A short, humorous trip down memory lane recalling my life as a child in an interracial family, focusing on Mama's cooking.
Mama was of European heritage. She was a first-generation American. Her parents came from faraway places like Poland and Russia. A middle child with two siblings, she was reared by her widowed father on a Missouri farm. Her mother died in childbirth, leaving Mama with virtually no memory of her.
Perhaps that's why Mama's skills in the kitchen weren't very good, although she did her best. It would take years before I would realize that fact, since I grew up on her food exclusively. Mama boiled cabbage the way most people cook pork- long and slow. By the time it made its way to the table, the poor misunderstood vegetable was no longer recognizable, and sat limply in our plates.
On some Sundays, we would have the traditional baked chicken and dressing. I hated eating dressing- or so I thought. Mama's main ingredient in dressing was bread- white bread- mushy, with green peppers that I would slyly remove from my mouth and hide under the plate. I always secretly wished that she would serve mashed potatoes instead.
Later, as a young adult, when I ate my first meal in the home of a black friend, I was served dressing. Not wanting to be rude, I accepted the food, biting into what tasted like heaven on earth. "This is dressing?" I asked my friend, amazed. "Yes," she informed me, "dressing with cornbread." Ah! So that was it. All these years I had put it on my 'didn't like' list, only to find out that I really did!
I often wondered how my black father survived it all- being married to a white woman. Daddy must have loved her very much, indeed; as he was from 'down south,' and raised on greens and ham hocks. But maybe the key was not in her cooking, but in the way she performed her wifely duties.
I can still see her lovingly setting the table for dinner- daddy at the head, me and my sister across from each other, and Mama opposite daddy at the other end. The seating arrangement never changed, not once, in all my years growing up.
Mama never put serving bowls on the table. Instead, beginning with daddy- of course, she would individually take each plate to the kitchen, serving up generous portions of whatever 'masterpiece' she created that day.
No one ate until daddy got home- ever. If he was going to be late getting in from work, which was rare, we simply waited for him. Once seated, Mama would give him his special tall glass from which he would drink his favorite Detroit brewed Ginger Ale. His steak- one of his favorite foods- was not always tender, but it was served with tenderness.
Mama toiled many years at that hot stove; cooking, baking, broiling and boiling. Not once did I ever hear her complain. Dinnertime, the hour that daddy came home, was always special, and her infectious eagerness that grew as the hour drew near, was always catching. As soon as he hit the door, my sister and I would shout, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy’s home.” And up in his arms we would jump, while Mama stood in the doorway
dishtowel in hand, beaming proudly.
Yes, Mama's cooking may have certainly left a lot to be desired, and ‘soul food’ definitely wasn’t her forte. But she gave us something you couldn’t see on your plate or put into your mouth. The ‘soul’ may not have been in her meals, but she put her heart and soul into everything she did for us, giving us a taste that, for me, lingers to this day.