Marion Boney likes to keep busy.
That’s a handy attribute to have when you’re the mother of seven children.
Now 81, Boney spends as much time as possible these days working in her backyard — building rock walls, dividing hostas and tending to the little sanctuary she’s created on her quiet street in Absecon.
And though her children now are grown, family still keeps Boney busy.
“I had seven children, over the span of 20 years. The first child was born in 1950, the last child in 1969 — then I was a grandmother three weeks later,” Boney said. “I was a stay-at-home mother, then I ended up taking care of all my grandchildren as they came along.”
Boney didn’t just raise her own children. With a family that large, there always were a few friends around — and often they stayed for dinner.
Those meals often resulted in phone calls — from other mothers asking for the recipe for whatever Boney had served the night before.
“Those kids would eat over here and then go home and tell their mothers how much they enjoyed it, so they’d call me and I’d pass on the recipe to them,” Boney said.
Boney wasn’t always a good cook. In fact, she admits when she got married, she was a terrible cook.
She was born in Atlantic City and raised in Absecon by David and Marion Millar. The couple raised six children, with Marion being the third youngest. Even though she grew up during the great Depression, life in the Millar house was good, Boney recalled. Her father had a good job as office manager for Burkard Blue Coal in Pleasantville. Her mother stayed at home with the children and helped keep food bills low by raising chickens and tending to the family garden.
All the children helped out around the house doing a variety of chores, but Marion Millar took care of things in the kitchen.
“My mother was a real good cook, so she did most of the cooking,” Boney recalled. With six kids around the house, Marion Millar enjoyed the solitude the kitchen provided and tended to work alone. This didn’t bother Boney until she met David Boney and married him.
“I didn’t know how to cook when I got married,” Boney recalls. “The first chicken I made was so bad, even the chickens wouldn’t eat it.”
Her mom offered advice, but even that didn’t work out so well.
“One time, I made shrimp. My mother told me how to make them, but she didn’t tell me to take the shells off,” Boney recalled. “I was crying, but my husband tried to eat it — he was a wonderful husband and a wonderful father.”
Boney began teaching herself how to cook. She’d collect recipe books from the grocery store and read food stories in the newspaper.
“I learned different recipes. I began to add things or eliminate things,” Boney said. “My family liked almost everything I made.”
David Boney was of Italian heritage. Boney learned to make her own ravioli and homemade noodles.
“Every Sunday at noon we had an old-fashioned Italian meal,” Boney said. “As the children grew older and got married, it started to encompass husbands and wives and then grandchildren. We would have two tables of people.”
Menus for these meals sometimes included lasagna, ravioli with the meatballs, sausage, chicken, and meat sauce flavored with venison, Boney’s husbands and sons brought home from hunting trips.
On Mondays, Boney would cook hearty soups, which her family would eat with either hot dogs or sandwiches.
“My kids called it Depression night. I would say ‘You don’t know what a Depression is. I know what a Depression is, because I lived through it,’” Boney said.
Saturdays was when she would cook up big batches of chili. Ham and cabbage was also a regular family meal.
The girl who couldn’t cook was now a woman known for her delicious family meals. When Boney’s son, Michael, married, her daughter-in-law, Lisa, began asking Boney to share some of her recipes.
“She was always asking me about the things that I made. I would write the recipe down and give it to her,” Boney said. Lisa Boney was interested in more than just preparing meals her new husband would like. One year she surprised her mother-in-law on Christmas with a cookbook of all those recipes she’d collected.
“She gave me about 20 copies of it, so I was able to give it out to my family with their Christmas gifts,” she said.
As Boney, now a widow, gets older, her children keep urging her to slow down and take it easy. Something she finds difficult to do.
“They are always the ones calling me now saying, ‘Come to dinner, come to dinner.’ I’ll go, but I’ll make sure to make a cake or a pie to bring,” Boney said. “My family are all good cooks. My sons and daughters like to cook. I think they got that from me.”
And Boney still likes to cook, particularly when she can get her large family all gathered around the table for one of those old-fashioned big family meals.
“When people in the family come home, we all get together for a meal. It’s fun. We’re a fun family,” she said.
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Ham and Cabbage
1 clove of garlic, diced
2 or more heads cabbage, quartered
2 to 3 pounds or more ham (you can use a ham shank from a previous meal that has some meat left on it)
1 small onion, cut
1 cup diced carrots
1 quart of water (more can be added as needed)
6 pre-boiled potatoes, chopped
1 large can white lima beans
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot red pepper flakes to taste
Put a little oil in the bottom of a stock pot with the garlic. Drop in cabbage and ham bone, then layer with more cabbage and ham pieces. Add onion and carrots. Add water and bring to a boil. Lower temperature and simmer for at least 90 minutes or until cabbage is tender. Add potatoes and lima beans. Simmer for about 20 minutes. When serving, add salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes to taste.