Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Diet Pepsi or Pepsi Cola?

“Diet Pepsi or Pepsi Cola”, Grandmaw Ev hollered as she saw our truck pull into her driveway.

All of us kids hollered back, “Pepsi Cola!"

Granddad Opie and Grandmaw Ev

I remember we used to go visit Grandmaw Ev quite often when I was a kid. Her real name was Eva Lena, but everyone called her “Ev”. She was really my great-grandmother, but since her daughter (my grandmaw) died when I was really little, Grandmaw Ev became my only Grandmother on that side of my family. I remember her as being really loud. Grandmaw Ev only had one volume to her voice, gentle talk or whispering were not in her repertoire. It didn’t matter if she saw you in a crowd of a hundred people, she’d holler out at you at the top of her lungs and come and discuss some recent event that she just had to tell you about. People said that’s where we Burns kids got our big mouths, that when we got to going, we were almost as loud as Grandmaw Ev! In retrospect, I don’t reckon we were any more or any less loud than any other passel of kids, unless you count the fact that most times, people heard us coming long before that saw us.

I suspect that’s how Grandmaw Ev knew we were coming, she heard us coming up the ridge long before we wound our way around the mountain road to her house. She always made sure she had pop to give us, and she was a Pepsi drinker. I remember how she used to look at the bottles of Pepsi Cola and say, “I have sugar so bad the doctor won’t let me drink real Pepsi anymore, that’s why I have diet.” Even at my young age, I found this funny since Grandmaw Ev would say this while drinking a Diet Pepsi and eating a big piece of chocolate pie.

My Dad lived with Grandmaw Ev and Granddad Opie up until he was 10 years old. That’s when Granddad Opie died from an accident while working on the State Road Commission. So my Dad had a special place in Grandmaw Ev’s heart, and since I was his child, I reckon I got some special attention from her as well.

Grandmaw Henry

I remember one Christmas, it was right after my Grandmaw Henry died (Grandmaw Henry was Grandmaw Ev’s daughter), we went to visit Grandmaw Ev. I can still remember as plain as day us pulling up in that old truck and seeing Grandmaw Ev standing there in an old cotton dress with her hands on her hips and hollering, “Well, if it ain’t the Burns family. Diet Pepsi or Pepsi Cola?” It was never, “Hello” or “How do you do?” it was Grandmaw Ev’s way to just cut right to the meat of the matter with “Diet Pepsi or Pepsi Cola?”

I recall as we got out of the truck bed (yes, even in the wintertime, we traveled in the truck bed) she gave all of us kids a hug and a kiss, and told us to go on into the kitchen and get us something to eat. I suspect Grandmaw Ev knew we were coming for a visit, but I don’t know that for sure. In any case, she had her kitchen table plumb full of cakes and cookies and pies, and bottles upon bottles of Diet Pepsi and Pepsi Cola. After talking outside for a few minutes with my Granddad, my Dad and my Mom, Grandmaw Ev came into the kitchen and she had tears in her eyes. All of us kids looked at her, kind of puzzled-like and wondering what was the matter, but she reassured us by saying it was just because she was so happy to see us all. I reckon it was probably more like she really missed her daughter Bunny, as this would have been the first Christmas since she had passed away.

Winter in Germany Valley

All of us kids were really laying our ears back eating all of those cakes and pies and cookies that Grandmaw Ev had made, and we had all had at least two big bottles of Pepsi by then, when Grandmaw asked us all to come into the living room. We did, of course, and I remember Grandmaw Ev grabbed me up and carried me in since I was the youngest. In the living room, around her little cedar Christmas tree with the handmade ornaments, she had a gift for each of us. Well, we thought we had all died and went to heaven, because even though Grandmaw Ev was so nice to us, she had never gotten us anything for Christmas before this. I now know she probably didn’t get gifts for her grandchildren because there were simply so many of them and you couldn’t very well get one something and not all of the others.

Grandmaw Ev went to the presents and picked them up one by one and handed them out to each of us kids, telling us to wait until everyone had their present before opening them. Soon, all of the presents were handed out and she gave us the go-ahead to tear into them, and soon our vision was obscured by a massive cloud of floating paper and ribbons.

To our surprise, in each of the packages was a little bag of loose candy. Various flavors of hardtack, peanut brittle, circus peanuts, little caramels with cream in the middle, filled candies and the like filled each bag. Even I understood what this meant, this wasn’t meant to be just a bag of candy, it was Grandmaw Ev’s way of reminding us that my Grandmaw Henry was still with us. You see, every year for as long as any of us could remember, Grandmaw Henry would go down to Rig, West Virginia, at Dick Riggleman’s store and she would buy all different types of loose Christmas candies to give to the kids as a gift. That wasn’t part of her gift, that was her whole gift, and everyone loved it. And this year, even thought it was our first Christmas since Grandmaw Henry had passed away, Grandmaw Ev’s thoughtfulness reminded us that Grandmaw Henry would never truly be gone from us as long as we remembered her. Looking back, that little sack of candy may have been the best Christmas gift that I ever received, and to think of it still reminds me of the kindness and love that Grandmaw Ev had for all of us kids.

Christmas Day at the Burns household.

So this Christmas, I wish you and yours the very best of the best, and I hope you will take a few moments to ponder on the past and count your blessings. I, for one, will be remembering Grandmaw Henry, Grandmaw Ev and all of those who have passed on since them, and when the family is gathered together on Christmas Day, I just may rekindle more memories by shouting, “Diet Pepsi or Pepsi Cola”?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Review: "Beyond The Grave" by Granny Sue

Seldom does excellence get captured on a CD. However, I recently had the extreme pleasure and delight to come across such a recording. It is titled, "Beyond The Grave: Ghost Stories and Ballads from the Mountains" by Susanna "Granny Sue" Holstein.

From start to finish, this CD held my attention and I sat on the edge of my seat waiting for what would next transpire. I wanted to coin this CD as "raw perfection", but there is nothing raw about it. It is simply perfection. The recording quality is excellent, Granny Sue's voice is excellent, and this is obviously a masterful collection of stories and ballads as told by the master.

The depth of this recording is outstanding. The gentle, soothing voice of Granny Sue immediately transported me across time and space to my granddad's house, when storytelling of this caliber was commonplace. Sadly, many of the old-timey storytellers of my youth are gone, and with them many of the stories they kept alive with each retelling. I am grateful to have found a recording that captures that mountain excellence that I had long thought was lost.

From the opening story of "Wizard Clipp" to a soulful acapella version of the Appalachian power ballad, "Pretty Polly", Granny Sue keeps listeners spellbound. As she works through "The Holly River Ghost" and on into "Sidna Davis", you become one with the stories and, I assure you, you will be hanging on every word. This wonderful CD closes with a version of "The Greenbrier Ghost", perhaps the most famous of all West Virginia ghost stories, that will draw you in so completely that you will begin to believe that Zona Shue is the girl next door.

The Appalachian Storytelling on this CD is second to none, the traditional mountain ballads are sublime. One can clearly tell after listening to this offering that Granny Sue has spent countless hours honing her craft and forging into existence a powerful recording which captures the true essence of Appalachia. I cannot say enough nice things about this masterpiece.

At the very reasonable price of $14.95 (shipping included), I urge everyone to take advantage of this exquisite work of art.

I highly recommend it to the readers of this blog, it is quite simply Appalachian Storytelling at its best.

Visit Granny Sue's Storytelling Store for ordering information, you'll be glad you did.