beauty salon near the house, but as her children grew older and needed more of her time, she closed the shop.  Later she became a probation officer for the Department of Juvenile Justice, from which she retired.  But retire may not be the best word for what Helen Lee Sanders does.  For over twenty years, she has been a member of the Decatur County Board of Registrars, she volunteers one afternoon a week at the Memorial Hospital Gift Shop, she is deeply involved in a youth mentor program in Grady County, and perhaps most important, she works with the Foodsource Program through Union Missionary Baptist Church.  Foodsource monthly provides low-cost food boxes to families.  (Find out more about Foodsource at www.foodsource.org.) 

            Most of all though, count on finding Helen in the kitchen, cooking up something wonderful.

Helen Sanders’ Pound Cake

1 stick butter

2 sticks margarine

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese

3 cups sugar

 6 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla or lemon extract

3 cups flour

Note:  There is no milk in this recipe.

Cream together the butter, margarine and cream cheese, then gradually add the sugar.  Beat until it is fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly.  Add the vanilla or lemon extract.  Gradually add in the flour.

            Bake at 300° for 1 hour and 45 minutes in a greased and floured tube pan.

 My changes:  I was long on butter and short on margarine, so I used three sticks of butter.  I wanted to take a cake to a friend and also wanted to try it myself,  so instead of using the tube pan, I put the cake in three 8 by 3 inch loaf pans and baked them for about an hour.  They were delicious.

Plan ahead:  Linda Atkinson, when she left off a jar of delicious chow-chow along with her recipe, reminded me that those tomato seeds should be planted and sprouting.  Hard to believe with the cold weather we’re having, but spring’s coming, and those green tomatoes as well.  Thanks for the tip and the chow-chow, Linda.

Remember, I’m looking for good cooks with long memories who will share their kitchen secrets with me.  And if you remember the mill on Carter Street, please let me know.

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