My friend Bennie, who I knew years ago when her dad was a border patrolman in Sanderson, posted on Facebook the other day she’d been especially lonely for her mama, who died last year.
And in her mother’s memory, she – as we would say in the Cooksey household – “put on a pot of navy beans with ham hocks” and baked a pan of cornbread, not from a mix, but with her mother’s recipe. The house smelled like the home she remembered, Bennie wrote. The meal was delicious, and earned rave reviews from family gathered at the dinner table.
Bennie’s post made me think of simple meals and different times, of how many times we’ve thought we were getting by, when in fact we were living a good life. How sometimes it’s not the setting, the ingredients or the entrée; it’s that we took the time and stopped to appreciate what we had, and who we had it with.
The Cooksey family never had a gathering after my siblings and I flew the nest that a big pot of beans didn’t get put on to cook in the morning, stirred and watched over, tasted and seasoned until it was finally time to eat. Daddy said grace, and the meal was served. And it was as good as it was the last time, maybe better, and we never seemed to think there wouldn’t be a next time, or that it wouldn’t always be this way.
Even now when the siblings gather for a meal, beans are on the menu, along with ribs and brisket, fresh salads and a few dishes and desserts made from the recipes we grew up on that are relegated to special occasions now. We stop and say grace, and the fellowship and conversation flows while plates are filled and memories get shared.
My brother-in-law, John Sparkman, said when he started dating my sister Leslie and was invited to supper to meet our parents, “the deal was sealed” at the feast of beans and Spanish rice and our mama’s homemade cornbread. This was a family he wanted to be a part of, John said, and it was the kind of meal he wanted to be invited back for.
But Bennie’s post made me think. You know, about how things are. About how and why we’ve gravitated to supposedly time-saving habits, but when we stop and consider we have less time, and more stress, than ever.
Begging my granddaughter for some quality smart-phone-free time together, I said, “We could bake a red velvet cake with the homemade butter cream frosting like your great grandmas made.”
“Yeah,” she answered not too critically. “I don’t like cake all that much. Anyway, you can buy red velvet cakes at HEB.”
I thought about it, and the truth is, it’s a lot of cake and only a couple of cake-eaters, and it would take an uninterrupted afternoon, which we never seem to have.
I got sad for a minute remembering when I was her age the happiness I felt being in my Grannie Cooksey’s kitchen in Mullin and her showing me how to make yeast rolls. I copied down the recipe, and made rolls probably – I like to think – almost as good back at home, even after I was in college. And I have the recipe still, and haven’t made homemade rolls in better than 43 years.
Lots of good restaurants serve delicious fresh-baked rolls as their standard fare. Servers bring them to the table still warm with little tubs of easy-melt tastes-like-butter margarine. They’re delicious, but arguably not the same.
My granddaughter won’t have the experience of standing in the kitchen with her grandma and enjoying the process of baking bread – or realizing nearly a half century later the pleasure it brought.
The thought of such a disconnect bothers me, but I’m not sure what I could have done differently. I wonder, sometimes, how she will remember me. The impact I’ve made on her life – and I do not know what has sunk in. Will it serve her well enough when she’s older? We seem to always be in the car going somewhere, or coming back and our car rides are not always a free-flow of communication.
There’s a big, big gap in how the world was when I was 16, and how the world is now, but I’m not giving into all is lost. There’s a common denominator in our humanity, if we’ll just take and make the time for what’s important.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at email@example.com.