Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Giving Thanks: Day 3...A head of collards and a hunk of cornbread
Before we know it, November will be far into its first week and we'll have to start thinking about Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving maybe more than Christmas. I said maybe. But something happened yesterday that could clarify it for me some more. And since this is day three of Giving Thanks Challenge, I know exactly what I'm thankful for. Here goes.
One day last week we stopped by my cousin Bill's house to take him a little gift. I have always loved Bill, since I was a little girl. But more on Bill in a later post. Anyway, we started talking about his turnip patch and I told him that I still cooked my turnips the way Aunt Delah (his mother) had instructed me that they were to be cooked. He asked about our collards and Mac told him how great they were doing. "I love collards," Bill allowed, "but with just me here it's too much trouble to prepare them and cook them. " I made him a deal then and there. I'd trade him some cooked to a turn collard greens, if he would let me get about 3 dozen turnips, complete with greens. He agreed so fast it made my head swim.
Yesterday, after we got home from Mac's appointment with his Doc for his quarterly blood work (that darned cholesterol medication!) I found a message from Bill. I was just about to return his call when the phone rang. I told him he must be psychic, I was just about to call and he told me to be at his house at about 10:30 (this) morning. He said J.W. (his nephew, another cousin of mine) was coming to help him harvest the turnips and he was ready for collards! Promising to see him at the appointed time and place, I told Mac we had to go pull a collard head.
We walked out to the garden a bit later and Mac asked which one I wanted. I pointed to a beautiful huge head loaded with lush green leaves and said I'd take that one. It was such a perfect specimen that I caught my breath. "You know, " I mused, " if this were at the State Fair, it'd be a prize winner. A blue ribbon prize winner." Mac had just cut the heavy root off, and held it up for a better look. "I do believe you're right, " he grinned.
I cut the leaves off, which left just the stalk to go into the compost. There was not one leaf that was damaged, no poison had ever touched them, no bugs had munched, not one single blemish was on that perfect head of collards. I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear at Mac's success. Taking the bundle of leaves inside, I lay them on the counter and filled the sink with the the first of several rinsing water baths. After I had washed them, I rolled them, one by one, into the tight bundle I had often seen Mammy (my Grandmother) do, took my kitchen shears and cut them into small pieces. And was instantly transported back in time to her kitchen. I could hear her voice talking about the Thanksgiving meal she was preparing and how good she felt that we had made the trip up from Tampa to be with them all. She was busy cutting the collards into the stock pot and bringing them to the boil. She put in piece of fatback and covered the pot tightly. She was describing to me the dinner that would soon be shared with her family. The dining room would be filled with Aunts and Uncles, grown cousins and of course Grandparents. The big kitchen table would be set for the children where from 9 to 15 of us would sit for our meal. The main topic of conversation would be how to get rid of the collards on our plate. No one, of course, was thinking about actually eating them. The smell of cooking collards is something that most children would find offensive. All those vitamins and roughage fouling the air, covering the smell of roasting turkey and the best dressing anyone ever put in their mouths...
Mammy had a rule when it came to food put on your plate. You cleaned that plate, on account of all the starving children in China. (My friend Vonnie said her Granny once knocked her half way into the following week when she replied "I wish they had this plate, I don't like collards"). Now, I don't know how our cleaning our plates had a thing to do with the children in China, starving or otherwise, but we respected (read feared) Mammy enough to do what she said. I'm not sure when my childhood self turned against me, but that Thanksgiving something profound happened. Preparing myself to heave, taking the first bite (after a liberal dosing of Pepper sauce) I found the taste, well...I found the taste pleasing. I took a second bite and actually smiled. The rest of the table looked at me like I was an alien in their midst. I was reaching for a hunk of cornbread...
When I came back to myself, found me standing at the kitchen sink still cutting collards, putting them into the big stock pot and grinning like a mule eating briers. I had heard Mammy's voice so clearly, even though she has been gone for 30 years, that I didn't doubt she had been standing right next to me. I felt her love wrap around me like a warm sweater...or a big old collard leaf. All that was missing was the smell of cornbread wafting from the oven. I guess that's why it's called "comfort food".