My father’s oldest sister in a family
of nearly all boys was named Myrtle. Everyone called her Sister, which seemed
to be the norm in southern families for the oldest female sibling. She was
about 10 years older than my father and for me was more a grandmother figure
than an aunt. The winter after my 5th birthday my grandmother died. I
hardly remembered her at that young age.
My father was raised in the Deep
South and I was raised with many of those traditions even though I was a first
generation Texan on his side of the family.
Aunt Myrtle was an amazing cook and
no one ever left her table hungry…family, friends who were visiting or happened
to be there at meal time, the postman, or any of numerous deliver men who
happened to come up her drive when a meal was on the table were expected to
stay. They could not even think about saying “NO” to an invitation to sit at
What fascinated me about her the most
was that she ‘dipped’ snuff. This was a common thing in those days for women of
good Southern breeding to dip…smoking was scandalous and unheard of at that
time for any woman who had a taste for tobacco. The snuff of choice was
Garrett’s Sweet Snuff. To me it looked like cinnamon in a juice size glass jar
covered with a tight-fitting aluminum lid.
An elderly Texas family friend also
dipped Garrett’s by placing a pinch in her cheek and replaced it several times
during the day. A new dip always after dinner – the noon meal – and supper –
the evening meal.
What fascinated me with Aunt Myrtle’s
dipping method was something she called a ‘toothbrush’. Not something a person
would use to brush their teeth with, but something all together different. She
had a collection of twigs in a can that in its original life held fruit or
vegetables of some type — the source long gone with the wrapper that was
removed when the can went on to its next life.
After breakfast each morning Aunt
Myrtle’s ritual was to choose a twig and prepare for her daily toothbrush. She
would whittle the bark from one end and start chewing on the exposed wood. She
worked that wood until it was all ‘brushed’ out and looked like a mini-broom to
me. When it was just right … soft and supple … she was ready for the first dip
of the day as she went about her chores and cooked lunch.
Now this is what fascinated me … Aunt
Myrtle would she carefully open her snuff jar and placed her newly
prepared moistened toothbrush deep inside the sweet-smelling snuff. Then she
would swirl it around and around until it was coated just right. That
snuff-coated toothbrush was popped in her mouth, chewed a few times and used to
‘scrub’ her back teeth as the dipping began. After this little ritual, the bark
covered end rested in the corner of her mouth until she either needed to ‘spit’
her teeth again. More snuff was added
as the morning went on.
Before eating lunch, she cleaned out
her mouth, cleaned off her toothbrush then sat down for the noon meal. If none
of the men of the family or a male visitor was sitting at her table to offer the
blessing it was her job before we all dug in to share the bounty of her
After lunch, dishes were washed but
food was never put away. It remained in the center of the table and covered
with a small tablecloth until suppertime. Supper was leftovers that may or may
not be reheated before eating. The glory of this Southern Tradition was being
able to lift that cloth in the middle of the afternoon and steal a cold piece
of fried cornbread for a snack. The wonder of this tradition is that no one
ever got sick from these unrefrigerated leftovers.
Of course, a new toothbrush of snuff
got her through the afternoon and again after supper we all sat on the porch,
rocked, gossiped and the little kids (I helped when I got older) chased
lightning bugs. There was no TV and no AC in those days. We made our own fun
and tried to stay cool on the porch as sultry air blew in from the coast.
For me that was a time of simple joy
and freedom without a worry in the world. Everyone should have these kind of
memories, but I know not everyone was a lucky as I was growing up in a family
of many Southern Traditions!
My heart is
for just the right
amount of happiness
If I can achieve this…
There will be