|When I knew her, she was an elderly, rawboned, woman. She stood tall, straight and thin as a rail, back in the 30s. That last time she came, she stayed nearly 2 weeks, and we clustered around her like biddies around a mama hen. She told delightful stories about the 1800s, when she was a girl, and we didn’t want to miss a word! You wouldn’t call her pretty, as I remember her, and Mama said she was always plain, but her devilish, twinkling eyes and ready laugh more than made up for surface beauty! When her visit was nearly over, we were still nagging her for one more story, and Mama, who enjoyed Kate immensely, told her to tell us about the time old Mr. Gib decided to come a-courtin’, and she leaned back with a wicked grin, as she began the tale.|
It was around 1870, and Catherine, or Kate, as she preferred, was nudging marrying age, but not terribly interested. Her mama had died, and Kate inherited the household chores, including cooking and watching after the younger kids. They lived in Dallas, Texas, where her father had settled. He was a surveyor, and was often away from home, so all the family grew up as self-sufficient pioneers.
By the time Kate met Mr. Gib, her Papa had retired. He had accumulated a good deal of acreage, where they lived comfortably, in a big two story house. Her Papa (my great grandfather) came in and told her he had invited his old friend, Mr. Gib, for dinner the next day. Kate sighed, for that was not unusual, but then he added, “Mr. Gib has expressed an interest in courting you, Kate, and I gave my approval!”
Kate was livid, and she protested that old Mr. Gib had one foot in the grave, was old enough to be her grandpa, the stingiest man in the county, homely as sin, and a shrimp who barely came up to her nose! Her father stopped her tirade, and told her he didn’t mean she had to MARRY Mr. Gib, tho he was a good catch, but he forbade her to be rude to his friend, or to hurt his feelings, in any way!
Kate thought quickly, then grabbed a length of cloth, cutting out an apron, a special one. She giggled as she sewed, for she had come up with what she saw as a workable plan to discourage this miserly old bachelor! She carefully made the apron double, and the bottom became a huge pouch, with a secret slit through the pocket. When she finished, she put it on and tied it around her slim waist and it looked ordinary, thought fresh and crisp.
Next morning she searched amongst the weeds for delicate pepper-grass, perfect for nice wilted salad. She caught and killed 5 chickens, and quickly plucked them clean. In the kitchen, she had the old wood stove giving off heat, and she made up pan after pan of biscuits, light and fluffy, and set them aside to rise. She ordered her siblings around, and they scurried to do her bidding. Soon, the smells of cooking made everyone eager for dinnertime, for Kate was one of the best cooks in the country, and she knew it!
She fried heaping platters of chicken, crisp and brown, and potatoes, beans, okra, and poke-salet, to fill the bowls! There was corn, and tomatoes, along with squash! Her Papa looked on with an approving eye, but also with some concern, for he knew she was up to no good. Still, she had given her word to be polite, and she generally kept her word.
When old Mr. Gib came riding up, he tied his horse to the hitching-post and came in, with nose in the air, enjoying the smells coming from the kitchen. His face split in a wavering smile, (and he didn’t give smiles freely!) You could almost read his mind.. soon, soon! This youthful cook would be ensconced in his own modest home, at his beck and call! Finally, just when they thought they’d swoon with starvation, Kate called, “Dinner!”
Everyone rushed to the washstand to tidy their hair, & wash hands and faces. Then they beheld the groaning table! Kate had outdone herself, and they licked their lips! Down the center of the long table.. big heaping platters of fried chicken, browned to perfection, big bowls of vegetables, just about anything you would want, and there… a big basket of steaming biscuits, light, fluffy and golden brown! On a side table, still bubbling from the oven, a big peach cobbler, oozing peachy syrup through the lattice top! Beside it, a six layer cake, covered with milky white coconut, waited for the knife!
Kate’s Papa sat at the head of the table, furthest from the cook stove, with Kate at the foot. She asked Mr. Gib to take the side chair, just to her left, and teen-aged Henry, who later became my grand daddy, to sit beside him. The rest of the family chose seats, and Papa said grace. Then came the passing of serving bowls and platters, and as they went from hand to hand, each took as big a portion as he liked. When the chicken platter came to Kate, she smiled and forked 4 big pieces onto her plate, and passed it to Mr. Gib. He blinked rapidly, when he beheld Kate’s loaded plate, and took a couple of pulley-bones onto his own plate. Now, the basket of bread reached Kate, and she helped herself generously, lining the edge of her plate with 6 big biscuits! Mr. Gib almost choked on a bite of chicken, but recovered and removed 2 biscuits from the platter to his own plate.
Everyone dug in, and commented on Kate’s natural talents in the kitchen. Mr. Gib just beamed, and the wheels were going round in his head. Papa asked Mr. Gib a question and when he leaned forward and looked at Papa to give a long-winded answer, Kate quickly removed 2 pieces of chicken and 2 biscuits from her plate and dropped them into her apron pouch, through the slit in the pocket. From the other pocket, she took 2 bare chicken bones she’d saved, and laid one beside her plate, and held the other in her hand. When Mr. Gib turned back toward her, she was gnawing ravenously on the naked bone, like a starving coyote! His eyes went from the bone to her plate, and he gulped, but said not a word.
By now, Papa and all the kids had caught on to what was going on, and were having trouble keeping straight faces. They began slipping her bones under the table, and she secreted them into her lap, some she added to the growing pile beside her plate. Henry and Papa kept engaging Mr. Gib in talk, and Kate kept emptying her plate into the secret pocket, and Mr. Gib was so confused, he could hardly eat! Repeatedly, Kate asked to have the chicken platter and biscuits passed, and each time she replenished her plate! Finally, she reached behind her to the stove, and grabbed a half dozen biscuits from a pan, saying, “I’ll help myself, and save your passing arm!”
Mr. Gib looked like he might keel over, and grabbed his chest! He stuttered that he had to leave for he was having some pretty bad stomach spasms, and he hurriedly grabbed his hat and almost ran to his horse. Before the hoof beats faded, Kate and all the family had collapsed in laughter! Finally, she dried her eyes, and stood and removed the infamous apron, and commenced removing food, filling an empty platter with whole pieces of chicken, and adding two dozen biscuits, minimum, to the basket! Her Papa just shook his head, and said, “I think you can forget about having to answer a proposal from Mr. Gib, Kate, and I hope you don’t live to regret it!” Kate grinned and said, “I’d rather be an old maid all of my life, than have to live on a crust of bread and a cup of gruel, as I’d have to do with that stingy old coot!” Papa shook his head, and asked that someone pass the peach cobbler, and they finished the meal, at their leisure, with the chair on Kate’s left setting empty.
Old Mr. Gib gave up on courting Kate, and it was never mentioned again, outside the family. He and her Papa remained friends, as promised. Then, the nearest neighbor, several miles distant, called one day. She and Kate were having a grand gab, and then, she offered sympathy that the courtship of Kate and Mr. Gib didn’t work out! Wide-eyed, Kate asked what she meant, and she said that old Mr. Gib had confided that he'd seriously considered courting Kate. Luckily, for him, he went on, he observed her at dinner, one day, and changed his mind. Indescribable, the huge amounts of food she consumed! He knew, then, that no man could ever afford to feed her, unless he be a millionaire, and while Mr. Gib was well off, he was no millionaire!
At this point in the story, both my mama and Aunt Kate pealed with laughter, and Aunt Kate reared back and lifted her long skinny feet from the floor and jiggled them in the air! For just a moment, I thought I saw what she might have looked like, as a girl, getting the best of the stingiest man in the county!
J B, from TX, entered 2004-06-01