Schmitt Family Reunion Chow
“The Lake” was a reservoir that was actually a pond on the farm where my mother grew up. Being there on a Sunday in the summer was like being in a Brueghel painting of children’s games or a wedding feast, or both combined. Everybody was doing something, full tilt, at the same time, at a slightly different place, but was part of the whole picture. Mom, her sisters, Aunts Frieda, Stella, and Betty (the last two from Louisville), their sister-in-law Aunt Lucy, Uncle Bill’s wife, and Grandma might be warming up the food on the stove and carrying hot dishes to a long table under the maple tree, while Uncle Bill might be grilling hamburgers or steaks next to Dad and Uncle Louie Schwartz, who would be drinking a beer in their folding chairs and “shooting the breeze.”
Meanwhile, my cousins Jim and Junior Hoffman and Alan Schmitt and my brother Ed and I might be seining for minnows in the creek near the road, or on another part of the farm, or maybe checking the lines for channel cats in the aluminum boat stored upside down during the week under the walnut tree next to the outhouse. My cousins Sara Hoffman and Nancy, Connie, and Janie Schmitt would be playing board games or doing crafts or just joking and laughing with their cousins from Louisville, Mary Frances and Phyllis Prechtel and Donna Schwartz. We didn’t know how many first cousins we had because there were so many, and when you are rich you should not count all your individual dollars and blessings; you should feel good about what you have, can share and spend with others, and be grateful.
One of the aunts or Mom would yell, “Soup’s on!” or “Come and get it” and we would all come running to the big long table to pick out from steaming dishes and pots whatever we craved, especially if our mother didn’t usually serve that at home. There was fried and baked chicken, roast beef, sometimes turkey, ham, the vowel of which the Kentuckians twisted to the delight of us Dubois Countians, causing us to cackle and imitate their accents, bread dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked beans, green beans, peas, sometimes mixed with carrots, creamy cole slaw, sliced beefy tomatoes, sliced cucumbers soaked in a white dressing, wilted Bibb lettuce overlayed with thin crescents of white onions. We piled our paper plates high, until they bent and sagged, emptied them, came back for seconds and thirds, for more variety, and then got ready for dessert. We could pick from angel food, applesauce, and German chocolate cake, apple, peach, rhubarb, or blackberry pie, any of which could be topped with ice cream, sometimes home-made, fruit salad, red and green jellos filled with cubed peaches, apples, and bananas.
Then it was time to “lay low” while the food settled. “You can’t go swimming for at least an hour, or you’ll all get cramps!” someone’s mom always announced. “So take it easy.”
During that “settling” period, some of us might walk over the far dam to the “back lake,” an L-shaped pond, the first part of which was on Grandma’s property, the other on the neighboring farm. It was always quieter at the back lake, which had trees along one side, including a stand of pines whose carpet of needles made a nice mattress to lie down on for a good snooze. In the fall, Aunt Frieda, whose husband Uncle Otto died young of a liver disease, leaving her to raise three children alone, would shrewdly and skillfully pull in handsome crappies with her flyrod in the shallows of this more remote lake. Aunt Frieda always knew how to do everything, because she had learned to fend for her family by herself.
Norbert Krapf, The Ripest Moments: A Southern Indiana Childhood (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008), © Norbert Krapf; http://shop.indianahistory.org/SelectSKU.aspx?skuid=1006683
This is a sample Hoosier food story. The Indiana Humanities Council has joined with the Indiana State Fair to create a humanities writing contest for its signature program, Food for Thought, which engages Hoosiers in discussions about food and how it helps define Indiana’s culture. With this in mind, the Council encourages you to write a short story or essay about an Indiana memory related to food. It might be about a special occasion, a funny incident, a favorite dish, or an ethnic specialty. Learn more here. (Click on Department 114). Winning entries will receive a cash prize.