The “Hoppin’ John” dish is wonderful to serve on cold and rainy days along with corn bread drizzled with butter and honey. (Contributed)

The blouse was grey, and the most beautiful blouse that this little 8-year-old girl had ever seen in her short lifetime. The blouse had ruffles on its sleeves and a ruffled ascot at its neckline; I couldn’t take my eyes off the blouse that was hanging from the high display counter in the Bon Marche’ department store in Seattle, Wash.

My seldom-seen father had sent a Greyhound bus ticket for me to the Nuns at the convent where I lived in Tacoma, some 40 miles from his apartment in Seattle; he apparently wanted me to meet his ‘new’ wife. I would be there for two days and then my father was to send me to be with my mother for Christmas Day.

The bus station where I arrived was near the shopping district; it was raining and cold. Getting off the bus, I remember looking up at my father, trying to somehow make him more familiar-looking to me, and then our getting onto another type of bus, this time it was the crowded city trolley, also cold and smelling of damp wool. I remember standing and being jostled forward and backwards each time the trolley made a stop.

By the time we arrived at the corner of Pike and Pine it was dark. My father took my hand and helped me down the steep steps of the bus, and suddenly I found myself in a fairyland of lights shimmering through the rain and the sounds of the Salvation Army’s red kettle bells coupled with Christmas music being piped from the stores to the outside “shoppers.” I hung onto my father’s hand as tightly as I could, afraid of being lost in the crowded sidewalks. And then we walked through the strangest door I had ever encountered—the revolving door that led into the Bon Marche’s department store and “the grey blouse.”

I don’t know why my father acquiesced and bought the blouse for me to give to my mother. Was it because of my pleading and tugging on his hand? Perhaps it was because of the love he had lost years before, perhaps to make some sort of amends, or to appease a begging child; I’ll never know.

I do know I opened and closed that box with the grey blouse in it a dozen times before I was able to give it to my mother who I was sent to in much the same way as I had been sent to my father.  

Two days before Christmas and another bus ticket from my father to Puyallup, Wash., where my mother was staying with her sister.

This time I walked alone from the bus stop, carrying the box and my little suitcase. I had been given strict instructions to not speak to anyone, only the bus driver, and to hand the bus driver the name of my bus stop. I had my aunt’s address and phone number pinned to my dress inside my coat. I ignored “all” of the instructions. After all, wasn’t I a seasoned traveler by now!

The day after Christmas my mother left the house, returning to her apartment in Watsonville, Calif. Six years were to pass before I saw her again.

It was years later that I returned to Puyallup to visit my aunt for a holiday weekend. I remember walking into the guest bedroom that my mother and I had shared that Christmas long before. I was sad as I opened the door to the empty closet to hang my dress; there along with the usual bunch of empty wire hangers, hung the Grey Christmas Blouse with the size tag still hanging from it.

Decades of Christmases have passed; I will never know why the grey blouse was left behind. Was it likened to my father buying the blouse—lost love, sad memories, I don’t know which.  

Neither my mother nor I ever spoke of the Grey Christmas Blouse.

Hoppin’ John

This dish was always cooked on New Year’s Day by my southern-born family as it was believed to bring good luck for the year. It is wonderful to serve on cold and rainy days along with corn bread drizzled with butter and honey.

In a large soup pot, cover 4 cups of black-eyed peas with water and let sit overnight. Drain and set aside. In the pot add:

  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 diced large onion
  • 2 stalks diced celery
  • 4 diced garlic cloves
  • 1 diced med. Bell pepper

Sauté together and add:

  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 3 Tbsp. Better than Bullion chicken flavored
  • 1 Ham Hock or left-over Ham Bone or 8 diced and fried bacon strips.
  • 1 large pinch cayenne pepper

Bring to a boil and turn down to medium simmer. Cook 30-45 minutes until black-eyed peas are soft and creamy. Serve either over steamed rice or alongside. This dish freezes well.

Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

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Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].


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