Can't Keep a Good Woman Down
Elise was born on December 8, 1922 in Greensburg, Louisiana and died on September 12, 2011 at 3:45 a.m. in her “apartment” at Ollie Steele Burden Manor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana from complications after multiple strokes. Elise saw much in her almost 89 years. She was a Baptist and her last church membership was Emmanuel Baptist Church of Denham Springs where she was known as the “flower lady.” She grew beautiful roses and was quite accomplished at arranging them. Every Sunday she would provide a beautiful arrangement for the pulpit. She and her husband, Maxwell, Sr, raised their children in Baton Rouge, “retired” in Denham Springs, and before moving to Ollie Steele she lived 7 years at Lake Sherwood Village. During her Denham Springs years, she and dad grew a huge garden. Some of the grandchildren helped her with harvesting and the blueberries were the favorite crop! That acreage is now the site of a small subdivision named after her.
She and my Dad eloped in 1938. She was 16 and dad was 20 years old. She told her parents that she was going to spend the night with her cousin. She and dad drove to Woodville, Mississippi where you could, at that time, get married without parental permission. After World War II and following the births of their four children, Elise went to night school to receive her high school diploma. How she got four children fed, ready for bed and still had time for classes and study is beyond me. That diploma was a valuable commodity. She valued education more than anything. She often stated that no one could take an education from you. When I received my master's degree, she insisted on throwing a fine party to celebrate. She told everyone that I was a teacher!
She took her children to church each Sunday and sometimes twice a day. We all went to "Training Union" at night. She was a Sunday School teacher at Istrouma Baptist church in the 1950’s. Two women who were influenced by her teaching were in attendance at her funeral. Our childhood Saturdays were spent getting our Sunday clothes ready. She made sure everything was clean and we were responsible for polishing our shoes and preparing our lesson.
She was an immaculate housekeeper. The Baton Rouge home, where my three siblings and I grew up, had wood floors. These floors were not like the new ones that are permanently finished when installed. On a weekly basis she got down on hands and knees to apply paste wax. Before she purchased an electric buffer, we kids assisted her in shining the floors with soft cloths in hand.
She cooked three meals a day and was an excellent cook. Having lived through the Great Depression, she was very thrifty. When she was a young wife, she earned extra money for Christmas gifts one year by baking pies and selling them to friends. Today I am known for my pies because I often assisted her with pie baking. She did not use "convenience products". Everything was made from "scratch". If she made a coconut pie, she began with a fresh coconut. She would drain the coconut milk, break the shell with a hammer, cut the meat of the coconut away from the hard shell, then grate it into a usable size for the pie. A lemon pie always began with fresh lemons. My dad's favorite was Lemon Meringue Pie and she was an expert at preparing it. One sister often joked that she didn't know you could purchase precooked baked goods until she married and started buying her own groceries.
Momma also preserved fruit and honey. We had a huge fig tree in our backyard and dad had two beehives. She peeled the figs before canning them. I have never seen anyone else do that. We kids shelled numerous bushels of peas and beans until our fingers were raw from the task. These were frozen for consumption during the cold of winter. She is the only person I ever knew who "tipped and scraped" fresh corn for creamed corn. Grandchildren vied to see who could get the most of that delicacy on their plate for holiday meals. You would have thought that corn was gold!
I compiled her simple recipes one year, had them printed in a booklet and gave a copy to each relative. Her dumplings were the best you ever tasted. She also made a salad of Jello, carrots and raisins that no one really liked, but it was always included in the menu. We didn't have the heart to tell her we didn't like it. Every meal had either homemade biscuits or a pan of hot cornbread to go with the meat served with rice and gravy and the precious vegetables they had grown and preserved.
She kept abreast of world affairs by reading the newspaper “cover to cover” each day. She admired and loved to read Smiley Anders' daily column in The Advocate. When the newspaper moved to a different type style and format she was outraged that she had to turn to another page to finish reading Smiley! In her later years, she got to meet him three times and cherished her pictures with him. She loved to cut out articles of advice on life and housekeeping and pass them along or stash them for later use. My sister and I spent yesterday going through some of her remaining belongings. We chuckled as we discovered news clippings she had stashed in her jewelry box. We wondered what possessed her to save some of these articles and laughed that she had highlighted every word of one clipping. When she was living at Lake Sherwood Village she would set her clock for 5:30 am each day to retrieve and begin reading the newspaper. It was that important to her.
She loved watching musical programs on the “idiot box” as she referred the her television, even though she was not particularly musical herself. I shall miss those phone calls of her alerts about the times and station of programs she knew I would want to watch. It was like having my own personal TV Guide via telephone! Louisiana Public Broadcasting was her favorite station. She respected the educational value and the quality of programming. Once I took her to see Andre' Rieu and that was a highlight of her cherished memories. My husband and I gave her front row tickets as a Christmas gift that year. The picture here is of that evening. We attended a reception before the concert and she was thrilled.
She loved classical and gospel music and admired those who could sing or play an instrument. In her last years my sister spent many Saturday afternoons with her just to watch the Gaither Brothers and Lawrence Welk. There are several musicians and vocalists among her surviving family and several played or sang at her funeral. She would have been so honored and we know she was listening from heaven.
Her family is fond of remembering some of her eccentricities including the fact that she advised everyone to work hard, get an education and to avoid those left turns in life and in traffic. She would drive a mile out of her way to find a traffic light with a left turn signal. She never went a day without her makeup and nice clothes. She advised her daughters to do the same. She could never bring herself to play Bingo with the other old folks because she considered it “gambling”. Her family teased her endlessly about that. We thought she would enjoy it, but could never bring herself to try it! The wager was $1.00 and I thought it was an inexpensive way to enjoy an afternoon, but she stuck to her convictions on that.
In her time, the wife of the family bore most of the chores of house and child rearing and she diligently accepted those responsibilities. It wasn't an easy life. Her work effort was Puritan-like . When she was 82 years old we kids encouraged her to leave the five acres my Dad had intended for her perpetuity and she moved to Lake Sherwood Village for independent senior living. She loved her small apartment and we made it as comfortable for her as we could. She gave up her big Cadillac (aka "The Land Yacht") and began enjoying the conveniences and amenities of her beautiful surroundings.
Early this year she began having strokes and was hospitalized several times. It became necessary for her to have around the clock care so she moved to Ollie Steele Burden Manor. We arranged for her to have a private room and brought many items of her own furniture and her comfortable chairs. She never thought of Ollie Steele as a nursing home. She told the nurses it was her "apartment without a kitchen". We would like to remember that she was happy there...as happy as she could be, was more the case. The staff took good care of her and we appreciate that. Some were genuinely fond of her and she felt the same about them.
Elise's Chicken and Dumplings
In a large Dutch oven, boil 2 or 3 chicken breasts with celery, onions, and carrots. Use a combination of chicken broth and water to fill pot about 2/3 full. When chicken is cooked, remove it and chop or tear into bite size pieces. Mash up the vegetables in the broth and strain the liquid. Return the liquid and the chicken to the pot. (A couple of chicken bullion cubes can be added to water if you don’t have canned chicken broth.)
Use one package of Mrs. B’s frozen biscuits for the dumplings.* Roll biscuits thin between sheets of waxed paper that has been floured lightly. Cut into thin strips.
Return broth to a boil and drop biscuit strips one at a time into pot. Don’t stir. They can be poked down with a fork. Reduce heat to medium and cover. After about 20 minutes of cooking remove lid. Dumplings should be tender.
Stir in about ½ stick butter and a 5 ounce can of evaporated milk. You can also stir in a can of cream of chicken soup. Serve over hot cooked rice.
*If you don't have access to Mrs. B's, then prepare a biscuit recipe with less water to make it stiff. Roll into thin strips and cut into 2 inch pieces. That's how Elise prepared dumplings in her younger years.