By Ginna Parsons
BLUE SPRINGS – Yonea Chunn and her husband, Steve, were married eight years before they had their first child. They had just about given up hope of ever having a family of their own.
“The doctor told us we’d never have children,” said Yonea, 50. “So when we had the first one, I thought that would be the only child I ever had. Then the Lord kept blessing us.”
Today, the Chunns, who live in the New Harmony community outside Blue Springs, have nine children: Matthew, 24, is a Marine; Mary Katherine, 22, is at Delta State; Michael, 20, is a bodybuilder and student at Itawamba Community College; Margaret, 18, will start at North Mississippi Community College in the fall; Martha is 16; Mark will be 15 this month; Macain is 13; Molly is 12; and Mitchell, the youngest (“but not the baby”) is 10.
“Everybody is or was home-schooled except for one who went to TCPS for a year,” Yonea said. “This summer, we have eight at home. In the fall, we’ll have six. Only one, Matthew, has left the nest officially.”
To feed all those mouths, Yonea felt it was important to teach everyone – boys and girls alike – to cook.
“My mother cooked constantly when I was growing up, so I didn’t know how to cook very much when I got married, but I knew it was my duty,” she said. “I mean, I couldn’t even bake a potato. That’s how pitiful it was.”
Yonea got her kids in the kitchen early to help her prepare three meals a day for the large family.
“Some of our favorite memories are of being very little, when our chins couldn’t touch the counter, and we’d be putting honey on homemade bread,” Martha said.
“They were probably 3 years old,” Yonea said. “They were just kids. They’d have big globs of cinnamon on this end of the bread and none over here. But they learned.”
All the Chunn kids have chores assigned on a chart for each meal. Some set the table, some cook, some clear and some wash dishes.
“I like to wash dishes,” Margaret said. “It takes my mind off things.”
One afternoon last week, three of the Chunn women were in the kitchen whipping up the evening meal. They made a chicken casserole, new potatoes with tarragon dressing, green beans with almonds, squash and zucchini stir-fry, and a spinach salad with fresh fruit and feta cheese.
Homemade bread and pies were made earlier in the morning.
They’re always making pies.
“I remember one Thanksgiving we made 20-something pies,” Yonea said. “And anytime we go to the dentist in Tupelo, we take Dr. Nance something. Buttermilk pie and lasagna are his favorites. We don’t go there without taking him something.”
They also cook meals for their neighbors and they prepare supper every Wednesday night for the pastors at their church, Ripley Primitive Baptist Church.
“We do that so they have something to eat between counseling sessions,” Yonea said. “We realized that some Wednesdays they weren’t getting to eat. They have whatever we’re having for dinner. They’re appreciative of whatever we take.”
Yonea comes up with the family’s weekly menu every Sunday night and on Monday, they do the shopping.
“That’s a major ordeal when you’re shopping for a family this size,” she said.
At least one night a week, they eat some type of Italian meal and in the wintertime, they eat soup twice a week.
“We eat a big meal every night,” she said, “and we rarely eat out. When we do, it’s usually Mexican because it’s inexpensive and we can do that for $50 or $60 for all of us. When we travel, it’s nothing to spend $100 on a fast-food meal.”
Yonea really likes it when all her girls are in the kitchen.
“Normally we have Pandora on and we might have Frank Sinatra going or we might be singing hymns,” she said.
But right now, Mary Katherine is helping Yonea’s sister at her bed and breakfast in Idaho and Molly recently came down with pink-eye, so she couldn’t be in the kitchen to help.
But the boys get in there and help, too.
“One of the things that got the boys in the kitchen is the Food Network show ‘Chopped,’” where contestants are surprised with baskets of ingredients that they have to make meals from, Yonea said.
“I’ll have a basket like they do on ‘Chopped’ and they don’t know what’s in it,” she said. “I put them on teams and judge them on presentation, taste and creativity. That’s a lot of fun.”