Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Food for the soul

For a while there in the mid-80s, I lived in Atlanta and would drive the 1.5 hours down to Eatonton almost every weekend to stay with my grandmother.  I did this initially because I had no money and no where else to go, but it eventually became one of my favorite things to do for several reasons.

One was the piano.  My grandmother eventually willed that piano to me but she gave it to me when she moved to a smaller house.  I was able to have it picked up and moved to Maryland about a decade ago (thanks Mary Ethel!).  But at the time in Georgia, it was just a fantastic release for me to be able to spend hours and hours and hours just playing.  It was my stress relief, and boy, did I need it!  I played hymns and popular music, ragtime and Godspell, show tunes and classical compositions*.  And sometimes I'd sing along too. 

After playing for what seemed the whole day long, I'd pack up and start back to the rest of the house and often stop short because my grandmother was sitting in the yellow satin high-backed chair, fast asleep with her head bobbing over her elbow.  She'd wakeup suddenly when she realized the music had stopped and then, inevitably, she'd ask, "Would you like something to eat?"

For Saturday night, we would often have Brunswick stew and barbecue sandwiches (Georgia barbecue, i.e. pulled pork sandwiches).  Or maybe tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, but then we would have to have some vegetables as well.  Just a nice cozy Saturday night meal, followed by Wheel of Fortune and hopefully a movie.

It was just the two of us, but for Sunday lunch, she would make a "small dinner" consisting of fried (or grilled when I said I was on a diet) chicken, pot roast, sometimes a pork dish, green beans (hand-shucked and boiled with fatback), home-made creamed corn, home-made mashed potatoes, gravy, home-made biscuits or just sliced bread if she didn't have time, sliced tomatoes (fresh from the garden), at least two types of pickles, maybe a congealed salad, and iced tea. 

And she would eat like a bird.   So, I would either stuff myself silly, or we would pack all the left-overs up in used Cool-Whip containers or whatever else she had instead of Tupperware, and voila!  I had meals for the whole week.

I also learned then that my tastes had changed since I was a kid, and she knew better than I did sometimes what I would really like.  Like once, when I said I didn't like tomatoes, she nearly lost it!  "Oh yes you do!  You just haven't had MY tomatoes!"

Being properly admonished I said, oh alright I'll try a really small piece of that giant Beefsteak tomato you just picked from your garden and sliced up…  YUM!  Just a little salt or pepper and I ate the whole plate!  Of course that doesn't work on every body.  I know for a fact that my sister wouldn't be able to do that because she is allergic to tomatoes.  I'm very VERY glad that I am not!

But other than the piano and the amazing food, I realized the most important part of why I really enjoyed going to visit Grandmother Smith:  she was an AMAZING story teller!    After lunch or dinner, we would delay clearing up and just sit at the table in her kitchen and she'd tell me stories about how she met "Mr. Ruil" (my grandfather) and how she and her sisters would get in so much trouble with her mama.    We would laugh and laugh – and I must admit, sometimes I was laughing because she got so tickled she couldn't even get the story out.  Her shoulders would pump up and down and this "hmph hmph hmph" sort of chuckle would escape from her closed lips.  She'd open her mouth to continue her story… but just couldn't!  It would set me off again, and that would set her off and… you get the picture.  Too much fun, and no alcohol necessary!

I am so glad I had that time with my grandmother, and I'm eternally grateful to her for not only feeding my body, but for feeding my soul and reminding me that laughter is available even in the darkest of times.  And I'm glad I was able to give her something too.  She told me once that she had never had anyone play ragtime music in her house before, because it was "that evil drinking music".  She told me that she was so glad that I had played it because it was so much more beautiful than she could ever have imagined it to be.

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