No, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is a picture of Bernie Arnold, my dear mother, preparing to cook a pot roast on the manifold of our 1958 Impala. The power had not been turned off at the house. The oven had not broken. This was an experiment. One of many creative and clever cooking ideas Mom discovered that made her exceptional. It also helped her win the “Mrs. Tennessee” contest one year and eventually lead to the job of the Food Editor for The Nashville Tennessean and The Nashville Banner.
The early years of the six-member Arnold household were lean. There was no disposable income. There were no luxuries. The bank account was like the proverbial turnip from which no monetary blood could be squeezed. Vacations were never to the beach or mountains. Our vacation was a trip to my paternal grandparents’ home in Virginia.
The journey from Nashville to Richmond began in the predawn hours and ended well after dark. This was before seat belts were standard in most automobiles, which meant for us kids in the back we were in constant danger of becoming human projectiles should the brakes be applied suddenly.
It was also before the Interstate system. Two-lane highways led through cities and towns and along the twisting roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If we got stuck behind an eighteen-wheeler, we would be asphyxiated by diesel fumes before being able to pass.
The fast-food industry had not yet popped up like gastronomic weeds, so Mom would prepare snacks and full meals for the drive. Our favorite was her roast beef and vegetables wrapped in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Dad would secure it on top of the manifold of the engine with wire.
While we drove that eight cylinder engine was a natural oven maintaining a steady temperature. What was normally a feast prepared for guests on Sundays after church, would be ready for consumption by the time we reached Bristol, Tennessee.
This picture of Mom reminds me of the lyric in Thomas Chisholm’s hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” In celebrating God’s creation the heavens above “join with all nature in manifold witness.” My mother gave a “witness” of the pot roast on the manifold of our car. It was a roadside feast that no fast-food joint could ever equal.