Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.


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Grandma Stories

An adult male chicken, the rooster has a promi...

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Grandma and Grandad Reeves used to live in Park Hill, Oklahoma. (Near Tahlequah.) Before that they lived in Stinnett, Texas, Olive, Sapulpa, and The Ford. After that, they lived in C-Town. 

Grandma’s philosophy was a person ought to move once every five years so she could keep her closets cleaned out.

Grandma raised seven children and worked alongside Grandad most of the time. After nearly all their kids were grown, they started a chicken farm at Parkhill.

Someone must have sent a memo that it was a fantastic time to get into the chicken business to all the WWI veterans.  Once the G’s got in it, the bottom dropped out.

They kept the farm, but moved back to Green Country to make a living in the oilfield.

After a while, though, they moved back to Park Hill and lived there until their house, which had eleven-teen chimneys, burned down. It must have burned to the ground, because we went to visit them not long after and I don’t remember seeing any of the house still standing.

Grandma and Grandad lived in the barn while they rebuilt. (Later, they lived in a garage while they built their house at Dog Center.) No matter where she lived, Grandma liked to keep a milk cow and some laying hens.

I don’t know where the milk maker and egg layers stayed after the G’s made the barn their bedroom/living room/kitchen. And I have no idea where they showered.

If I were guessing, I’d guess they bathed in one of those square metal tubs, but I really don’t know. 🙂

One summer while the G’s lived at Park Hill, Deb and I went to stay with them for a week. I hate to say it, but Park Hill could possibly be the most BORING place in Oklahoma–for a ten and seven-year-old at least.

We read the books we packed until we were cross-eyed. We played Grandma’s treadle sewing machine, pretending it was an organ. We walked to the mailbox and back several times a day. We climbed the tall trees in front of the house and tried to see all the way to Texas, looking for Aunt Carol. (She didn’t pop in.)

One day we climbed the peach tree, next to the bedroom window. It was big for a peach tree, but brittle. About the time I had my feet higher than my head, the brances I held onto broke and I landed on Debbie, who was sitting in the crotch of the tree. We were both about to tumble out, when Grandad, who was in the garden, ran over and caught us.

I was hoping to break an arm so we could go home, but I failed.

Then they took us fishing. Not in a pond. We went fishing in the Illinois River! That was either before the canoes started herding down the river or else we were on an arm where canoes didn’t go. 

I love fishing! Grandma said they took me fishing for the first time when I was 6 weeks old. (But I really don’t remember.) When I got big enough to hold the pole, they’d give me a cane pole with a weighted line on it, but no hook so I couldn’t hurt myself. She said I’d sit for hours, trying to catch something. Almost made her feel guilty.

Back to the Illinois River–We fished and fished, waded out in the river, waded back in and had a ball. We had a picnic, then fished some more. I don’t remember how many fish we caught, but we had so much fun doing it!

Grandad always kept hunting dogs, which he called wolf hounds. They chased coyotes rather than wolves, since wolves are kinda scarce in Oklahoma. He kept quite a few, and they always had a community pen where they lived.

Except for one dog. His name was Lightfoot–named after the people Grandad got him from. Lightfoot was impossible to keep in the dog run because his favorite thing was chasing chickens, and he’d tunnel his way out to do it.

As I said earlier, Grandma always kept laying hens, but she didn’t want anyone or anything chasing them. Not even her favorite grandaughter. She said it made them lay square eggs.

Finally, Grandma’d had it with Lightfoot. “Julius, if you don’t keep that dog penned up, I’m going to shoot him!”

“That shotgun doesn’t shoot straight, Abigail,” he answered with a slow grin. “You couldn’t hit him.”

“Oh, is that so?” Grandma gritted her false teeth. “See that branch on the tree?” (It was hanging right over the dog’s head about 10 feet high.)

“What about it?”

“Watch me hit it.” Grandma took aim at the tree branch and pulled the trigger.

They had Lightfoot’s funeral the next day.

To this day, when Dad tells that story, he laughs until he has tears running down his face. And to make matters even worse, Grandma made Grandad dig the grave for the hound.

Grandma and Grandad Reeves knew what it took to make a good marriage. Move often. If you fish enough, you can forget your problems. Protect your chickens and keep a shotgun handy to blow away sneaky varmints. 😉  

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Grandmommy Corn

Corn female flower AKA corn silk. The incipien...

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My mom was a great cook. All the women and most of the men in my family are, but Mom was an extra special cook.

She grew up during the depression. At that time everyone–dads, moms, grandparents and kids helped make ends meet, especially if you came from a farm family.

The reason she could cook so well was because she didn’t want to chop cotton in the field, so she’d volunteer to cook. If she hadn’t done a great job, they wouldn’t have let her keep cooking. (And I wouldn’t blame them.)

Mama’s corn would make your tongue lap your brains out. (Saying courtesy of Grandad Ray.)

Grandmommie Corn–

I usually start with eight or ten ears of corn. Shuck them and cut off the kernals, but not too close to the cob. When you have all the corn off, go back and scrape the cob with the edge of your knife to get the “milk” out. (Mama said that’s what thickens the corn.) 

Melt a couple of tablespoons of bacon drippings in a heavy skillet. (Enough to cover the bottom.) When it’s hot, add the corn and saute for a few minutes. Yellow corn will turn bright yellow. How long you saute it depends on how much corn you have and how big your pan is.

After several minutes, add a tablespoon or two of sugar (depending on how sweet the corn is) salt and pepper to taste. (Don’t you hate it when someone says that?) Stir.

Then add enough half-and-half (heavy cream or milk–I use 2% milk because that’s what I usually have on hand) to make it look like creamed corn. Heat to a  simmer, but don’t let the cream come to a rolling boil. (It’ll curdle.)

Taste to make sure it’s good and serve.

While everyone is telling you how brilliant you are to be able to cook like that, say a little prayer of thank for my mama. She was the best!


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Avard Mitchell–1897 to 1920

Uncle Frank told me the story of Grandmother’s brother, Avard, and Grandad’s twin sister, May. It seems they were sparking when Avard decided to teach May how to shoot. They used a six gun.

Being ignorant about guns and not knowing safety rules, May accidentally shot Avard.

“Gut shot,” Uncle Frank said. “He lived for about a week before he died.”

I try to imagine the accident. I see it happening at the Mitchell house (the cellar is still there but the house is gone) since the older Spess brothers pretty well knew how to shoot and probably would have taken over. (If they were around.)

The sound of the shot, the flash of heat followed by the wash of pure cold that must have gripped Grandma Mitchell when she realized her son had been shot and, barring a miracle, he couldn’t live.

Did they send for a doctor? I don’t know, but I’d guess they did. Knowing the Mitchells, they prayed for that miracle. Called the church together and prayed without ceasing for a miracle that wouldn’t come.   

Avard died on July 8th. Here’s what it says at the bottom of his headstone–

Weep not, father and mother, for me. For I wait in Glory for thee.

Two years later, May married Ott Lawmaster (I think the last name is right) and her twin brother, Ray, married Ruby Mitchell. They eloped.

I don’t know if that was because Grandma Mitchell hadn’t gotten over a Spess killing her son or if Ray just didn’t ask Ruby until the last minute.

Guess I’d better ask Uncle Frank.


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Fry Bread

We used to call this Squaw Bread, but that just doesn’t sound very nice.

This is a recipe Mama got from Grandma Reeves, who lived in Cherokee County near Tahlequah for a while, and I believe she got the recipe there or from one of her neighbors in one of her many moves.

Grandma raised her family during the Great Depression of the ’30’s. During that time, Grandad worked where ever he could while Grandma kept the family together. At one time he went off to Illinois or Iowa or one of those “I” states to work while she stayed alone with their seven kids.

Mostly Grandad worked in the oilfields of Oklahoma and some in Baja-Oklahoma (Texas) although they did raise chickens at one point in Park Hill.

I’ve never met anyone who has eaten Squaw Bread and wasn’t related to me, but I found two nearly-the-same recipes also called Squaw Bread in a sorority cookbook my MIL gave me years ago. Here’s the recipe from Mama/Grandma–

2C flour
2T baking powder
1T shortening
1t salt

Mix these ingredients, then add enough milk to make a dough. Knead in flour until no longer sticky, then roll out to about 1/4″ to 1/3″ thick. Cut slits in the dough and fry in oil until golden brown.

Drain on paper towels, top with syrup and enjoy.

I know it sounds a little like sopappas (I can’t spell it, but I mean the dessert you sometimes get at Mexican Restaurants and eat with honey) but it’s not really. 

They’re delicious but aren’t diet food!


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Do You Remember

Skating when you were a kid?

I loved it. Not inline skates. I tried those once a few years ago and landed right square on my . . . well, I landed hard! 

The kind of skates I had were the ones with four wheels–two in front and two in back–and a key. (For anyone too young to remember, the key didn’t start an engine on the skates. It made them tight enough to stay on your shoes.)

Remember these? They were what made these

stay on your feet. One-size-fits-all. 🙂

My neighbor, Marsha, and I skated on our sidewalk, back and forth, and on our porch (we had a big front porch) but never on the driveway. Mom had the cement guy who poured it put a broom finish on it, and that’s way too bumpy for a good ride.

But after Grandmother and Grandad built the house next door, we could roll down the connecting sidewalk and skate on her nice, smooth double-wide driveway–if all the pickups, cars and trucks were gone to work.

We couldn’t skate in the street. Not because we had a lot of traffic in our Small Town World but because our streets in the summertime were hot, sticky and nearly liquid tarry stuff. If we’d tried skating on them, we would have been stuck fast. (Think the La Brea tar pits.)

On Sunday nights in the winter, our church rented the local skating rink and we’d all skate for free. The rink was right behind the Dari Diner (if you haven’t been there, you’re missing a real C-Town treat!) in a quonset hut.

This is a quonset hut, not THE building where our skate rink was. I don’t know why it was there or who owned it, but I remember lots of nights, skating with our church and having a ball. 

The floor wasn’t perfect. It was wood and fairly smooth, except in one place on the return leg of the big circuit we skated. I don’t remember if the floor changed height or if it didn’t quite come together, but you had to watch for it or it would grab your toe and jerk you down.

One night I was working hard to stay in front of a herd that had bunched up as they skated to “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” and I forgot about that toe trap. I fell so hard, it knocked the breath out of me. There I was, unable to see or gasp or even think and sprawled in front of what seemed like a million little wheels that I was sure would make mince meat out of me.

But rather than smash me, someone scooped me off the floor and carried me out of the way. I don’t remember if it was Dad or the preacher or who saved me, but I was very happy they did. 

That old skating rink has been gone for a long time now. In its place is our post office, which isn’t nearly as much fun as that skating rink was and not nearly as beautiful as the old post office.

I need to go to Ebay and see if I can buy a pair of those skates before they all disappear from the face of the earth. Someday I want to be able to show them my grandchildren and tell them all about it. When I have grandchildren, that is.

Hint. Hint.


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The Grandmother Tree

See anything weird about my tree? (Besides the fact that there are no ornaments on the top where I can’t reach.)

No, it’s not a squirrel. Look again.

You can tell now. Right?

Now you can’t mistake what’s weird. Those are gloves, and I hang them on my tree every year.

All right, maybe it’s not weird weird, but it’s kind of different. Here’s why I do it. My family of five used to live in Grandmother’s house, with all of Grandmother’s stuff and most of our stuff. It was just a little(!) crowded, but we were looking for a house of our own. We didn’t expect to stay long.

While we lived there, I found a box full of Grandmother’s gloves from the ’50s and ’60s, which she’d saved, along with just about everything else she ever owned. (If you look up the definition of my maiden name, I think you’ll find it means never-throws-anything-away.)

When we moved to our own house, I took Grandmother’s gloves with me along with her old ornaments. (Yeah, I got the keep-it gene, too.) A year or two later, G-Man and I spent the weekend in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and we found an antique store that had a lot of old ornaments. We bought them, then had to buy a new tree to put them on. (I didn’t want to mix them with my other ornaments.)

I have a tall ceiling in my living room, so we bought a big, fat tree. When I put on the old ornaments, it was a little sparse. I didn’t want to add new ornaments, didn’t want to add bows, so I decided to add the gloves. (I tacked them together at the wrist so I could hang them from branches.)

I also put hankies on the tree, but they don’t drape as well.

   This is one of Grandmother’s old ornaments. I’m not sure what year she bought them, but they’re plastic so they can’t be too old.

So’s this one–

Looks like Sputnik, doesn’t it? 😉

This isn’t one of Grandmother’s. I bought Merry Christmas because Mom had one like it when I was small. It was my favorite and I always wanted to be the one to put it on the tree.

Now I get to be the one to do it every year. *sniff*

Until Grandmother passed away, she had a huge family party on Christmas Eve for all her kids, grand- and great-grandkids (and anyone else we dragged along.) 

We’d all dress up in our crisp new Christmas clothes and go to their house (next door to my parents) to spend non-working time together and gain weight (she and her offsprings and their wives were all great bakers and candy makers.)

Each family took the Grandmother and Grandad a gift, and for years, Grandmother bought and wrapped a gift for each person in her big family. Later, she gave the adults and any kids she knew wouldn’t keep what she picked for them anyway money, and asked the other kids’ parents to help her shop for their own children.

At the party, she stayed busy the whole night in the kitchen while Grandad swore to any kid who’d listen that he had Santa tied up in the powerhouse. We had so much fun!

Those were beautiful, easy days with very few worries. Thinking about them never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

I have a lot of great Christmas memories, so I can’t say this is my absolute  favorite, but putting up my Grandmother Tree each year helps me keep it fresh.

How about you? Do you like shiny and new and latest or do you keep it and use it forever? In other words, patina or shine?