So these beauties were given to me yesterday.
Yes. I know. Gorgeous, aren’t they? And I will treasure them as the wonderful art they are. I am lucky enough to be related to the craftsman who made them. My Uncle. He makes these and shares them. I like to think it’s how he says I love you. If any of you think differently, I don’t want to know.
I will use these to ice cakes, and butter bread for toast, and to brown meat, and to stir soups and tea and batters for cakes and brownies for celebrating–and for just because. Sometimes those “just because” treats are the best ones.
As I looked at my carousel of much used cooking and serving utensils, there were three that stood out next to my Uncle’s handiwork and made me smile.
My Mama gave me the first one. It once belonged to my Great Great Aunt Maye. She was a dear sweet lady, who carried a Kleenex in her sleeve, and after we had a special ice cold Coca-Cola in the bottle in her kitchen, she’d say, “Let’s go into the house, shall we?” I pondered over this and at one point asked her, weren’t we already in the house? She explained to me that the kitchen was not part of the house when she grew up, and so, I guess that made sense. She and my Uncle Bill had no children of their own but they loved my Mama and us to bits. When we’d visit, Uncle Bill would go and pick up Church’s fried chicken, biscuits and sides for dinner. And the cherry pies. Those were the best. We would always act like he’d been out back cooking and slaving over the stove. And he would play along. So much fun. Aunt Maye kept wooden alphabet blocks tucked in one of her glass front bookcases for us to play with when we were there. On most visits, she’d let us sit in her pink poofy seat chair in front of her makeup mirror with the glamorous lights and try her lipsticks. She never fussed if we broke one or told us not to use it this way or that. She just turned on the lights, handed us a box of tissues for wiping off our numerous attempts to be “beautiful,” and left us to our own devices. Oh how we loved that. I also loved her knickknacks from their world travels–especially the hula girls with grass skirts that moved that they had gotten in Hawaii, and the dancing dolls from Thailand. This spoon brings back all of those memories and more. I like to use it for butterbeans and my crunchy corn and green pea salad. They look so pretty served up in her spoon, and it reminds me of a pretty lady–inside and out.
The next spoon came from Granny, whom I’ve shared so much about, but especially in Hey Girl. I love this spoon because it’s one of the tangible things that I have that still connects me to her. Oh how I miss her. Her wisdom, her love, her laughter, her raised eyebrow, and oh my good gravy, her cooking. Granny was the one who made all kinds of candy during the holidays. They were stored in tupperware and like containers in the cold room, later dubbed the Pretty Room. Oh my–the buckeyes, divinity, Martha Washingtons, and so much more! That room would have made Willy Wonka jealous, I tell you what. Her biscuits were some kind of good too. I remember she’d leave them covered on the counter and the butter too. Many an afternoon found us sitting at the counter on the stools handmade by my Papa, slathering soft butter on one of those delicious biscuits. I remember one time she took us fishing. I don’t think we caught a thing, but somehow, somewhere she got some fish and fried it for supper that night. With hushpuppies and fried french fries. I can remember her putting it all in the colander and salting it just right. Good eating right there. The folks on the cooking shows could have learned a thing or two from my Granny. She is also the one who taught me how to eat the whole okra she’d cook in the butterbeans. To this day I love to show my children how to eat those slimy boiled okra in one gulp. (It tends to make them scrunch up their faces and say “ew” so that might one of the reasons I do it. Hey, sometimes you have to make your own entertainment, people.) I don’t remember whether Granny would have used this spoon for stirring jam, or making tea, or what exactly, but it sits there and I use it occasionally for something special and the memories come flooding back.
The last spoon Mama also gave to me. It was a gift to her from my Great Aunt Hattie. The handle used to have a brown pen-and-ink style picture of wheat stalks on it, but the years and handling have worn it nearly smooth. When I first started making the five gallon tubs of hot chocolate to take to the meal at Daybreak on Sunday nights, I mentioned to Mama that I should probably find a good spoon to break up the clumps of Swiss Miss and mix it well. She offered me this spoon. Since she wasn’t cooking for a houseful anymore, she said she didn’t use it as much. I gladly accepted. It worked like a champ, but since that time my Aunt and Uncle gave me an extra long wooden spoon which was perfect for the job. Aunt Hattie’s spoon became my “tea making” spoon for the ten gallons I make each Sunday. I pull it out and think back to the special woman who loved Mama fiercely as though she were her own. And us. She loved children, and she loved giving gifts. She was awesome at both. If she gave you a purse, it had little perfume and makeup samples and pens and notepads tucked in it. If she gave you a doll, she made an outfit to go with it. She was a gifted seamstress and made some precious dolls and stuffed animals that are still at Mama’s where they can be loved on and treasured by all of Mama’s grandchildren. There’s Raggedy Ann that was taller than my sister when she got her. (My girls have been known to play dressup with her apron.) And Cocoa the brown corduroy teddy bear. My brother was so kind as to share it with my oldest when she was a baby. There’s the cat Aunt Hattie made for me with gorgeous eyes–I named her Sylvia. After the singer. (Don’t ask, it was the 80’s.) Oh there were so many and still are. She made an effort to come see us regularly–she took a Greyhound bus from Miami to Macon as long as she was able. Bless her. The tradition of her gifts of dishtowels and handkerchiefs every Christmas has been carried on by folks in our family. Each Sunday Aunt Hattie and I spend a moment together, and I smile knowing that she would be happy with her spoon being used to love on some folks who could use it.
Sometimes it’s hard to be the kind of person who gets so attached to these kinds of things. I know they’re just spoons or whatever, but in the moment that my hand touches it just as theirs did, in that moment, we’re connected again. Time and all that separates us fades away and it’s as though they are right there with me. Some might say I’m crazy to be so sentimental. All I know is, in the moments of using what connects me to those I love, I miss them a little less, and I smile a little more. And one day, I hope, my own children will look back and remember their Great Uncle who made the spoons that Mama treasured so much. And I hope that they will feel very loved as they stir their soup or bake a cake for their own families. Because that’s what these spoons all stir up for me–memories of love and laughter and precious people.