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Resident Spotlight: Cheryl’s roots in Black American history

Cheryl-Allen_400x400.pngAs many across our nation plan a barbeque this coming Memorial Day, Cheryl Allen, who lives at The Mayfield, shares her unique family history — defined by the art of barbeque!

Cheryl’s great-grandfather developed ‘one of America’s best BBQ sauces’

Nearly two centuries ago, in 1837, Cheryl’s great-grandfather Arthur Watts was born into slavery. From age 6, he was put in charge of tending the cooking fires. As he grew, he began to experiment with pairing flavors with meats.

At age 27, his recipes became his “only possessions of value” when he was freed through the Emancipation Proclamation, according to family history.

Arthur went on to live 108 years — ever refining his recipes — and today is respected as “one of America’s first barbeque pitmasters.”

Generations later, the Watts family is sharing his award-winning original recipes with the world by crafting and selling Old Arthur’s barbeque sauces and rubs.

More recently, Old Arthur’s gained broad recognition when Food & Wine Magazine covered  “The Incredible Story Behind One of America’s Best BBQ Sauces.”

Great-granddaughter Cheryl says her family’s rich history gives her perspective. "It’s important to find out where you came from, what you’re about and all the little nuances of your grandparents’ struggles – their happy times and sad times. Because for me, I am my grandparents, I am my great-grandparents, I am my great aunts and uncles. I have bits and pieces of those people in me.”

Memories of ‘great festivals of charred meat’

Old Arthurs BBQ sauceCheryl remembers her youth and what she describes as “great festivals of charred meat” in her Illinois community. The smell was extraordinary, she says — even drifting to and permeating neighboring towns.

The process took nearly a week. First, her uncles burned imported hickory from the South until it turned to charcoal in a massive open pit. Then, over 48 hours, uncles, nieces and nephews walked up and down the grill, rotating uniquely seasoned pork shoulders with pitch forks.

And still the secret sauce had to be made. Cheryl recalls grinding their own mustard seeds. “My grandmother cooked bags and bags of onions,” she adds, “wilting them down for the slurry that would make up the barbeque sauce.”

Hard-won wisdom on race and human dignity

Cheryl also remembers growing up in a hometown she describes as “emotionally segregated.” Despite the respect her family received as hardworking leaders of the community, she said, “we were constantly reminded of who we were.”

Looking back, it’s hard to reconcile both experiences, Cheryl says and reflects, “If you respect me, then you respect all about me.”

Today’s racial conflicts makes Cheryl yearn for a better future for all. “The respect of another human being needs to be settled,” she said.

Made to feel ‘at home’ at Presbyterian Homes & Services

Cheryl graciously notes that Presbyterian Homes & Services is making a positive difference. “I think PHS does a magnificent job of reaching out, of understanding and trying their very best to make everybody as comfortable as they possibly can. PHS respects people’s various backgrounds – who you are and what you’re about, including the strengths that you bring to this community. And I think your religious foundation affords you [PHS] the first step in doing that.”

Cheryl concludes, in the following video testimonial, “We always … see and greet each other with our eyes, and that lets you know we are home here at The Mayfield.”

Watch more of Cheryl's testimony of living at The Mayfield:

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