I’m convinced that I’m from a line of special-agent, super heroes. As my mind thought back to my childhood, as it often does, it drifted to food. As fresh a memory as one created moments ago I thought back to the days spent at home in Birmingham, Alabama and with family in Montgomery, Alabama. My mother, grandmothers, great-grandmother, godmother, aunts and other caretakers took care of my relatives and me. They really took care of us. Tending to houses full of children, working full-time jobs, taking care of husbands, other people’s children and themselves, and making sure we never, ever, ever went without a meal that left a lasting memory was the norm. I often ask myself not, how’d they do that.
I fondly remembered one of my favorite meals: Salmon croquettes, white rice, English peas, canned Hungry Jack biscuits and Kool-Aid. With an active and growing family of five it baffles me to no end to ponder how my mother fed us with one can of fish, a few crackers and some flour, one cup of rice, one can of peas (with a pat of butter), one can with five, fluffy biscuits and some “red or purple” Kool-Aid.
I would ask my mother now how she did it, or how her mother fed as many as 15 of us at one time with homemade stroganoff, Dig Em Smacks or Conecuh Sausage and “cinnamon toast”. I would ask if she could tell me the secret to how her grandmother Angie Lou and Aunt Ozie (Tee Walker) managed to babysit too many of us to count at one time, feeding growing girls and boys from two cans of Chef Boyardee spaghetti with skinny, pink weenies (hot dogs) chopped up in it or homemade, tasty pies. I would ask her if she can fill me in on how her Aunt Ann managed come into town from New York City and buy so many Chick-fil-A sandwiches one day that they were literally overflowing from the stove and counters because she wanted all of her “darlings” that she loved to enjoy what she’d grown to love. I would ask how her Aunt Laura hosted amazing Christmas gatherings blending multiple families, with multiple food preferences with ample food and amazing memories to share year after year. I want to know how my mother’s sisters Jackye and Ann managed to let us spend summer days with them that were actually fun and still today host amazing family functions complete with red cups, too much food and line dancing or ultra-fancy and super-fun Mother/Daughter teas. I would ask how my dad’s sister Vanteal practically let me live with her (to be closer to high school friends (and secretly my high school “boo”) and served us up fried fish, baked beans and hush puppies, or cheese toast (from a real-live toaster oven that you could sneak and use in the middle of the night) with unlimited sodas and down stairs dancing each time we asked, or even when we didn’t knowing it would make us happy. I would have to inquire how my daddy’s mother Grandma Scott and his sister Aunt Shirlene let us spend weeks with them each year that always included trips to the grocery store to shop for the exact foods we wanted including Totino’s pizza, Neapolitan ice cream and more pink weenies (hot dogs), but was never without amazing homemade cakes, delicious greens, peas, neckbones, hot cornbread and Tab soda. I would have her help me understand how my great cousin Hazel would make it to family functions from New York as often as some who lived in the state, and how at the age of 80+ she rolled out the red carpet in the Big Apple and managed to make my 40th birthday one of the absolute best ever. I would ask my mother how our godmother/babysitter Ella kept and fed us two-to-three full “Sunday-like” meals including homemade cake daily on a babysitter “salary” that was too little for me to type, and how to this day she still dotes on us as if we’re children with a cake, also known as sweet bread, waiting most times we visit. Those women are my rock and they ROCK!
I would spend my time asking my mother for answers to these mysteries, but I’m afraid my asking would be in vain. I really want to know how they did it, but 40+ years into life, with these wonderful women, some of whom are hanging out with Jesus in Heaven now, I’m well aware that were I to ask, the answer would simply be, “We did what we had to do with what God gave us. That’s just who we are.” And that answer, ladies and gentleman, is good enough for me. Ladies, I salute you!