Celebrations: Our Mothers on Mother’s Day
By: Laura Packard, Whitney Wise Long, Cheri Harden Leavy, Emily Laborde and Mary Boyce Hicks
When I think about my mom and all the lessons she has taught me along the way, two words come to mind that pretty much sum it all up… and into a pretty, glittery and well-wrapped package with a handwritten note, some taffeta ribbon and fresh cut flowers from the garden tied on top.
The two words are sparkle and color, and in her world and now mine, they are anything but simple and simply two things we cannot live without.
Growing up, we ate supper every night around the kitchen table (the dining room table was for special occasions) but we still never fixed our own plate from the stove or stood in line, buffet style, around the kitchen. No, never. My mom is a collector of beautiful and vibrantly colored things –patterned china, antique candelabras, porcelain serving dishes, all cracked and well loved, because they were worn and used every single day, not relegated to the safety and dust of the china cabinet and sideboard for holidays and once a year get togethers.
Instead, every weekday meal was dished up, doled out, and presented in the very things she collected and loved. You felt it too…that love…sitting down at a beautifully dressed table with rich linens, cut-crystal pitchers of iced tea, and delicate bowls filled with gardenias. It was the special touches, she taught me, that made you feel at home. Even the color of the food on the plate mattered. It was to be an experience. Every last detail a feast for all of your senses.
She also taught me about sparkle…most importantly, how to add a little every day; a smile, a simple pair of earrings, a pretty pair of shoes. Go the extra mile, she would tell me. Pamper yourself and feel pretty, because you are and you’re worthy of it.
That’s probably why my most treasured time I spent with her was when she took me to New York City for the first time on my sixteenth birthday. My mom grew up a small town Southern girl with big and bold aspirations towards living; and somehow managed to seamlessly blend them both. Having her show me the city, just the two of us, with all the colors and the sparkle was just as beautiful to me as sitting down at the table for a week night supper. I felt alive, and special, and loved….and yes, at home.
People like to say God is in the details. I agree. Who else could make a sunset look like fire, thunderstorms smell like flowers and moss, and grass under you feet feel like a wide, open welcome mat on a sunny day? But I think what is unique about Southerners, like Mom, is that we love to transform a one of a kind, amazing, awe-inspiring sensory experience into a daily ritual… like a simple supper, cocktails on the porch, or coffee and cake on one of your fanciest plates. These are just a few of the lessons she has taught me and I will always be grateful. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom (aka Martha “Ann” Butler Williamson)! Love you!
Now, don’t forget to click on my story about Strawberry Pickin’ and BBQ Chicken and you’ll find one of my mom’s favorite recipes she’s passed down to me and the girls. Just remember to break out the crystal from the cupboard, dust off your china, and serve it up with a whole lot of love. Talk to you soon, Laura
Whitney Wise Long-
Best advice/words of wisdom from Whitney’s mom:
Back when I was 10 or 11, I remember making a comment typical of that age. You know… part know-it-all, part judgmental and part bad attitude. That’s when I first heard my mom say “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Since that time, though many, many years have passed, those words ring in my mind almost daily as I encounter people, situations and life.
Whitney’s favorite memories:
They all seem to center around the summer, being outside and time off from school: My mom taking my two brothers and me in my Dad’s red and white ’57 Chevy to our country club and staying the whole day long. We would spend the day covered in Coppertone soaking up the sun and jumping off the super high dive, playing Marco Polo and eating all the peanut butter crackers, banana Laffy Taffy’s and Coca-Colas our tummies could hold.
We would also go pick peanuts from the field (I can still smell the freshly upturned soil) and then head home covered in dirt to wash off the peanuts (and us) on the back patio. She would get the water boiling and shortly thereafter we would feast on the best boiled peanuts in the world which I still cannot mimic them to this day.
Summer also found us picking and shelling peas with her and my grandmothers. We would hold the same tin pans in our laps every summer as we shelled peas and had contests to see who could shell the most. I vow to have my kids shell peas with me this summer so they too can snap the top and pull the “zipper” and run their fingers thru the bounty of their efforts.
One thing we also did during the summer – which my brothers and I did not like one bit – was to go visit at the nursing home. It was on the route to our house and Mama would frequently stop by and have us go in with her. She wrote sometimes for our local newspaper and would often feature residents of the nursing home. While she would be talking to them we were expected to visit them also. We dreaded this as any kid would. But now, I am thankful that she did this and guess what… mine now do the same thing with me a couple of times a year. Full circle.
Recent favorite memories of my mom include the memories my children and nephews are making with her at “Camp Mammy”. This is held over the summer as each grandchild goes and spends time with her. She lets them stay up late, eat what they want, watch what they want and takes them to the pool, playground and other fun places then sends them back home. Thanks, Mom!
Whitney’s favorite recipes:
I have two all-time faves I still request when I go home or my mom comes to visit.
Chocolate Gravy over Hot Biscuits (aka Heaven on Earth)
1 cup white sugar
2 Tbs, flour
2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups milk
1 Tbs. butter
Combine everything except butter in a heavy saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Once boiling, cut the heat down and stir for a minute more as it thickens. Take off heat and stir in butter. Serve hot poured over biscuits with an additional butter dollop.
Butterbean Pie (comfort food at its finest)
1 Pkg fresh or frozen speckled butterbeans
Biscuit dough – homemade or store bought (Pillsbury Grands)
Prepare speckled or colored butterbeans as you normally would. Drain half of liquid off then pour the rest of liquid and butterbeans into a long casserole dish. Roll out biscuits and cut in thin strips. Crisscross strips on top of butterbeans til covered then sprinkle liberally with black pepper and brush with butter. Bake at 350 til biscuits are done.
Cheri Harden Leavy-
Best advice/words of wisdom from Cheri’s mom:
My mom “Beth” Mary Elizabeth Symons Harden’s most constant sayings were “pretty is as pretty does” and “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Mom is the happiest and most positive person I have ever met besides her mother Peg Symons. It must run in our genes to always see the best in people. But I can only aspire to their unbelievable compassion for others.
Cheri’s favorite memories:
Our family has a lot of fond memories from our time in Athens when I was a toddler. Dad was studying accounting at the University of Georgia. We spent every Sunday after church on my great-grandparents’ Exa Bae and Leonard McRee’s, farm in Watkinsville. We would walk the property after an incredible lunch that ended with Trudy’s chocolate pie. I wonder if Barbara and Vince Dooley remember that decadent pie as Trudy split her time helping my great-grandparents and the new young football coach’s family. Isn’t that funny? My mom would climb the giant pecan trees and shake the nuts down from the limbs and I would gather them in sacks with great-granddaddy smoking a cigar and shouting up for her to be careful. I am an only child that sort of grew up with my parents as they were so young when I was born but they were great parents from the start.
Cheri’s favorite recipe:
This is a must have for me at Christmas time. I adore my mom’s Lady Finger Cookies. I try to make them as good as she but that’s almost impossible. For Christmas, together we would make loved ones tins of various sweets like sugar cookies shaped as candy canes and chocolate fudge but the Lady Fingers were the best.
Lady Finger Cookies
2 sticks butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. good vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, chopped
Powdered sugar, sifted
Cream butter and sugar. Add flour, vanilla and pecans. Divide dough into oval shapes like fingers. Bake at 250 degrees F. for one hour. Cool on rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Best advice/words of wisdom from Emily’s mom:
“You can be or do whatever you want as long as you work hard and put yourself out there.” My mother gave me this advice at a very young age and continues to remind me of it…probably because I have had several dreams/career aspirations from being a professional horseback rider when I was 8 to wanting to be an art gallery director when I was in college. I have worn many hats already in my young career and will probably wear several more; I know as long as I remember her advice I will continue to enjoy my career journey and find what “makes me tick.”
Emily’s favorite memories:
One of favorite memories with my mother is from Christmas 2007. I had recently moved to Maui that August with my boyfriend Ryan. The big move was hard for my whole family, but it was really hard on my mother and me because it was the first real time I was moving far away (not to mention halfway around the world). That December my family decided to come visit us in Maui for a week and spend Christmas and it was fantastic. For better or worse, daughters always want to impress and gain the approval from our mothers and thankfully this trip went off without a hitch!
For Christmas Eve and Christmas day, we decided to take the family around to Hana on the far eastern side of Maui, spend the night, and then hike to a waterfall in the National Park on Christmas Day. After a three-hour drive on “the long and winding road” to Hana, the men treated us to grilled kabobs for Christmas Eve dinner followed by the usual story telling and a Christmas Vacation marathon. Christmas morning activities vary in our family, but one thing is constant, a big breakfast. Even though we were in the land of spam and poi, my mom, sister, and I made our traditional Christmas day breakfast casserole complete with skillet sausage and lots of cheese. As usual, we spent the morning gabbing over coffee, prepping the casserole and other sides, and she told me how proud she was of me for taking a chance on an incredible adventure I’d always remember. This Christmas will always hold a special place in my heart.
Emily’s favorite recipe:
In our family, like most Southern families, good recipes are passed down by the mothers to their daughters as they grow up or after they get married. My great grandmother’s Chicken Pot Pie is one of those rich and comforting dishes that children would eat everyday if they could, and adults love it because it transports them to their childhood.
Nannie (my great grandmother) surely got it from her mother, and passed it down to her daughter when she got married. Called “Bunny” by most, my grandmother Nome, made it for her children throughout their lives. The original recipe called for homemade pastry for the crust, and my mother said that sometime in the 1970s, Nome gave Pillsbury pastry sheets a try and passed the test! Needless to say the scratch pastry was never made again. When we grandchildren came along, so did the chicken pot pie. Anytime we made the trek from St. Simons Island to Birmingham, she had it waiting for us that first night. The rich, buttery smell of the pastry cooking instantly takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen; me setting the table, filling the tea and water glasses for everyone and placing the trivets in their appropriate places on the farm table in the kitchen.
Regardless of who was at the table, the vintage recipe always got everyone talking about time gone by. My aunts would reminisce about growing up, as would my grandparents. As her mother had done, Nome passed the recipe down to my mother and her sisters so they could do the same with their children one day. My mother continues to make this beloved recipe when we ask (or beg) and she and I go through the same ritual Nome and I did. My mom gets the plates and pot pie and sides ready and I set the table and then call in the others. Even though we lost Nome several years ago, as we indulge in this classic Southern dish, we always end up talking about her delicious comfort food and the warm memories we have of her and the ones we shared with her. It’s incredible how much love and history can be within a simple recipe isn’t it? I haven’t yet made this one on my own but I can’t wait to try one day.
Chicken Pot Pie -Bunny Hamrick
I whole chicken
2-1/2 c. Water
2 chicken boullion cubes
1 onion, chopped
3 Tbsp. cornstarch, dissolved in milk
I box Pillsbury pastry sheets
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
Cook chicken in water with onion and boullion cubes until done. Remove chicken when cool. Remove skin and pull meat from bone. Set aside. Add cornstarch to chicken stock and heat until thick. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add cut chicken back to stock.
Line a I3 X 9 X 2 inch casserole dish with 1 pastry sheet, cutting strips to line the sides. Pinch together at seams. Cut second pastry sheet to cover the top. Cut the trimmings off ofthe second sheet into small pieces and stir into chicken mixture. Pour mixture into pastry lined casserole. Add sliced eggs. Top with second pastry shell and pinch together at sides.
Bake in preheated 400 degree F. oven for Io minutes. Remove and cut slits in the top, and pour a couple of tablespoons of milk into the slits. Lower temperature of oven to 350 degrees F. and continue baking for 20 minutes until golden brown on top.
This recipe was passed down to Bunny (Nome) by her mother Peggy Brannan Cobb (Nannie). It has always been a family favorite, especially loved by her grandchildren-Sarah, Emily, Keith, Madeline, Trey, Miller, Matthew, Molly, and Reilly.
Mary Boyce Hicks-
Best advice/words of wisdom from Mary Boyce’s mom:
I definitely remember “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all.” My mom has taught me a lot about manners and how to be polite. I think manners show consideration for the people around you— they ultimately train you to think of others and their needs first, like waiting for everyone to be served before you start eating or using please and thank you to show appreciation. I love the example my mom has set for me of showing kindness to others in her words and actions.
Mary Boyce’s favorite memories:
I mostly just think of my mom being present at so many things as I was growing up, supporting me in soccer, cross country, ballet, elementary school plays, and girl scout events (to name just a few). Usually she was there toting my little sister and managing the schedules of my two older sisters at the same time. As I grew older I really feel that my mom supported me in what I wanted to do and allowed me to grow in to the person I am. She somehow manages to be present—supportive— and hands off at the same time; it is really amazing.
Most recently she came to visit me in Charlottesville. I believe it was our first time spending two days with just the two of us ever in my life (without my dad or one of the sisters along as well)! It was so fun to hang out with her and show her around Charlottesville. It was a really special time—she was willing to come be with me and see all the things I am up to here. I realized I am a lot more like her than I ever thought!
Mary Boyce’s favorite recipe:
I love her banana bread!
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup nuts (optional)
Cream butter and sugar; add eggs. Alternately add half of the flour and the bananas. Repeat. Add soda, vanilla, salt. Mix nuts by hand. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes or longer.
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