Sunday, November 8, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column--November 4, 2015

I’ll be 40 this month, and already my memory is failing. Sometimes when my young children reminisce, their stories from the recent past only faintly ring a bell.

The last few weeks I’ve been trying to recall events and details from 30 years ago, a time that made a big impression on me.

It was 30 years ago this week that my hometown of Petersburg, West Virginia, experienced the Flood of ’85. The waters of the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River (along with numerous creeks and streams) swelled with inches on inches of rain and changed lives--both those who lost almost everything and those who lost nothing.

I was one of the latter, a fourth grader, excited and a little scared. Thanks to the local radio station, WELD, we knew ahead of time that the waters were rising. I was big enough to realize that my own home was safe. Although we lived less than a half-mile from the river, we were on high ground.

I was more worried about the safety of my truck-driver Daddy and what would happen if he weren’t able to make it home like my Uncle Randall who was stranded at our house. The electricity flickered and failed, and I was relieved when my father finally pulled into the mud-puddled driveway around dark. 

Then there were six of us sitting in the darkness of our living room and listening to the rain pouring down and to the battery-powered radio that kept announcing when and where the river was cresting and how far above flood level.

I slept that night, but in my troubled sleep I dreamt about the waters rising around my bed. When I woke, I heard a new sound with the rain-- the sound of rushing water.

That next day, people ventured out, trading their battery-powered radios for the ones in their cars and trucks. They were greeted by a changed world. The river had completely swept away roads and bridges and buildings, covering everything with inches and feet of mud and debris. It eventually retreated to the new banks it’d carved out for itself.

I don’t remember exactly how long it took for life to return to normal. I don’t think we were out of electricity as long as we were without drinkable running water. It was quite a while until roads and bridges were rebuilt. Both grocery stores in town were hit hard, so we traveled 45 minutes away for food. A temporary post office was established. My school had been flooded, and I’m certain we missed more than a month of classes.

 Many businesses were closed permanently, and high water marks were visible on buildings for years.

At the time I thought I’d never forget any of it. Now much of that time period is blurry to me. Through conversations with friends and family, I’ve discovered some of the memories that remain are distorted or entirely wrong. It’s safe to say if my brain were a computer, I’d have more than just a few corrupt files.

But, you know what? I’m fine with that because in the course of my chitchats about the past, I noticed my loved ones came up with just as many blank screens and error messages, regardless of age.

I’ve been trying to do better with planning our meals because it saves so much time, money, and stress. One of my struggles in meal-planning, however, is remembering all the favorites, not just repeating the same 4 dishes over and over.

One meal that I usually remember and that nobody minds having frequently is Sloppy Tots (or Sloppy Taters). Basically it consists of tater tots (or roasted chunks of potato if I don’t have tater tots) topped with sloppy joe meat and shredded cheddar cheese. I know that around these parts sloppy joes are called steamers, but for kids, “Sloppy Tots” sounds more fun than “Steamer Tots.”
Sloppy Tots

Tater tots (or oven-roasted potatoes)
Shredded cheddar cheese
Mild banana pepper rings

2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 lb. ground beef
6 Tbsp. ketchup
1 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Prepare tater tots according to package directions. If you don’t have tater tots, wash and cut potatoes into bite-sized pieces, coat with olive oil, sprinkle with a little seasoning salt, and bake in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 400ºF oven, flipping twice with a metal spatula, for about 30-45 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp. I make sure to poke them with a fork to test for doneness.

While potatoes are roasting, saute onions and peppers in a skillet with butter until translucent. Add beef and brown. Drain off the fat. Add the ketchup, chili powder and brown sugar, stir, and cook uncovered until heated through.

To serve, top each serving of tater tots (or taters) with a helping of meat. The shredded cheddar goes on top, and garnish with the banana pepper rings, if desired.  (Note: Use this recipe for tasty sloppy joes/steamers.)

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