The Times West Virginian

August 1, 2012

Just plain cooking

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — You know those pretty layered salads people put in clear glass bowls, and you have to lift all the layers out at the same time and then spread them out on a plate so everybody can see how pretty it is, and then they go “ooh” and “ahh”?

Irene Linn makes a layered salad just like that, but she puts it in a large colored ceramic bowl. Forget the tongs. She digs in with two large spoons and mixes it up all together.

It doesn’t taste good unless you do this, she said with a laugh.

After you taste it, that’s when you’ll say “oooh” and “ahh.”

She got the recipe from a friend at church a while back. The good thing about this salad is that you can make it your own, she said.

Don’t like something? Leave it out. Want to add something else? Go ahead and do it.

“You can use any dressing you like,” she said. “Even ranch.”

With a plate of saltine crackers, you’ve got a lovely lunch. Add some protein — chicken, turkey, ham, steak — and some hot crusty bread, and you’ve got a fine supper.

She’s lived in Bentons Ferry since 1945.

“I got married in Bentons Ferry to a boy from Bentons Ferry. We built our home here.”

She’s lived in her current home for about 25 years.

Her husband, Lloyd, passed away a couple of years back, and two sons, Larry and Mark, are deceased, but she’s never alone or lonely. She’s surrounded by loving family. Her son and daughter live in houses behind her.

She’s got eight grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

She cooks Sunday dinner for her family every other week. She loves doing this, she said.

“I grew up in Colfax,” she said. “My parents were Cecil and Norma Shorter. I didn’t learn to cook from my mother. I learned on my own. She got cancer when my youngest brother was 2. There were six of us kids. I have one brother older than me.

“I looked after them,” she said. “I cooked, and washed and cleaned after them. For breakfast, they liked ham and gravy and toast. We made our toast in the oven, you know, one of those old coal stoves.

“For lunch, they liked sandwiches or soup. And for supper, they liked any kind of potato. They didn’t care how it was made.”

All of this was pretty easy to do since they grew up on a farm and grew most of their own vegetables and raised farm animals.

There was a little store in Colfax where you could buy lunch meat and bread. The closest grocery store was in Fairmont, “a hard trip back then,” she said.

She’s 85 now, and does all her own work.

And that includes cooking for the family, who also loves her chicken, gravy and biscuits, mashed potatoes, green beans and dessert.

“We had that for supper the other Sunday,” she said.

“I just do plain cooking. Nothing fancy.”

She paused.

“I know now why God gave us daughters. Mine is just the greatest. I have a loving family and I like cooking for them. I don’t have to, but I enjoy it. I love to cook.”

Like a lot of cooks, she usually doesn’t go by recipes. But for this salad, she does.

“I don’t make it really often. I make it for reunions and picnics, and once in a while for my kids.”

Her personal favorite food is bacon. And soup. Any kind of soup — canned, homemade — it doesn’t matter to her. And she likes spaghetti and meatballs.

Her three brothers have since passed away. One sister lives in Farmington and the other in Florida.

She’s been invited to come to Florida, b­ut that’s not for her.

“I can’t leave my family,” she protested with a laugh. Who would cook those Sunday dinners? Who would baby-sit? She’s needed much more up here.

Her family has been in Marion County for a long time, she said.

“We’ve always been around. And Lloyd’s family has been around, too. They have the Linn Cemetery and his great-great-grandfather built the log cabin just down the road.

“I’m as close to the Linns as I am my own family. They’ve been so good to me. I love them and they love me.”

She just loves living in Bentons Ferry, she said.

“I thank the Lord for everything I have. If I could live any place in the world, it would be here. I’m happy here.

“I don’t see any bad in anybody. Everybody has something good about them.

“I have my family. I get up in the morning and see the birds and feed the birds.”

And she’s close to the train tracks.

“I love trains. My husband worked for the railroad. My grandfather and father were telegraph operators for the railroad. And my uncle and brother. That’s what I was going to do, but my mother didn’t think girls had any right working by themselves at night, so I didn’t do that.

“I love to hear the trains at night, especially if it’s a little bit windy. You can hear the train whistle back over the hill. I love to hear them.”

Every Wednesday through September, Take 5 wants you to take us on a picnic. Submit your summertime recipes to Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or

Email Debra Minor Wilson at