PANSY LEE CUMMINGS – CHUCK YEAGER’S YOUNGER SISTER

September 25th, 2015

The first time I met Pansy Lee, she took us to Charles, as she called her brother, and her hometown of Hamlin. She showed us Myra and pointed to roads that led to the creek that went up to Grandpa Yeager’s house, the house where Charles was born, the houses in which they grew up, the school, the church, the Chuck Yeager statue and the like.

We stayed for dinner and had leather britches and butterscotch pie. Ever had leather britches? Chuck had prepped me – he had made some for me. I have to say Pansy’s were also darn good. Dried green beans with the beans still inside cooked in chicken broth with a ham hock for several days or a few hours depending on how soon everyone wants to eat.

Her butterscotch pah was to die for. I mentioned that hers was even better than Charles’. While smiling slightly pleased, she admonished me that that wasn’t nice to say in front of Charles.

Not five minutes later, Charles volunteered: This is much better than mine.  Win-win-win. He compliments his sister, supports his partner, and is humble about his pie.

The next year, we stayed with Governor Joe Manchin (now Senator). We offered to the Governor that Pansy Lee make him leather britches and butterscotch pah since he had never had either.

He was dubious but reluctantly game. He could always get the chef to feed him something after the guests left…

The Governor’s Mansion chef was from New Jersey and was thrilled to be cooking for General Yeager, yet not cooking. Having no familiarity with leather britches and to make sure we all didn’t starve just in case: he made a great, loaded salad as a side dish.

There was one hitch: Pansy did have enough beans to make leather britches. So we sent her some a friend had dried. She turned up her nose at those and cooked them separately.

She came up to the mansion with her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. Her grandson was in college and couldn’t get away.

Upon meeting the Governor, Pansy Lee announced: “This is a first. I’m invited to dinner but I have to bring the dinner!”

Governor Joe, with his typical grace replied; “Thank you! I’m looking forward to leather britches and butterscotch pah.” (That’s West Virginian for “pie”.)

We sat outside on the porch on a lovely evening. Governor Joe and everyone took some of each batch of leather britches.

Impolitic son-in-law asked, Well Governor, which batch of leather britches do you like better?

I jumped in fast: Governor, these on the right are Pansy Lee’s; she is sitting to your left. The ones on the left are Gus’. He is not here.

I guess I wasn’t as clear as I thought. He answered, “I like these, pointing to the left.”

Me: Uh Governor, these on the right are Pansy Lee’s, she is sitting to your left. The ones on the left are Gus’. He is not here.

Chuck, being much wiser, diverted attention with his story about flying around the gold capitol next to the mansion and then flying under the bridge not far from the mansion.

We talked about several things. About 15 minutes later, Governor Joe said: You know, I said I like these but I keep going back to the ones on the right for seconds and thirds.”

Pansy Lee, without a moment’s hesitation and with typical Yeager humor, said, “Too late. You lost my vote!”

Governor Joe wasn’t used to irreverence and the Yeagers. He was enjoying himself immensely.

Next we had the butterscotch pah. That caused great quiet to descend at the party – as everyone thoroughly enjoys this delicious dessert.

There were two extra pieces which the chef put up in our guest apartment (which has a kitchen). I learned later that the Governor watched those pieces go with longing.

The next year, we visited during the Christmas season. The Governor invited Pansy Lee and her family to the Mansion with us for dinner. The Christmas decorations were lovely and really put one in the spirit.

After dinner, the Governor gave her a Proclamation – Pansy is the first person (not hired for the job) to come cook for the Governor at the Mansion. What fun! She loved it.

Pansy had some great stories of her childhood with Chuck. Roy and he used to say she couldn’t go to the swimming hole, girls were not allowed because they didn’t know how to swim. Pansy Lee would reason, “How can I learn to swim if I can’t go to the swimming hole?”

When she was about 3, her mother told the boys to do the dishes after dinner. They whined: “Why doesn’t Pansy do it? She’s the girl?”

Their mother said, “She’s too little.”

Shortly thereafter, her mother heard quite a bit of banging in the kitchen. She came in to find Pansy on several boxes the boys had piled up trying to do the dishes.

The first time a West Virginia trooper drove us to Pansy Lee’s, when we told him the menu: leather britches and butterscotch pah, one could tell he was thinking he’d be eating after the evening was over.

After he tasted the food, he was pleasantly surprised and did not leave hungry.

After this, whenever Charles and I would fly to West Virginia, the West Virginia troopers would fight over who would drive us down to Pansy Lee’s. Word was out – her leather britches were delicious and the butterscotch pah unmatched.

Pansy was amazing. At 82 and older, Pansy was still volunteering five evenings a week at the hospital gift shop. She sure kept active and alive and giving.

Pansy Lee died last January at age 88. We’re glad we had the chance to visit with her about once a year and about two months before she died.  She had stopped making the pah about two years before.

After many tries, I’m getting closer to how good hers was.

But it won’t ever be the same.

  1. GCYI

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