Cancers could not destroy aunt Bena Mae’s spirit, smile

By Shirley Prihoda

The Bulletin


As October takes center stage, it brings us the County Fair, Friday night football games, and for those who have, or have had a family member touched by breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.


Since 1985, individuals, businesses and communities have come together every October to raise awareness, show support and fund research for this complex disease.


Many families have been touched in some way by breast cancer. Mine is no different. My mother had three sisters, and Bena Mae was my favorite. She had an infectious laugh that filled the room with a melodious sound.


She was an amazing woman, who had lived through the death of her young husband at the Freeport Sulfur Plant in the 1940s, when a block of sulfur fell off the conveyor belt, hitting him on the head. Suddenly, she was alone in the world with three little girls to raise.


As people of her generation were prone to do, she picked herself up by the bootstraps and made a life for her girls. She became an excellent seamstress, decorator and cook. And to my pleasure, she imparted to me the love of cooking.


As the years passed, the title of widow was not the only grief she bore, since in the 1950s breast cancer was added to her burdens, and just like she was inclined to do, she took it in stride. It was not an era of reconstruction, but she coped with it by wearing an undergarment with padding on one side.


Hiding what had happened didn’t fit into her vivacious personality, and besides that, she had girls to finish raising and missing one breast simply wasn’t going to get in the way of that.


The years passed, and she did what she did best: sew and cook. She shared many recipes with me over the years, made soft leather moccasins when my daughter was born and cried with me when my son died of cancer.


In the 1970s, bone cancer was diagnosed, and it was a long battle that was eventually lost, but not without her proverbial positive outlook each day.


I rarely go through Clute, or especially Avery Street, without thinking of her. I long to sit at her table and eat the southern-fried corn that only she made. But mostly, I just long to hear her infectious laugh again.


What I have come to realize is that we will all be remembered; the key is how. If Aunt Bena Mae were given the opportunity to share wisdom for living in a broken world, it would be Philippians 4:8: “Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is anything praiseworthy…meditate on these things.”


To my regret, I didn’t write down Aunt Bena Mae’s fried corn recipe. This one is as close as I can get to hers.


Southern-Fried Corn

Ingredients

8 to 10 ears of fresh corn

2 tablespoons of bacon grease (makes a big difference)

4 tablespoons of butter, divided

¼ cup water

salt & pepper

Instructions

With your corn shucked and cleaned, place it standing up in a Bundt pan or large bowl.


(Cutting corn off the cob is quite a task and a messy one at that.) Run a sharp knife down the cob cutting the kernels off. Don’t cut deeply with the first cut.


Next, scrape all the starch and “goody” out of the remaining kernels. This is what gives fried corn it’s unique texture and flavor. Simply turn the back of your knife perpendicular to the cob and scrape down the sides.


Heat a skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat and add bacon grease and two tablespoons of butter. Once melted, add corn, water, and salt and pepper to taste.


Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir frequently, cooking for 20 to 30 minutes - or until it’s cooked to your liking. Immediately before removing from heat, add the remaining butter and stir until melted.


To make this dish even creamier, a few splashes of heavy cream right at the end might be just what you’re looking for.


(To contact Shirley, please send emails to john.bulletin@gmail.com or write to The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, Tx. 77516)