Carol Dougherty is an elder in Wheeling’s Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church. She was born in Wheeling, WV in 1938 and was raised by her grandparents, who were immigrants from Lebanon. She is a traditional Lebanese home cook, a member of Our Lady of Lebanon Women’s Society, and will be teaching a folk dance and dubke class for children at Our Lady of Lebanon’s 84th annual Mahrajan Festival in August 2017.
State folklorist Emily Hilliard interviewed Dougherty at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church in Wheeling on June 21, 2016. Below are excerpts from their interview.
On the immigrant communities of Wheeling…
Carol Dougherty: I was born and raised here in Wheeling, West Virginia and my grandmother and grandfather were immigrants from Lebanon. I was born in 1938.
What I would like to do is show you around this area here in Center Wheeling because so many of the immigrants opened their businesses right here in this very area. And Wheeling at that time, I think, was the perfect model for an enclave city. Because you could almost tell by the person’s address what nationality they were. Center Wheeling was mainly German, Lebanese, Syrian, and Greek. Now East Wheeling—a lot of Italians lived there. South Wheeling you had the Eastern Europeans like the Polish, Croatians, Slovaks and the Ukrainians. Also they had churches indicative to their nationalities in that area. Our church up here, which is Our Lady of Lebanon Church—the only Maronite church in the state of West Virginia. And then the Ukrainians down in South Wheeling, they had St. Mary’s and it was a Byzantine church.
So that was the focal point of the immigration population at that time. Everything they did, whether it’s spiritual or social, centered on their churches. And I would have to say that the early immigrants— they more or less stayed with their nationality, but the next generation that came up, they sort of branched out. Not a lot of them married within their nationality—some of them did, some of them didn’t. I’m a product of that. I’m half German, Lebanese, and English. So that’s the way it went after that. But I was raised by my grandmother so I have a lot of the Lebanese traits. And the cooking skills, etc.
Emily Hilliard: And are the communities—the neighborhoods—do they still fall along those lines or not so much?
CD: No, the neighborhood where I live is basically gone. Like a lot of cities, it’s transitional, you know, it moves on, they move out to the suburbs. Practically all the Lebanese population or what’s left of it like me, moved out to the suburbs. You know they’re not… at that time, nobody owned an automobile. Everybody used to walk to everybody’s home. They used to walk to the church. The church didn’t even have a parking lot at that time. That was the school’s playground! But now we have a parking lot. So everybody is on the outskirts now.
On traditional Lebanese food…
CD: Most of the women, that I know anyway, their families have passed down their cooking skills to them and they prepare their own food.
EH: What are some of the things that you learned to make and still make?
CD: Kibbee—that’s the national dish. A lot of things. I can bake the bread. I can make the pastry, the chicken and rice, the Lebanese chicken soup, many, many different things. And then a salad too, which is unique.
Like I said, kibbee is the national dish. And you can make that in so many different ways. Basically what it consists of is cracked wheat which is the bulghur. And that comes in fine– it comes in number 2, which is semi-coarse and then the 3, which is coarse. Some people like the number 2, it has a little bit more of a bite to the tooth, some people do the fine. I can use either one, it doesn’t make any difference to me. Kibbee consists of that and either ground lamb, pureed onion, some people put in a pureed green pepper, salt and pepper, and then your spice is your preference. Some people put a dash of cinnamon. My grandmother used allspice. That’s what I use, or I use the seven spice mix. That’s the basic recipe for kibbee. And you can make it any way. You can make it in patties and either fry it or bake it, you can make it in sineyeh which is in the pan—you put a layer in the bottom and then you saute some ground meat, onions, pine nuts, put it on top of that, then another layer of kibbee on top of that and score it, bake it in the oven.
Now another thing that the Lebanese love is the yogurt, which we call laban [labneh is the strained version of laban]. And we’ve all been taught how to make it ourselves from scratch, so I do that and I love that. Tabbouli is another national dish. That’s with the cracked wheat—like a cold salad with tomatoes, green onions, a lot of parsley– there’s a lot of vegetables in that.
Lebanese food is labor intensive. I’ll tell you that right now. Everything is fresh, everything takes a lot of time to make. The Lebanese chicken soup– I used to prepare little… it’s called acini de pepe. They’re those tiny little dumplings that they use sometimes in wedding soup. I buy a box of that, but what my grandmother used to do—she used to take the cracked wheat, sprinkle it with water, sprinkle it with flour, and then roll like this to get those tiny little beads. My mother tried one time. Some of them were big, some of them were little, some of them were oval. She said, “forget it!”
So that’s what the Lebanese women used to do. And they all baked their own bread. My grandmother was 5 foot, if she was 5 foot, and she used to bake 25 pounds of flour at a time. It was never anything less. Never anything less. And that would be the week or week and a half supply of bread. When it came out of the oven it was hard, so they had to dampen it, and then they would store it. It was nice and soft. Now, what they made was not the little pita bread. It was the big round. They called it the mountain bread– khibaz mahrooh. It was big. And it separated. It had two layers on it. You know how they did the pizza? That’s the way they used to do the bread. And in the old country, I guess, they used to lay it over a hot stone to bake it. But then, she just put it down on the floor of the oven. When it would raise, she would poke it with a knife, and then take it out and put it in the broiler to brown it. It was a lot of work! Every loaf had to be done like that. And that’s 25 pounds.
EH: So would that be hundreds of loaves?
CD: Yes. So that’s the way they used to work and like I said, when she would come home, she would be crocheting. She wouldn’t be sitting. She would be doing something.
EH: When you get together or have bake sales, what are the things that you make now?
CD: Sometimes we make the sweets, which is the maamoul, and the orange cookies, lamoun.
EH: Are those crescent cookies?
CD: Cresent cookies is aras-aid and that’s for Easter.
The maamoul is the round dome cookies stuffed with walnuts and covered with powdered sugar. We usually have those at the festival. And then of course the bahlawa,but we don’t make that by hand anymore because that’s a lot of work. That’s the baklava—what the Greeks call them.
And then of course the twists, the sesame twists, and the nemorah, which is sort of, sort of like the maamoul, only you bake it in a tray, and I stuff mine in the middle with nuts. And then when you take it out of the oven you pour the simple syrup mixture over it. It’s really good—there’s a lot of different Lebanese cookies. But the ones we usually make are the maamoul, the lamoun, and the sesame cookies. And then for the bake sale I’ll usually make the nemorah.
Now for the regular bake sale, we make meat pies, spinach pies, and then we do the zatar which is the savory bread, and then we do the sweet bread, which is a round… it’s not a pita bread it’s just a round piece of bread which they call manoushe, and then they put butter and sugar and sesame seeds on top of it. And a lot of people like that—they call that the sweet bread.
EH: The savory—did you say zatar?
CD: Zatar. It’s very pungent thyme. Very pungent. And you mix that with sesame seeds and oil. And you smear that on top of that.
EH: Is there something that you miss for food that you don’t make or can’t really get anymore?
CD: Yeah. I can make it but it’s so much trouble to make, it’s called shish barak. And what it is– it’s similar to a ravioli. It’s the little round dough, and you stuff it with ground meat, onions, and parsley, and then you wrap it and seal it. And then you cook it in a yogurt base.
I mean it’s delicious. It’s delicious, but it’s so time consuming to make. And then another thing that the Lebanese women love and the Lebanese men love too is kousa. Which is squash, but a certain type of squash. It’s short and a little bit fat. And you take the inside out of it and you put meat and onions and rice and seasonings in there, then you plug it back up and cook it in a tomato sauce.
EH: Sounds great.
CD: Yeah. Lebanese food’s healthy. It really is.
On the Maronite church and Our Lady of Lebanon’s miraculous painting…
EH: Could you explain what Maronite is?
CD: Yes. Maronite—this is our founder right over here—that’s Saint Maron. Actually he’s like Saint Patrick for the Irish—this is Saint Maron for the Lebanese. He was a monk and he founded the Maronite church and our rite is called—it’s an Eastern rite, and it’s under the Pope, the same way the Roman Catholic Church is. Father was explaining it to me. I think there’s like 22 or 23 different branches of the Catholic Church—I didn’t realize there were that many. But the way he explained it to me—you take a flower pot. That’s the Pope and that’s Rome. That’s the Vatican. And then the flowers grow out. That’s all the different branches of the church. Now the way we differ from the Roman Catholic Church in our liturgy. We always take communion from the priests’ hand [into our mouths]. We never take it from anybody but the priest and we don’t take it in our hand. He puts it in our mouth. He dips it in wine first and then puts it in our mouth. We never touch the host.
Also another difference and this is my favorite and I get chills every time it happens—the Consecration, and that’s in the middle of the mass—that’s when the priest says—he mimics the words of Christ “This is my body, take this and eat.” That’s the Consecration. He chants that in Aramaic, and that’s the language that Christ spoke. So when you’re hearing the language that Christ spoke, it does something to you.
Now this is the portrait [of Our Lady of Lebanon] up there. Up in the center. When they had the fire [the original Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Wheeling was severely damaged by fire in 1932], I think she was hanging over the side wall here, it was clear up at the top. The flames did not reach it, even the water hoses wouldn’t reach it. The water turned sideways when they aimed the hose at it. Now I checked it with the fireman who was on duty that night—he was my next-door neighbor—he says it’s true. She fell from up there, all the way down, not a scratch on her. Most people come just to see that.
It was dedicated during the time the church was first built in 1922, but I’m not sure when it was painted. But that’s Our Lady of Lebanon. She’s revered. I mean that painting is revered.
On Lebanese music and dance…
CD: This is what they call a darbakke. Now this [style] is not traditional. Traditionally it used to be covered with a sort of an animal skin. My grandmother used to play this. She played the darbakke and before she played it, she would take it and go like this for a while to warm up the skin so she would get the right tone. Now, her brother played what they called a mizwiz. And they got the wood from that from the assab. It was assab wood. And it was two reeds, hollow reeds, that they would sort of glue together with beeswax, wrap twine around it, put holes in it, and then they would blow it like a flute. How they did it, I don’t know because they never took it out of their mouths. Their cheeks would go in and out, so it wasn’t that easy to play.
Now my grandmother and her brother used to entertain at all of the festivals [the annual Mahrajan Festival in Wheeling]. They used to play all day to have the people do the dubke, which was the traditional Lebanese dance. We still do that today, I love it.
EH: At the festival?
CD: (laughs) Anytime we get a chance to!
These are finger cymbals. And you put them on the thumb and the middle finger on both hands. And they do sound good.
EH: Do you wear them when you dance?
CD: I don’t! But I mean I can do it, I know how to do it. But I don’t wear them.
Now another one of the instruments was… and this was the classic Lebanese instrument, it was called the oud. It was a guitar-like thing, but it was an oval shape, a string instrument, and the back was domed. And one of our parishioners played it, Johnny John—he’s no longer living. But he played that and his brother played the darbakke and his sister Celia sang. So while the dancing was going on at one part of the festival, he and his family were playing to the older generation, like that original Lebanese music. And they would be playing for them and entertaining them.
EH: What is the music for the dance like?
CD: It’s peppier. I mean you move and you get tired, but it’s so much fun. And there’s a couple different dances of the dubke, but there’s one classic one that everybody does all the time, mainly.
EH: Is it a circle dance?
CD: Yeah, you link arms and you dance in a line around. So it’s really fun.
EH: Are there musicians left in the church?
CD: You know, my cousins used to, and his friends used to play, but they’re too old now! My cousin’s in a nursing home. The other cousin died, and the other ones are just too old—they can’t do it. So no, we have no musicians now. It was sad.
EH: So for the festival do musicians come from Pittsburgh?
CD: Pittsburgh or Cleveland or wherever we can find them. You know the one we had for our centennial celebration came from New York, so it just depends on where you find them and what you can afford to have at that particular time.
On discrimination against immigrants during her childhood…
EH: Because there was such a strong Lebanese community and other ethnic communities, did you feel different in Wheeling?
CD: Maybe it’s because I was half and half and my maiden name wasn’t Lebanese— it didn’t affect me a lot.
Some of them ran into discrimination. Ah, I know one person wanted to have a job at the drugstore, the corner drugstore, and they said “We don’t hire foreigners.” And she wasn’t a foreigner, she was born in the United States. I mean both my parents were born in the United States. So my grandparents were the immigrants that came over. But had I had more of that look or the name that went with it, I think I would have felt discrimination a little bit more, but I didn’t. But I do know some that did.
You know what killed me about that, when they said they didn’t want a foreigner working at the drug store, their parents were immigrants. What did they think? You know, they weren’t an American Indian! So everybody basically is a foreigner.
On maintaining Lebanese traditions and the Lebanese community in Wheeling…
CD: We’re trying to keep it going, I’ll tell you that. We’re working hard to keep it going. But as people move away and… Like I said, the industry in the valley has gone downhill. You know, we used to have a lot of manufacturing here, but that’s all gone. So when that went, the younger people started to move out to get employment so naturally that lessened our population in the parish. But we’re working feverishly to keep it going, so hopefully we can. I’d hate to lose this.
For the full transcript of our interview with Carol Dougherty, contact the West Virginia Folklife Program.