Gunsmoke & Grandma’s Sugar Biscuits
There was a sense of excitement in the air. The car was filled with gas, the bags packed and two boys filled with anticipation of the adventure ahead can barely sit still in the back seat. It was almost time for the Delco Remy shift horn to sound which will send us off on our wonderful weekend adventure. Although our mid-sized Midwestern town of Anderson Indiana was a great place to live and grow up, it could not offer the wonderful different world found only in Tennessee.
Dad left the rural hills of TN barely past 20 years of age to find his pot of gold at the end of the General Motors rainbow. Indiana was the place to be. Life on his father’s small farm offered little for newlyweds. So he took a chance, moved his new bride to Indiana, found a good place to live, raised a family and enjoyed the American dream.
Oh the wonders of Tennessee. For two pre-teen Indiana boys, (whose parents thought that to be from Tennessee was so important their mom returned to Tennessee for each of their births), Tennessee was a year round wonderland. We settled down for our journey south. Our heads would soon be filled with visions of rich green pastureland, cattle, ole Kit & Joe (Grandpa’s mules), grandpa’s overalls and grandma’s checkered apron. Fishing, coon hunting and the smell of burning oak in wood burning cooking stoves and an open fireplace, oh, we could hardly wait… hurry up dad, we’re ready to go.
The three-o-clock horn finally sounded ending the first shift. Mom had parked near the entrance to the factory and we focused on each man who exited the building. One after another they came. There he was, the dark haired man running at a full gallop anxious to slide into the saddle of the sleek dual finned Buick which knew the southern trail well. Friday afternoon had finally arrived. We had a whole Tennessee weekend ahead of us. The horses from the big V-8 lumbered along at a steady pace while the boys in the back of the coach divided the seat and trip in half. We knew that somewhere in Kentucky those horses would need more fuel and that meant a Pepsi and a candy bar for us. Upon our request, “dadquest” would give us trip progress reports. The “when are stopping for gas” question would begin about an hour into the trip, to be followed by the “how much further” question another hour after the Pepsi and candy bar had long been forgotten.
There is something about the hum of rubber meeting the road, the sun quietly disappearing behind the hills and the heavens suddenly bursting with stars from horizon to horizon that gently rocks little boys to sleep. Two sleepy boys in one back seat; It has been proven, two boys trying to occupy the same space at the same time is a parental impossibility. Solution, one boy enjoys the comfort of sleeping with a whole back seat to himself (my brother) while the other likes adventure sleeping lying in the floorboard as we called it of the backseat (me). As we drifted off to sleep, leaving our Indiana world behind, knowing that when we awoke, we would be in our magic Tennessee world.
Hours would pass when gently, our sleep would be interrupted. “Boys, wake up and put your shoes on, we’re almost there.” We’re almost there, those wonderful words that let us know that our weekend adventure was about to begin. As our car rolled down the Sam B. Coward Highway, we sat on the edge of our seats straining as we rounded each curve to see beyond the reach of the car’s headlights. Past Harris Chapel Free Will Baptist Church, past Milt Eldridge’s farm, there it was…. On the left…. Grandpa Brown’s farm. What a wonderful sight even at night. We turned into the driveway and parked beside his old green pickup. We were here. The excitement was building. The porch light came on. We stepped from the car and walked into the clean mountain air. No smell of city, factories, or traffic. Just good old country air. Mammy, our grandmother, opened the front door. I can still feel the blast of warm air against my face and see the red hot stove pipe ascending from the top of the coal stove, bending ninety degrees and disappearing into the wall. There were my aunts and uncles who’d been waiting for our arrival. There was grandpa. With his overalls and seated in the “kings chair.” He was always glad to see us and have us “back home” as he called it.
We unloaded the car and the family talk would continue until dad announced that it was time to hit the sack. That’s literally what we did. The bed frame was made of iron and the mattress was like a large closed sack. It was filled with straw and corn shucks. It was great, not like the “store bought” mattress and box springs I was used to in Indiana. As we drifted off to sleep, there was a feeling like no other. We were at Grandpa’s house. The sights, sounds and smells were unique and soothing.
Saturday was a special day in TN. It deserves another story all its’ own.
But let me tell you about Saturday night. It was a tradition, as long as I could remember, for Dad’s family to meet at Grandma and Grandpa Harris’ for supper. We would wind our way around the narrow dirt road that forked off the main dirt road, which connected to the paved Rickman highway. We passed the barn which Grandpa had built with his own hands. I can see the small two bedroom farmhouse up ahead. The tin roof, asbestos siding, the stone fireplace and raised plank front porch with homemade mountain chairs and a porch swing anchored to the ceiling with metal chains for support and balance. Inside would be grandma and grandpa. Grandpa would have on his work overalls trimmed nicely with a long sleeve shirt (he always wore long sleeve shirts, even in the summertime). Grandma would have her long hair rolled up neatly on top of her head in that special way only she could do. She’d have on an apron and would already have begun preparing for the evening meal.
After hugs and kisses had been passed around, she would excuse herself and make her way back into the kitchen. She’d call for me to join her. She’s say “take this out on the back porch.” Then she’d place in my hand a homemade biscuit, which had been baked on her woodstove. The biscuit would be filled with freshly churned cow’s butter and packed with a generous helping of white sugar. Mom didn’t want us boys to eat too much sugar. She especially didn’t like grandma to give me those butter filled, sugar packed biscuits. This became our little secret. Grandma almost always saved me a homemade biscuit from breakfast to make my special “sugar biscuits” as she called them. I’ve travelled and dined in many states and a number of foreign countries, but I don’t believe I’ve found any desert that can match grandma’s “sugar biscuits.”
My dad’s brother and one of his sisters lived near-by. A few hours before sundown, the family would begin to gather. The men would sit on the porch in the summer and talk while the women prepared the meal. The children would play together from the front yard to the barn. In the winter the men would gather in the living room and watch “Wrastling” as they like to call it on TV live from Nashville. Country cooking was the order of the day. The announcement would be made that supper was ready. There was specific order in which country folks ate. The men always ate first and the women and children ate after that. I was the oldest grandson so sometimes I got to eat with the men. That was a special honor.
After the dishes were done the whole family would slowly move into a small living room. I’m still not sure how we got everyone in, but somehow we did and no one was left out. My favorite place was to sit was in one of those homemade mountain chairs right beside my grandfather. We both would lean back our chairs on two legs with our backs against the closed front door. We’d all watch TV together and I’d listen to the adults talk. I dreaded what came next. The program Gunsmoke would come on the TV. I knew that when Gunsmoke went off that my weekend was about to come to an end. I would go to sleep in my grandma Harris’ featherbed having enjoyed my Tennessee weekend. I would fight sleep as long as I could. Knowing that when I woke up, I would be heading back to my Indiana world and my Tennessee adventure would be over.
Both sets of grandparents have long passed on. I’m many years past those days, but I drift back from to time. Many times totally unexpectedly. A whiff of oak smoke drifting through the air is captured by my senses and immediately pulls me back to a little tin roof house in the hills of Tennessee. The sight a hot biscuit handed to me by a kind server, usually at Cracker Barrel my favorite country food restaurant, reaches deep into my memory and pulls up a picture of the beaming face of my precious grandmother handing me a “sugar biscuit” she had prepared just for me. I’ve come to enjoy re-runs of Gunsmoke on TV. Funny thing, I seem to fall asleep and miss the ending most of the time.
Oh by the way, I left Indiana and came back to Tennessee to attend college. Loved it even more and ended up spending the majority of my adult life here. I live in Wilson County. I guess the tug of those homemade biscuits and Cracker Barrel’s corporate headquarters being in Lebanon may have been a subconscious draw to Wilson County.
Tennessee is still a wonderful magic place to me. It’s ironic that my father left Tennessee to find his pot of gold in Indiana. I left Indiana and found my pot of gold in his home state and mine – Tennessee. A second by the way, after retirement, dad and mom also moved back to Tennessee.