The other day I decided to make brownies for Jimmie.  Okay, maybe I was making them for me, but whatever.  I go to the pantry, grab the box of brownie mix and take it into the kitchen.  I read the back of the box as I do every time, pulled out the mixing bowl and the necessary utensils, and I got to work.

I put the eggs, the oil, the water and the mix into the mixing bowl.  I was astounded at how quickly everything melded together.  It was no struggle at all.  Everything mixed well and easily.  I did think the mix was a little runny, but I went with it.  Then it occurred to me, the mix seemed just a bit too runny.  I rechecked the instructions and was sure I had done it right.  Then I thought, my eyes are getting a little older and maybe I should put on my reading glasses.  I was supposed to use a fourth cup of oil.  I had used a full cup.  I was supposed to use half a cup of water.  Again I had used a full cup.  What to do? What to do?

I got out my pencil and paper and I figured up how many boxes of mix I would need to buy to have all my ingredients match what they should.  I would have had enough brownies for a small army.  Since I haven’t started any fires lately and really wasn’t planning on having to take the firemen any brownies or cookies I decided that maybe adding extra boxes of mix was not the answer.  Besides I didn’t really want to make a trip to the store at 8 o’clock at night.  So I dumped the mixture down the drain and decided to start from scratch, and I do mean scratch – with flour, sugar, vanilla, cocoa, oil, eggs and salt.

I pulled out one of my favorite cookbooks and knew exactly what page to turn to.  Page 155.  I have used page 155 of this cookbook over and over and over throughout the years.  This cook book is special to me.  It has a story behind it.

I wasn’t meaning to buy this cookbook.  In fact, buying a cookbook was probably the last thing on my mind that day, but the lady behind the counter at the diner was a good salesperson.  I remember walking into the diner, it had been a long night’s drive and we had stayed at the luxurious Sahara Motel in DeWitt, AR.  DeWitt is kind of a sister city to Stuttgart, AR.  All the hunters out there have probably heard of Stuttgart, AR.  Stuttgart’s claim to fame is being the duck hunting capital of the world.  The Sahara Motel does a pretty good business with the duck hunters during the season.

We had arrived late in the evening or maybe even in the wee hours of the morning.  I was awoken just after falling asleep to the sound of boisterous laughter and general tomfoolery.  I opened the door to my room.  I don’t know who was more surprised me or the six or so gentlemen standing there in the parking lot in their underwear.  They were obviously a little on the intoxicated side and showing off the ducks of the day.  They quickly apologized for waking me up and moved a couple of doors down to the next 50 gallon barrel used as a trashcan.  I went back to sleep, got up early the next morning, and headed over to the diner for a much-needed cup of coffee.

As I walked in the diner I could see the cook in the back and a lady behind the counter who reminded me of a cross between Flo and Alice.  She looked at me and smiled and as I walked toward the counter.  The five or six gentlemen of various ages sitting in two booths along the wall looked at me and whispered amongst themselves.  I was mildly irritated.  I knew I was an outsider.  I knew I wasn’t a duck hunter, and I knew I was oddly dressed for rural Arkansas.  We were there for a funeral and I was dressed to attend the funeral.

I went to the counter and ordered a couple of cups of coffee.  I ordered one for me and one for my grandmother.  The lady behind the counter caught me off guard when she asked, “You are a Falls, aren’t you?”

“Yes ma’am, I am.”

“I thought so.   You look just like them.”

I didn’t know if that was good or bad, and I didn’t know if I should take offense.

I turned to look at the gentleman a time or two.  Every time I tried to sneak a look they were all looking back at me.  I was a little uneasy.  I guess the lady could tell I was feeling a bit insecure and out of place because she laughed and introduced herself.  Seems she was somehow related to me by marriage, marriage, marriage, cousin, cousin, cousin or something like that.  She was asking me if I knew so-and-so and so-and-so and I was answering yes and no.  She then pulled this cookbook from the edge of the counter, turned to the back cover and showed me a picture of somebody I actually knew.  It was my cousin Flora – cousin by marriage, but still my cousin.

Flora and her two sisters had just published a cookbook entitled The Farmer’s Daughters.  They created the cookbook to help raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society as Flora had been diagnosed with MS just a year before.  My family is large and I wish I could name everybody by name on sight all the time.  Flora is actually somebody I knew pretty well.  She was closer in age to my parents and I had heard them mention her over the years.

Just as my uncle walked through the front door of the diner, the lady behind the counter had started telling me that some of the gentlemen in the booths against the wall were also related to me.  I knew soon enough because when my uncle walked through the door the greetings began.  They all hugged or shook hands.  It was obvious that they knew him and he knew them.  When I walked over to say hello we all got a big laugh out of it.  They just weren’t sure exactly who I was, but they knew I was a relative of some sort.

I ended up buying two cookbooks that day.  I can’t remember who I gave the other one to, but I kept mine and I use it all the time.  I’m not sure where the recipes came from, but some of them have really cool names like L’s Buttermilk Cake, Pat’s Brownies, Aunt Louie’s Chocolate Pie, Mom’s Raw Apple Cake, etc.  I imagine these recipes came from people all over the area, but I like to think they are all family recipes.

Back to the brownies… Jimmie has loved these brownies since he was a small child.  He likes them almost as much, or maybe even more than when I make my grandma’s homemade gravy.  So I made the homemade brownies and today I made another batch because they never last long in my house.  I think they need to be renamed from Good Chocolate Brownies to Duck Hunters in Underwear Brownies.   Maybe if I ever put together a cookbook that is what I will call them.

Page 155

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The Sahara Motel and Restaurant

Sahara