I’m 5 years old. On Mama’s stove is a steaming stock pot, filling the world with the essence of chicken and dumplings.
I’m watching her use her fists to mercilessly beat a lump of flour that will become dumplings. She punches the dough, making loud grunts, striking terror into the heart of childhood.
“What’re you making?” I ask her.
“Hush now,” she says.
For many years I sincerely believed that chicken and dumplings were called Hush Now. We ate a lot of Hush Now in my house.
Mama then tells me to “Go outside and play.”
Such was the fate of little boys. Any time you opened your mouth to ask a question, you were sent outside to “go play.” God help the child who told Mama he was bored.
“BORED!?” she’d shout. “I’ll show you bored!”
Then Mama’s eyes would fill with holy fire and she would wave her rolling pin around, sermonizing about idle hands. Frankly, you’d be safer telling my mother you were a communist.
So I walk outside to ride my bike.
Back then we all had bikes. Every last one of us. Bikes were everything. A kid in the saddle was limitless.
Sometimes we would be gone for hours on our Schwinns. Nobody worried about us because there wasn’t much to worry about. Our parents weren’t like today’s parents. We didn’t carpool to soccer practice in hybrid vehicles while buckled in FDA-approved car seats, staring at the opiate glow of our iPads.
Our parents drove big-bodied vehicles with names like Lincoln Continentals, Custom Cruisers, and Ford Country Squires. We had no seatbelts except Mama’s right arm. Moreover, we didn’t know what soccer was.
So there I am, riding bikes with my pals. We pull over at a friend’s house. We dismount, midair, while traveling upwards of 89 mph.
We sprint to our friend’s doorstep to ring the doorbell. We are breathless and rosy-faced from exertion.
The door opens.
“CAN MARGARET COME OUT AND PLAY!?”
We all say this to Margaret’s mother in unison, speaking at the same volume of a nuclear weapons field test. None of us kids have problems making eye contact with Margaret’s mom. None of us feel uncomfortable talking to adults.
I bring this up because I recently read a study that found that 93 percent of kids between ages 6 and 14 find it difficult to make eye contact with adults. The study concluded that the culprit was text-message-based communication.
We didn’t text. We wouldn’t have known how. Half of us were still working on the cursive alphabet. We weren’t in constant contact with Mom and Dad, either. In fact, many of us didn’t communicate with our parents at all until we finished college.
That’s not to say Mama didn’t keep in touch with us. She did. Usually, she left us notes on the backs of old bank envelopes in the kitchen.
“I went to Judy’s for bunco,” Mama would write. “Be back soon. Your room better be clean when I get home, or so help me, you will pay dearly.”
So Margaret comes out to play. She brings her cousin Anne along. I like Anne because Anne is a tomboy, and tomboys hold a strange allure over me.
Tomboys are the kinds of girls who get mad at you and punch you in the stomach, which I enjoy. Tomboys can outrun me, outlast me, out kickball me, and beat me in arm wrestling. I want to marry a tomboy.
We all pedal hard until we reek of little-kid sweat. We arrive at The Woods. There, we find a suitable place to “do stuff.” This, you see, is the whole point to childhood. Doing stuff.
It’s simple, really. You climb a tree, you kick pinecones, you find a stick that looks like a Winchester and you become John Wayne. You see who can jump out of a tree without breaking more than one fibula.
Life is more dangerous when we’re kids, I freely admit it. It’s not safe. It’s not sterilized. We do many stupid things we shouldn’t be allowed to do.
We don’t wear bicycle helmets. We dangle from rope swings over rocky creeks. Our parents give us pocketknives and lawn darts for Christmas. We build treehouses 48 feet off the ground. Our old man lets us sip his beer sometimes. We eat gluten.
And yet it seems our life is less noisy without excess technology. Our Chevys have no computers. Our brains are capable of memorizing hundreds of phone numbers. We never need GPS systems because we have rural gas station clerks. And most everyone on our street waves Old Glory from their porch.
Tonight, my wife made chicken and dumplings for supper. She placed the steaming bowl before me and I was a 5-year-old again.
“Is this what I think it is?” I said.
“Hush now,” said the tomboy.
Babs - April 14, 2022 6:33 am
Thank for bring our youth back to
Us. it was good back then.
PurpleIris - April 14, 2022 7:14 am
How sweet! ❤️
Debbie - April 14, 2022 10:02 am
Thank you for rapidly bringing me back to my childhood over many Summers.
Scott - April 14, 2022 10:20 am
Sean, thanks for stirring some great memories. As a child in the mid-20th century, there was a couple in our neighborhood. J.T. and Miriam Noe. I don’t recall that they had children, but that didn’t matter because they had J.T., and he had an archery set with metal tipped arrows and a huge bulls eye straw target. And J.T, never really outgrew his childhood. Kids back then were taught to address adults as Mr., Mrs., or Miss. It was a sign of respect. However, Miriam took mild offense when the neighborhood kids would ring her doorbell and say: “Mrs Noe, can J.T. come out and play?” Years later, as an adult, I had the opportunity to do some work for J.T. We recalled with fondness those by-gone days from our then current perspectives. J.T. has been dead for several years now, but the memories of those days remain. Thanks for the reminder. And thanks to all the J.T.’s out there.
Joyce not cholson - April 15, 2022 6:37 pm
Sharing my chicken n dumpling memory. It started with a live chicken, not frozen or a “cook by this date” grocery special. Not ready for Food Network, my Mom took the chicken to the backyard and proceeded to ring that chickens neck, around and around her arm would go. Experience, I guess, is the best teacher, she knew when it was kettle ready. But first, the feathers had to go, that chicken was then dipped in a cauldron of boiling water, then plucked featherless! But, once, the most delicious dumplings we’re on my plate,for supper, I had amnesia about how it got there. My West Virginia mommy made the best!
Liz - April 14, 2022 10:36 am
The good ‘ol days for sure❤️
Marie - April 14, 2022 10:54 am
That is what my childhood was like. AND, dumplins (there is no “g” to us Southern cooks) are NOT pop biscuits, pinched off and dropped in, dumplins are dough that is rolled out very thin, cut into strips and then into smaller rectangles and dropped ONE BY ONE into the boiling broth and then simmered until tender and the broth becomes thick and creamy deliciousness with just the right amount of black pepper. In our house, Chicken and Dumplins have more dumplins than chicken. Although any day is a good day for Chicken and Dumplins, today is going to be rainy and they will be particularly good. I best get started.
Emily Walls Ray - April 14, 2022 10:56 am
Nectar for the gods…chicken and dumplings. My special birthday dinner request for Nanny every year growing up in Tuscaloosa! Emily
Scott Wesseldyke - April 14, 2022 11:04 am
Thank you so much for bringing me back to a time when life was more fun–55 years ago.
Stephanie Mummert - April 14, 2022 11:41 am
THIS. This was my childhood, to a T….the bikes, The Woods, the tree house, the notes on the table from Mom with a list of chores to do before she gets home. The rope over the creek that we swam in ’til our toenails turned brown from the muddy water. My gosh….you could have been my neighbor. Thank you for this memory.
Roger - April 14, 2022 11:42 am
Thank you for today’s column.
Brought back lots of memories…and a calming that was welcomed.
jill - April 14, 2022 12:06 pm
Amen Yes, that was childhood for me too. Imagination, what a joy to have. And the freedom of a whole day to explore. Street lights came on and you went home. 🙂 Thanks Sean. The wonder years truly were.
Norbert Sprunger - April 14, 2022 12:07 pm
When wilkl you be coming back to Dothan or the Dothan area? Everybody down here wants to see you again!
Dale Kocher - April 14, 2022 12:32 pm
Thanks. I needed the dumplings. I’m 73. Grew up with friends, bicycles, sweat, skinned knees, and loving families. Sure miss being a kid. Best to you.
Sara Bosch - April 14, 2022 12:36 pm
Loved this one!!! My cousins and I would roam the woods looking for muscadines or sweet shrubs and I will never know how we were not snakebitten! I think the only time they would’ve come looking for us would have been if we were home in time to help with the milking!
Sara Bosch - April 14, 2022 12:41 pm
Oops, Weren’t home not were home!
Melissa Armstrong - April 14, 2022 12:41 pm
❤️. I had a feeling as I was reading that Jamie might be a tomboy.
Karen Schmidt - April 14, 2022 1:12 pm
This tomboy says thanks for the memories, especially one of my favorite ones of punching the neighborhood bully right in the nose!
Nancy - April 18, 2022 8:53 pm
Fifth grade. I knocked him down and sat on him!
Arnold Kring - April 14, 2022 1:22 pm
This column goes to show why girls are so much more verbal than boys. I always knew it! Mama is in the kitchen and her little five year old son walks in and starts asking questions, or just begins to bother mama. Mama says to her little boy, “Why don’t you go out and play with the other boys? So he goes out and they play with minature cars, going rrrrmmmm rrrrmmmm. That’s how little boys talk to cars. Little Susie goes into the kitchen, Mama says, “Susie, why don’t you help mama make some dumplings?” And so the more verbal, and more intelligent and more verbal little Susie becomes!! Need I say more???
Jan - April 14, 2022 1:25 pm
Great memories! Oh, to live that life again!
Shelton A. - April 14, 2022 1:27 pm
Glad you got your wish! My mom could only make tuna casserole. For chicken and real dumplings, that meant dinner at my grandmothers. Thank God I grew up without cell phones…I had a bike and a small bit of woods behind my house that had a creek. When I was little there were fish, crawdads, and turtles in the creek. The woods were for hide and seek, cowboys and indians, and war games. The elementary school across the street had two fields for playing. My parents didn’t worry if I played after dark or rode my bike around the neighborhood by myself (which usually included a stop at my grandmothers). Hope you enjoyed your ‘Hush now’! God bless.
Harriet - April 14, 2022 1:35 pm
One of your best ones yet, Sean💗
Paul McCutchen - April 14, 2022 2:01 pm
I got you one better Sean. I lived in the country on a gravel road. Everything we did was along the gravel road including riding bikes without a helmet, shin and knee guards and gloves. We even road in the back of pickup trucks and we are still alive. Now that a different time and place but so much fun.
Karen Holderman - April 14, 2022 2:01 pm
You warmed my heart as you took me back to my childhood and good home eating. thank you.
oldandblessed - April 14, 2022 2:04 pm
I haven’t had chicken and dumpling for a long time. BTW, my kids and grandkids seem softer and less sturdy than we were way back in the day.
Cynthia Russell - April 14, 2022 2:06 pm
So Good!!!! So True!!!! I got my first rifle at 12.. but I also had a Hugh dirt pit behind my house (in Mobile, Alabama) with alleys trailing thru them.. so I set up a target & practiced.. fun place to play .. imagine, & spend the day with all the neighborhood kids. (only when I was alone did I target practice) right after school & before homework.
Sue Bruins - April 14, 2022 2:24 pm
Love your writings! You bless my world each morning…thank you.
If we ever said we were board my mom’s response was “only the boring are board.”
Lot of truth to that remark!
Keep blessing me…your the best.
Ruth Mitchell - April 14, 2022 2:31 pm
Love your ending!!
Tori Lauritsen - April 14, 2022 2:39 pm
When I left social media, I also went about purging my e-mail to ensure that I only received what I felt was deserving of my time. Now, I wake up daily to one 5-minute local news e-mail and one 5-minute national news e-mail. I picked both because they pride themselves on presenting balanced news so I get to read both the good and the bad, and it limits me to 10 minutes of ‘news’ a day. By the time I’ve finished this my coffee is brewed and I’ve made myself a cup and I sit down and take my first sip and open my last e-mail of the morning–your daily story. You made the cut too because you balance both the good and the bad, if not leaning more towards good which we all need to start our days. Thank you…my days would start a lot sadder without them. With love from Idaho!
Nan - April 14, 2022 3:00 pm
Sean of the South: Dumpling | The Trussville Tribune - April 14, 2022 3:24 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Patricia Gibson - April 14, 2022 3:29 pm
I miss those days.
Steve McCaleb - April 14, 2022 3:42 pm
Thank you for the fond look back. Life was a hoot back then wasn’t it ? Kind of an “Opie” existence. Before cellphones, the internet, Grand Theft Auto and the Kardasians. Quick….somebody tell me again how much better our lives are in today’s world. Bob Segar said it best many years ago,” wish I didn’t know know what I didn’t know then”. Thank you Sean……again.
Dottie Coltrane - April 14, 2022 4:01 pm
Now you have me craving chicken & dumplings! Such great memories your writing has brought today. When I was growing up in a Baptist church in a very small town, we had a lady who would walk around the fellowship hall carrying a big pot and a ladle, scooping the delicious chicken & dumplings she had made into everyone’s bowl. “Mrs. Eula” went to glory years ago, but today I am remembering clearly that deliciousness. Thank you, Sean!
Nancy Carnahan - April 14, 2022 4:11 pm
The last sentence was perfect.
Carole Moormann - April 14, 2022 4:49 pm
Ann - April 14, 2022 5:49 pm
Ahhhhhhh…. Those really were the days…. Thanks for the beautiful trip
Linda Moon - April 14, 2022 7:06 pm
Oh boy, didn’t we all have bikes! And didn’t we love all the other kids who rode with us! Once, I punched a neighborhood boy. His Mama was livid, and I was banished from their yard for quite a while. Well, I wish I could’ve been there for your wife’s chicken and dumplings, because I can’t cook. But I can sure hang out with you and your former tomboy to share food and tales!
WILLIAM JEFFERY WEBB - April 14, 2022 7:16 pm
Sean I love reading your columns daily. They a lot of times have real meaning to me. This one really hits home with me.
I’ll have a big bowl of that Hush.
Mary Barks - April 14, 2022 7:19 pm
You ALWAYS lift my spirits Sean. I truly enjoy your writing… your soul is very special.
AlaRedClayGirl - April 14, 2022 8:20 pm
That sounds a lot like my childhood. My mother, who was a nurse, just knew that I was going to die from tetanus, a snake bite, the flu, or some other calamity. However, I fooled her and survived quite well through all of my adventures. It’s a shame that most kids today are not allowed to do the things that we did. However, since I live on a farm, my four children got to spend their summers building hay forts, chasing chickens, and riding horses, unlike all their friends. Sometimes I wonder what it will be like for my grandchildren or great grands.
Slimpicker - April 15, 2022 3:27 am
Sean, you reminded me of the “Chicken & Dumplings” song by The Trishas.
Mary - April 15, 2022 3:50 am
Chicken and Dumplings! A favorite! Wish I had some!
gwenthinks - April 15, 2022 11:57 am
To be gone for hours, just messin’ around. We didn’t know how good we had it!
Lewis - April 15, 2022 12:54 pm
You sure do write a good column. This one is especially good.
Jennifer Campbell - April 18, 2022 12:04 pm
My childhood! That innocent freedom to explore with a bicycle! Knocking on doors to ask friends to come OUTSIDE to play, using only our imaginations. Staying out all day and coming home smelling like wet puppies, the smell of a day well spent. With your gift of words, I could see my summer days as a child so clearly. As kids of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, don’t we all wish for that childlike simplicity that we once had, free of technology and micro management of our day? I wish most kids today could experience that simplicity of life.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 23, 2022 12:24 am
Julie, RN - May 14, 2022 1:21 pm
You got your comfort food, and you got your tomboy…God is Good…He is VERY Good 💜✝️💜