Friday, April 25, 2008

Cornbread Nation 3: Foods of the Mountain South

I've been reading Cornbread Nation 3: Foods of the Mountain South, an anthology of Southern food writing. Since I read the book before bed, I've had visions and smells of pawpaws, ramps, and country-cured bacon dancing through my dreams. It's no wonder I've been waking up hungry. I love the book because it celebrates family, community, and love that's often conveyed through food and cooking.

Last night I read an essay from that book written by Tony Earley titled "Two Grandmothers." As you can guess from the title, it's a tribute to his two grandmothers. It's a tribute that is grounded in food memories he has of each grandmother. I haven't read anything by
Tony Earley prior to this, but this essay has prompted me to seek out his novels and short stories to read. I hope to read something else from him in the coming weeks. The following is an excerpt from the essay:

Granny moved into the farmhouse at Rock Springs when she was a nineteen-year-old bride, in 1933, and lived there until December 2002, when she feel and broke her hip at the church Christmas pageant. She has resided since then in an assisted-living facility. When I visit her now, she talks mainly about returning home, though she knows that she isn't likely to. What she misses most is the work. She still marks time by the seasons of labor that she followed for almost seventy years - when to break ground in the garden, when to plant or harvest each vegetable, when to can green beans or tomato juice, or freeze peaches or field peas. Though she found a solace in the work itself, her labor always resulted in comfort or pleasure or sustenance for someone else as well: a clean house, daffodils or irises or lilies blooming in the yard, a steaming bowl of corn circling the big table in the dining room during Sunday dinner. The only praise one usually receives for such a life is necessarily local and private, though in a perfect world perhaps it wouldn't be. The last time I tasted my grandmother's corn was Thanksgiving 2002, and I took it for granted that there would be another bowl come Christmas. I would not have said so at the time, but I now realize that love, in its most selfless form, tastes like sweet corn made by an old woman working at daybreak, during the hottest part of summer.

The last sentence still floors me. ". . . love, in its most selfless form, tastes like sweet corn made by an old woman working at daybreak, during the hottest part of the summer." I get goosebumps when I read that sentence. It's one of those sentences that I find myself reciting during quiet moments in my life. It resonates with me and reminds me that there is truth and beauty in this life. I aspire to write something that great that celebrates my family.

Thank you for this food,


onetoothbrush said...

Have you read Secrets of the Tsil Cafe by Tom Averill? Set in KCK. Lots of exotic recipes. You might like it.

Sarah said...

That is such an evocative passage. I love the part about how his grandmother "still marks time by the seasons of labor." I have not read any of Tony Earley's works myself, but I will make a point to do so in the near future. Thanks for sharing!