I am a terrible speller and my proficiency at grammar is more than lacking. Spell check and my mother helped me through many a book report, college paper, business plan, menu, and now this blog, but the one who would enjoy proofing my blog the most left us almost ten years ago. She would have relished marking these paragraphs with bold red ink in her cursive script, not out of malice but out of love for the English language and me. My grandmother, Betty Strickland Cramer, AKA Bett Bett, will always be one of my favorite people. She was petite in stature; her feet matched her tiny frame. They were the definition of dainty, a size 6 quad. Shoes and jewelry were her weakness. She had the former and the latter to match every outfit. Bett Bett was prissy and sassy and made no apologies. She could hold a grudge indefinitely but if she loved you, she would fight for you until the end. Bett Bett taught English, at Jenkins County High School, for almost thirty years so at one time or another she taught someone related to every person in Jenkins County. She did not tolerate the word ain’t or unruliness. She was beyond proud of the fact she had paddled several of the JCHS boys’ basketball team.
If I had a penny for every time she said I taught his/her father, mother, aunt, uncle, cousin I could retire at the age of 37! Bett Bett had a quick wit that wavered on the verge of sarcastic but she was never mean. Her delivery was cool with a hint of indifference. My mother was often the subject of these little “zings” as we called them. These episodes offered us endless entertainment at Mom’s expense. Bett Bett and Mother were closer than close. Not some silly movie screen mommy-daughter mush but the real-life kind. My mother practically doted on her, and we all knew their love ran deep. Bett Bett was my number one biggest fan. She did not think I was perfect or too precious to receive a reprimand. We were too much alike to never butt heads. A pop on the thigh in the Bi Lo parking lot after our bi-annual dentist appointment is still etched in my memory to prove this fact, but let someone else mess with me. I would call my mother squalling over one of life’s injustices. She ever played the devil’s advocate and always advised me to “be the bigger person”. I would immediately hang up and speed dial Bett Bett. She would commiserate. She would threaten to call their mother, call the teacher, or write a seething Letter to the Editor to The Millen News to right the wrong. It would be all “their” fault and none of mine.
My family lived 17 miles from town so most afternoons we ended up at Bett Bett’s house, a convenient in-town squatting spot until our next engagement: t-ball, softball, cheerleading, Bible school, church, dance, or just to hang out. Her house was like a second home. We were always welcome, but there were understood limitations to her hospitality. One did not interrupt The Young and the Restless. EVER. If you wanted something to eat other than Lance Peanut Butter Crackers, Raisin Bran, or Crystal Light lemonade you should bring it with you. Plundering was also a “no no”. Ditto, eating on the carpet. We loved going to Bett Bett’s. She never bothered us and let us watch cable cartoon channels on her 10-inch bedroom TV. That was the life!
Bett Bett was a diehard Braves fan. The kind of rabid fan, who if out of pocket during the actual game, recorded the game on VHS to be watched later. She talked to the TV as if the entire team and coaches were a part of her 9th grade English class at Jenkins County High School. She admonished a missed catch, walk, or bad call and she likewise commended a 3-2-1 double play, a sliding catch in center field, and pick-off by a quick handed pitcher. Our bond was solidified by our love for the Bravos. We tomahawk chopped our way through the 90’s with the passion only an overweight, awkward preteen and a retired widow in her late sixties could muster. We didn’t miss a game, and if we did the next day, we discussed in detail the finesse of a great catch made by David Justice, a stand-up homer by Chipper Jones, or the spectacle of a Bobby Cox tirade that ultimately got him thrown out of the game. We had our favorites. Greg Maddox was always a topic of conversation. He was our favorite pitcher with his cool demeanor, Clark Kent glasses, and a touch of endearing goofiness. Fred McGriff, the “Crime Dog” was as solid as they come. A commanding presence on first, he always kept us on the edge of our seats waiting for his next homer and it was hard not to love Lemke with his boyish good looks and kind eyes. The Braves 1995 World Series win was the culmination of our years of fandom. It was our time and our moment. After the ultimate win I lost interest and ventured into my teenage years, but every time I flip through the channels and see our boys at bat, I can’t help but smile. I asked my mother, “How do you sum up Bett Bett in just a few paragraphs?” Well, you just don’t. I don’t have to try because at the most random moments I think of her. The other day I heard Simon and Garfunkel and I was transported to the back seat of her Cutlass station wagon with the wood grain side paneling belting out Bridge over Troubled Water. Each time I have to wait at Herndon for the train to cross the tracks I hear her say “Trains a camin’” to which I would respond “How you knew?” We would always laugh when she completed our banter with “I heard it blew!” I caught myself chewing gum in church a few Sundays ago and saw her pursed lips because I “looked like an old billy goat chewing his cud”. As I walk by the hearth in my living room, I catch a glimpse of the little white milking stool I perched on at the foot of her recliner as we shelled peas or pealed peaches. Her cast iron skillet sits seasoned in my cabinet and ready to fry up the prettiest mess of pale white shrimp you can imagine. He fried shrimp were a treat. The recipe below is a close as I could get!
Heat oil to 350 degrees in Cast Iron Skillet. You must use a cast iron skillet! These little delicacies just don’t taste the same fried in another vessel, and be sure to use fresh grease. Bett Bett’s shrimp were always beautiful with the palest crust.
Beat eggs and add milk mixing well. Combine plain flour, self-rising flour, and salt. Add your shrimp to egg and milk mixture. Make sure all shrimp are coated well. Add shrimp a few at a time to flour mixture and coat well. Add to hot grease a few at a time. Do not overcook. Shrimp will be a light golden brown.