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Cherokee history and white Appalachian history sometimes blur. Not all the Cherokees traveled the Trail of Tears. My Great Aunt Laura, already old when I was young and not really my great aunt but somehow related and most deeply loved made leather britches. I'm not sure that she didn't have some Cherokee blood in her. It's said my grandmother did but then, they weren't blood relatives.


In her 80s Aunt Laura went on her first and only airplane ride. My dad flew the small twin engine Cessna that carried her. She saw from the air for the first time that spot where Virginia and North Carolina meet, or something near to it. Maybe she remembered crossing the mountain from North Carolina to Troutdale as a young bride. Maybe she just thrilled at the adventure of flight. I don't know. I remember she was happy with my father that day.


My mom remembers stories of the wagon train that passed through Troutdale in the late 1800s, stories of sick and dying travelers and of the gift of shucky bean seeds received from the survivors in gratitude for nursing care.


Every fall Aunt Laura's son Ted would butcher the hog she'd raised and she would can homemade sausage. Jars were expensive and not everything could be preserved by canning. Beans can be dried in the pod and turned into "leather britches". Those wagon train beans grew a white snap pole bean with pink tips that start out green. Last year the seed came to me. Tracked down by my mom, she herself now in her 80s, a little package arrived in the mail from cousin Bobby. In the country everyone is a cousin. Someone has grown these beans every year for more than a century in Troutdale and before that somewhere else.


Aunt Laura's wagon train beans are now growing in my Maryland garden. I saw the first small green pod today. I plan to string them up on thread and hang them from the rafters to dry just like Aunt Laura and those mysterious Cherokees whose recipes I keep finding on the web did. Sure I could freeze them but I want to taste the memories.


I'll soak the leather britches overnight and cook them with a ham-hock, onions and potatoes. I'll serve them with cornbread cooked in an iron skillet. To my mom I hope, with a glass of milk to crumble the cornbread in. I don't have a wood-burning stove and I didn't raise the pig but I bet they'll taste good.

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