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Stirring up memories


A World of Memories
April 6, 2005

To pay a visit to Mary Walthall Pugh is not to walk into a Bon Air apartment on the square in Bainbridge; no, it is to walk into a world of memories.  Mary is a memory preserver, not only her own, but also those of her family and even of her Bon Air home.

Ask she about her childhood and she will draw out a picture of herself and a brother perched in Pensacola Bay.  Ask about more recent events and she’ll produce a photo of Mustang-the-cat who made the journey from Bainbridge to Tallahassee tucked in the innards of Mary’s red Mustang. 

Mary kept hearing a cat, she told me, but thought nothing about it.  Upon their joint arrival in the neighboring city, her unwilling passenger refused extraction for two hours.  The aptly named Mustang now resides with Mary’s daughter in Tallahassee.  He turned down the round trip ticket.

Mary’s apartment is filled with books of Mary’s making.  She has chronicled summaries of her life from her birth—stories and  pictures of seaside fun growing up in Florida, her carefree college days at the University of Wyoming in Laramie right through her marriage to Wyoming lad, Chuck Pugh, and on through years in Denver, a career in Tallahassee and her residence in Bainbridge.  The book for 2005 is already underway.

That’s not all she’s done.  She’s written a history of her home at the Bon Air—she was one of the original occupants after its renovation—complete with before and after pictures. That’s a treasure for all of Bainbridge.

Mary also kept all the letters her dad, Roscoe C. Walthall wrote to her while she lived in Denver during the years from 1951 to 1966.  Roscoe’s letters and those of her mother, Bertha Lee Bowers Walthall, who died in 1968, take up lots of shelf space.  The 3, 500 pages fill ten two-and-one-half inch notebooks!  That’s a lot of reading.  But Mary makes it easy.  For her friends and family she compiled excerpts from Roscoe’s letters into a slim volume she gives to family and friends—A Walk in the Forest with Papa.

Rather than arranging the letters chronologically, Mary chose to categorize them by general subject.

“A good way to write letters:  Just start one and whenever you feel like it, add to it from day to day; or just leave it and write on it for weeks and weeks,” appears under Letters.

Most appropriately, Roscoe wrote about Family Heritage. “Any child who is fortunate enough to read about his family history can say with complete fact, ‘I am that.’”  Advice that daughter Mary has made sure to follow and ensured that her own children will follow.

And she has done it by more than just preserving her father’s and mother’s letters. She has organized the pictures and youthful memories in lots of ways—too many to all be described here, but there are three that I particularly admire.  One, she has kept a daily journal just about every single day since she hit a rough spot in her life in 1966.  She took up the habit and stuck with it.  There is one whole bookcase in her closet that is devoted to the almost forty volumes.

She’d always kept a journal—off and on.  Like most little girls, she had a small diary with a lock and a key to wear around her neck or keep hidden in a special, secret place.  But, unlike most little girls, when she began in this series, she stuck with it.

“Every day?” I asked.

“Every single day,” Mary replied.  She gestured toward the red-bound volume open on her kitchen island.

“Every morning.  I’ve already written that you are dropping by today.”

I, too, have kept journals off-and-on.  It’s always been so.  Mary is an inspiration.  Wonder if it’s too late in ’05 to go buy myself a red bound book with 2005 on the spine?

At the same time Mary is writing in her journal, she’s putting together that annual scrapbook—with cards, e-mails, pictures—everything she wants to remember.  At the end of the year, she shares a summary with her children and grandchildren.

Mary has yet another ongoing and admirable project.  She’s put together a cookbook for her family that has not only favorite recipes, but also memories.  Mary has transformed one her mother Bertha’s most memorable expressions, “no fool, no fun” into the name of her cookbook—No Food, No Fun.  Mary explains in the introduction that it is a “mish mash of recipes and memories.” It’s in a great format.  Each sheet in the loose-leaf notebook is in a plastic protector, so that it can be unclipped, transported to the kitchen, and restored with no cooking splashes—they wipe right off.

The first chapter of the book focuses on foods that Mary calls priorities.  Here are three of them.  Mary learned to make the fudge from a 13-year-old neighbor girl in Denver, way back in 1956.

     Denver Fudge

      1 1/2 sticks butter

      6 tablespoons cocoa

      3 cups sugar

      3/4 cup milk

      1 teaspoon vanilla

       1 cup pecans

Melt the butter over a medium heat.  Add the cocoa.  Stir; let cook with butter about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the sugar and milk (Carnation Evaporated Milk makes it richer and creamier) simultaneously, stirring constantly.

Let cook for about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on heat—too hot will scorch).  Test candy by dripping a small amount into cold water; when a soft ball forms (234-240 degrees on a candy thermometer), it is ready.  Remove from heat; add vanilla and pecans.  Pour into a buttered platter.  Let stand a few minutes; then cut before refrigerating.

Pecan Dainties

(Mary allows that this is better doubled)

1 egg white

1 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Beat the egg white until stiff.  Add brown sugar gradually, beating constantly.  Work in nuts and crop from a teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 250 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove from sheet immediately and cool.

Bleu Cheese Dressing

1 package bleu cheese (4 ounces)

 1/2 cup salad oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Mix well with an electric beater.  Mary adds a little mayonnaise.

Add one thinly sliced onion.

Mary suggests serving this on steak.

There are many more recipes mingled in with Mary’s memories that make me want to head straight to the kitchen.  One is her mother’s fried corn.  I’ve heard of corn fixed many ways, but never fried up with flour.

Bertha’s Southern Fried Corn

Use approximately two ears of corn per person.  Scrape the corn off the ears.  Add 2 tablespoons flour, salt, and enough water to steam; cook about 45 minutes.  Start on high and turn down heat real low.  Before putting corn in skillet, put in about two large tablespoons butter to fry it in.  Bacon can be substituted (two pieces). Crumble the bacon into the corn.

When I try it, I’ll probably use a bag of frozen corn.

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network