THE MAPLE GROVE CEMETERY PICNIC
(from Picnics I Remember by Jo Ann Miller)
On the fourth Saturday in June, which was always seemed to be the hottest day of the year, we went to the Maple Grove Picnic. All of my Orr relatives were there, too—dead and alive. What I have attended and endured all of my life is the outgrowth of an old tradition to honor ancestors. In the old days in the country in East Texas graveyards were “worked” in the summer after the crops were Laid By. (I don’t remember when we started calling graveyards “cemeteries”.) Initially the clean-up was done on Friday or Saturday with everyone taking a piece of fried ham, a hunk of cold cornbread and a watermelon to share with the other people who came with their rakes and hoes to clear the grass and weeds that had grown up during the spring.
Eventually, full-blown picnics evolved. The work was done on Friday or Saturday, and picnics were held the following day—from about 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. or so if on Saturday, or after preaching if on Sunday. The girls got new dresses and shoes. (Once my cousin, Susie, sat in the car all the day of the picnic because she didn’t like the shoes Aunt Esther had bought for her.)We looked forward to the “all-day singing and dinner on the ground” or on the picnic tables. If the event was held on Sunday, nothing was sold, but any other day there was a STAND with sody water, lemonade and homemade ice cream. Children spent their nickels and dimes there and their quarters to have their pictures taken. During an election the game was to see how many different candidates’ cards one could get.
My families have ancestors buried at Pine Grove, the oldest church in Rusk County, at Concord Cemetery and at Maple Grove. One of the largest cemeteries in our part of the county is at Shiloh, a church and cemetery on SH 315 between Carthage and Mount Enterprise. People from our community who had moved to Texas from South Carolina began using this burial ground in the 19th century. The tradition in the community was to go to Shiloh on July 4th At one church there was Gospel Singing, requiring a piano and in the other church Sacred Harp singing, no musical instrument required.
However, all that said, the FOOD was the main event. I checked with friends and relatives to see what they remembered their mothers and grandmothers taking to the cemetery on that special day. Here are some of the good foods that we remembered:
Fried chicken Chicken pie
Fried ham Pork sausage
Chicken and dumplings Butter beans
Macaroni and cheese Pimiento cheese sandwiches
Sliced fresh tomatoes Pickled peaches
Sweet cucumber pickles “Light bread”
Watermelon rind pickles Iced tea
Raisin pies Fried peach and apple pies
Chocolate pies Pineapple cake
Coconut pies Fresh berry cobbler
These gathering have changed through the years. This year we’ll gather at Maple Grove on the first Sunday in October. No stands to sell soda, ice cream, no political candidates, no new dresses and hats, no singing, no day before to clear grass and weeds, but the food remains much the same although the ones who prepare it are children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren or even great-great grandchildren of those who once prepared the feasts or brought from Bob’s Barbecue or Chicken on the Run.
Through the years the meaning of the gathering has remained the same—to honor those men and women who gave us life and who deserve our respect and devotion. We still do that with gusto.
Recipe for AUNT GENE’S MACARONI AND CHEESE*
1 pkg (7 oz) elbow macaroni
½ stick real butter
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
3 cups milk(1 large can Pet evaporated and about 1 ½ cups regular milk, warmed
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Cook pasta. Add melted butter, beaten egg, salt & pepper. Add milk and cheese and stir. Pour into casserole, about 2 qt. and bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Put more cheese on top before it is done and let it melt.
*This recipe was always a hit at the picnic as well as at our family gatherings. Aunt Gene was blinded by a tear gas bomb lost from a car that had been parked at Uncle Arlen’s store. A little boy found the fountain pen-like device, and as she examined it, the thing exploded, blinding her. She regained partial sight from a plastic cornea transplant many years later. In the meantime she re-taught herself to cook by feel and smell. Her daughter, Carolyn says, “Everything she made was good and I think it got better after she was blinded. She loved to cook—it was her passion—and Daddy loved to eat.”