Beulah Fern hated smearcase.
Hated it worse than fried mush, worse than turnip greens,
hated everything about it:
the way it tastes, smells, looks, feels in her mouth.
Schmeirkase, the Germans call it.
Scotch-Irish Appalachia white trash called it smearcase,
maybe to spite the rich Germans
up in Fairfield County, the thick-skulled boche pig farmers.
Beulah wouldn’t eat it. Not a bite.
She’d seen it made. She’d made it herself too many times,
ninety years past on a hard-scrabble farm
with three cows, four Belgian workhorses, ewes, hens, a dog,
all more important than her.
A rocky field of corn, two big gardens, a kitchen garden
that she had to weed and hoe.
Four-room clapboard shack, roof that leaked by the chimney.
Sagging barn with milking stanchions,
equipment patched with wire and sheet metal, broken tools.
Carrying two milk pails to the house
each Thursday morning before school, cream already turning
and smelling of manure and rotten straw,
for Ma to pour into baking pans on the wood-fired cookstove
to bring to a boil but not scald the whey
clotting and clabbering into soft curds of warm cheesy slush
that had to be cooled in the wellhouse
with a piece of cheesecloth over the pans to keep out the flies.
Worse than head cheese, blood sausage, pickled pigs’ feet,
hush puppies, oatmeal gruel,
pork cracklin’s, mountain oysters, boiled dandelion greens –
all of it salt poured into
her open sore of longing, covered with a bandage of dreams.
The War saved her, she says.
Van Dyne Crotty uniforms in Dayton advertised for women
who could sew and iron
and then DELCO hired her away to make electric motors
at three times the money.
Four girls packed into one room in a widow’s boarding house
with shared cold-water bathroom
who kept in touch for fifty years and even had a reunion once
but the other three are dead now.
Beulah married an Army Air Corps mechanic from Wright Field
and they moved to Cincinnati
after the War where she still lives with her granddaughter Edie
who takes her to seniors’ lunch.
“They call it cottage cheese,” Beulah said, pointing at the bowl.
She doesn’t eat it. They can’t make her go back. That’s all past.