Very often I get into conversations with people, mostly women, who come from the same hometown that I came from. Invariably we get into a conversation of things that happened when we were very young – things that we were exposed to in like manner. Singing almost always comes up.
In our time, and in saying this, I refer to the 40’s and 50’s, no matter what might be going on, someone would eventually start singing; whether it was washing, cooking, ironing, no matter the chore, lifted voices, melodic sounds, went with it. When I say melodic, it would not be just one voice heard. One person would start singing a song, and quickly others around would join in. There would be altos, tenors, base, and whatever was needed to make the song flow melodiously throughout the area. The houses were built close together, and sometimes neighbors would come over and join in. Then the “Line Street Choir,” could be heard throughout the area.
Growing older I find myself thinking about the singing I heard, with all the tones in place, and with no special training – just natural ability to hear and sing. In other words, just as people play instruments by ear (playing what they hear); these people sang by ear, singing what they heard in their hearts and minds. Thus, singing has always been a part of growing up for me. And, most often the singing was started in the kitchen.
I was born in a small city called Attalla, in the state of Alabama. World War Two was still going on, and most of the people in our area had gardens, both small and large. Turnip greens were a main vegetable of every garden. Everybody I knew loved turnip greens. On Sundays, in every house, greens were most definitely a part of the Sunday meal. Almost anyone that knows me might have heard me say, “Nobody can cook turnip greens like people from Attalla.”
As young children, we were taught how to clean, wash, and get the vegetable ready for cooking. We loved it! There was something special about working in the kitchen, and all the while we were getting the greens ready, there would be singing. The preparation took some time. We would have to pull the turnip green leaf from the big stems; but, on the smaller stems, we did not have to pull the leaf. We simply broke it down to the level of the green leaf. After that, the greens had to be washed. This entailed washing and rinsing in three or four tubs until not a speck of dirt could be seen in the last tub of water. Before this, the turnip root was cut off from the stem and peeled, like potatoes, and washed separately.
In our house, once everything was ready, my mother and aunt would take the greens into the kitchen to prepare them for cooking. As they worked, again they would start to sing. My mother died when I was seven years old. I don’t have a lot of memories of her, but I do remember a song she and my aunt used to sing. The title of the song was “Trust and Obey.” I never forgot the words. They sang them so clearly. My mother sang soprano; auntie sang alto. It goes like this:
When you walk with the Lord
In the light of His Word
What a glory He sheds on our way
While we do His good will;
He abides with us still -
And in all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.
What a song! And, to be sung while preparing one of the world’s tastiest vegetables – proof that good singing and cooking turnip greens go together! There were, of course, many other songs I was introduced to from the kitchen.
Sometimes, also, while mother and auntie were cooking, we had to do our homework, and for them to help us, it had to be done in the kitchen. Ironing was also done in the kitchen. This one room holds a lot of memories for me. I sing alto, and I guess I can include this sound as one I learned in the kitchen. The kitchen, from my childhood, holds many treasured memories for me, especially my introduction to the song “Trust And Obey”
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