By Ginna Parsons
BLUE MOUNTAIN – Joann Ohler has been cooking for a crowd for as long as she can remember.
As the fourth of eight children (and “the favorite”), she stayed in the kitchen in the mornings and cooked while everyone else was out in the fields picking cotton in the Buena Vista community outside Ripley.
“I think the reason they had so many children was to pick the cotton,” said Ohler, 82. “I was the champion cotton picker of all of them, except Daddy. He was the only one that could outpick me. There was a cotton-picking contest in Blytheville, Arkansas, and he entered it three times. One year, he placed second.”
Ohler and her husband, Jack, married when she was just out of high school and they moved around a bit while he was in the Navy. Soon, they were raising children and grandchildren and watching the great-grands grow up.
“I used to have every one of them on Sundays, but I can’t do that anymore,” she said. “I can’t do like I did.”
Ohler said she cooks three or four days a week, but Jack tells a different story.
“Ask me how much she cooks,” he said. “I do the dishes. She cooks every day.”
To this, Ohler nodded in agreement.
“That’s right,” she said. “And I pay him one dollar a week to do those dishes. And if I forget, he reminds me.”
The Ohlers’ good-natured banter is indicative of their 63-year-old marriage. They have three children, eight grandchildren and eight great-grands.
They moved to the New Hope community outside Blue Mountain in 1968.
Ohler worked at Tippah County Hospital until her retirement in 1991. Then she went to work at Gentry Gallery until it closed and she also worked at the family-owned Green Old Field restaurant on Cotton Gin Road.
“I helped cook there for four or five years,” she said. “They had a buffet on Sundays and they always made me do the desserts.”
Caramel cakes and the name Ohler are just about synonymous in these parts.
“I started making the cakes when I was still at the hospital,” she said. “They’re what people know me for. I usually make around 40 at Christmas.”
If Ohler isn’t in the kitchen cooking and messing up dishes for Jack to wash, she’s likely playing cards with her sisters and girlfriends.
“We play cards every Tuesday – Shanghai,” she said. “We play two games of Shanghai and one game of Dominoes. There’s six of us that play. And we play Rook on Thursdays or Rummy if there’s not but three of us. We look forward to that in the afternoons.”
Ohler said she and the girls have been playing cards for 25 years or more.
“They might not breathe,” Jack said, “but they’re gonna play cards.”
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