Tamales and Old Gray Cemetery

I’ve finished up at the Lenoir City Cemetery, and heading over to meet my genealogy friends, Tammie and Brian. They are the Rowdy Scots that meet up with me from time to time when they are over near Savannah way. These people have no reason to be friendly and outgoing to me except for the simple reason that they can. They come see me and stay in touch.

They have volunteered to go on an outing to Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville, where we believe a photo of my mother Evelyn being held by her mother Ruth was taken in 1918 when Evelyn was an infant.

But first. Tamales.

When I was growing up, Grandma would make tamales every year. She could only make them in the season when she could get a good supply of corn shucks. I suppose it was in August, because that would make the most sense to me as to when the corn would have been harvested. Seriously though, I don’t have an exact time of year, so let’s just say late August. Grandma would recruit some of the grandchildren, and she was an equal opportunity employer. Girls or boys, it didn’t matter as long as they had a set of hands, which all of us did. Our job was to sit on the high stool and hold the shuck-wrapped tamale for her to tie off the ends, and a third tie around the middle. She had set out a sink full of cornshucks to soak in water all night long until they were soft and pliable, for she used the cornshucks to wrap the tamale, and then would tear long strips of the cornshuck to use as ties. I remember her mixing the meat mixture in one bowl, adding the spices and seasonings by hand and working the sausage/hamburger mix with her hands. She would portion out enough meat mixture to roll it in the palms of her hands to make a small ball and would place each meatball on a baking sheet in neat rows, I suppose to better help her keep count. The cornmeal mixture, which we might call masa today, was formed by the same method in a larger ball. She would pat the cornmeal mix into a flat patty in the palm of her left hand, place the meatball in the center, and hold and pat the cornmeal mix around the meatball, covering it completely.

Here’s when the grandchild interaction happened. She took several cornshucks and overlapped them until they were wide enough to receive a tamale and be covered completely. The child on the stool held each end of the cornshuck tightly again the tamale while grandma tied the cornshuck tie against each end. Sometimes she would nip our little fingertips with the tie. She would finish by tying a third tie in the middle to ensure that the tamale was safely ensconced.

We should have tamales for the reunion. Why didn’t I think of this? LilSis has already catered the meal, but not one of us would turn away a tamale. Our boots-on-the-ground locals know where we can get some local tamales, and I waited for Casa Fiesta to open. The nice man said they would have an order of 30 tamales ready to pick up at 11 on the day of the reunion.

Why tamales in East Tennessee? Because Grandma’s father along with his parents went to Johnson County, Texas, from 1881-1883. Grandma’s grandmother must have learned how to make tamales in Texas. They returned to East Tennessee, or I wouldn’t be here to blog this story.


Brian and Tammie and I head to Knoxville to Old Gray. Firstly, though, food is required, and Brian wants to go to Jackie’s Dream in Knoxville.

This is Jackie. She is the real deal.

Special of the day on Friday: fried catfish and hush puppies and your choice of sides. My choice is fried potatoes and onions plus slaw.

 Then to Old Gray.


Tammie and Brian suspected this photo was taken at the Brownlow monument. Remember him? The most hated man in Tennessee.

When we entered the cemetery, Tammie gave us me a bit of a history lesson. It is helpful to have a former teacher who specializes in history as your guide.

She said that the fountain had been restored, except now there were plants where there used to be water.


This is lifesize, and quite detailed. Tammie and Brian suspected that we were in the approximate location of the photo. As I was gazing at the fountain, I looked past and saw a Webb marker.

Looks like a reasonable candidate, but something is off. Brian posed to give scale to the marker.


We were all in agreement that this wasn’t the marker in Grandma’s photo, but it was close.

I walked over to the Brownlow monument, which wasn’t right either, and I turned and headed back to the circular area around the fountain. I said, “Come on, Grandma. Give me a break.”

And there the marker was on the other side of the fountain.

Brian and Tammie were there to record history bring made.

My goodness! This marker is huge and set way off the sidewalk.

I am holding my iPhone with the photo of grandma holding mom. It’s the one I’ve posted here on the blog.

And that was a very great moment.

Goodnight, my ladies. I’m thinking of you.

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