Brian is asleep. He has worked the last ten nights straight. He has also spent his days working on his part-time job. Most of you know our situation. He can’t pay child support. We have a child. I can’t get an apartment in a safe and decent neighborhood. We have made a decision to share a place until things change or until our Sarah Bear goes off to college. Either way, this thing of ours has an expiration date. How we spend this time of incarceration is up to us. It’s our choice to do hard time or soft time.
I have a choice on what to cook for dinner but both require a noisy implement to get the job done to perfection. And getting the job done to perfection is one of the things which move me. I love happy faces. I love to earn the highest marks. I love to be number one. The pork was chosen. And so was a new plan. I put the steaks into a double bag system and I grabbed my Big Mama meat tenderizer. I have a small one for a single job and I have a cudgel which can bring about a homicide in a few strokes. Fortunately for my freedom and the lives of a few, it has never been used to commit a crime. Unless you count the crime of tough meat.
Putting on my United States Marine combat cap I went outside. I had planned to tenderize the meat on the pavement (which was the reason behind the double bag) but it started to rain. Yet another plan had to be hatched. I remembered that the seats one of the seats in my van collapsed. There was my table! I was ready. I walked around the corner to my mommy-van, got in, put the Clark Sisters, Dr. Bobby Brown, and Kirk Franklin into play on my mp3 player. I was more than ready. I was suited and booted. Cocked and target locked for ultimate muscular bond destruction (muscular bonds are what you have to break down to make your meat tender).
I am a cooker. I’m a cooker to the point that I like really nice tools to do the job. Wusthof, Kitchen Aid, Osterizer. They’re all like music to my ears. Sometimes I garnish plates and although I have the right equipment I have to confess that I don’t paint plates anymore. I used to do that for special occasions when they boys were here, when we owned a house and when we were married. I haven’t baked bread in years but when I did I am proud to tell you that I had mastered the art of making brioche from scratch. I like to cook soul food as well. I know by heart what goes with what. Fried fish don’t go with mashed potatoes and you can’t have too many cornbread pancakes when the greens are good, savoury, hot and full of smoked meats. “Is my living in vain” asked all five of the Clark Sisters in unison. My weapon kept time to the organ and I was moved along, without thinking, to the gospel beat.
I like to cook because it quiets my mind. It has also become moments for me to bring the spirit of my grandmother (and my grandfather too as when he retired he proved to everyone who the best chicken fryer and sweet potato pie baker really was) close to me. She watches me and I can feel her. Our connections are so strong. Make up. A good girdle and bra. A perfect lipstick. A well-made bed. Good shoes. Good food. Happy faces on clean, sleeping children. Yes. The kitchen is the scene of a beautiful séance. She comes, nearly each and every time, to watch over me as I show my love by my hand. This was one of the most important lessons she ensured that I learn, “you can make yo mouf say anything” and “Any fool with a charge plate coulda bought that. But what’s in the mane’s (or womane’s) heart. Dat’s da real truth.” Now you know why I hasten to bring her near.
The Georgia Mass Choir somehow sneaks into the rotation with, “Yes, to Your will. Yes. To Your way. My soul says yes.” And my mind starts to drift while I, on and off of the job since I have yet to achieve arms like Mrs. Obama, start to pound the meat with my left hand. It’s funny how a terrible thing can be turned into something good. When I was burned in 1983 my right arm had to be in a sling. Because of the extent of the burn I was unable to use my right hand for some time. I’m nearly ambidextrous because of this tragedy (and also due to my typing and piano lessons). I can print. Cut. Throw. Eat. Everything with both hands except for things which require fine motor movement like writing. My mind doesn’t even make a blip on its radar when someone hands me something and I’ve already got another something in my right hand. I just reach with the left. Easiest thing in the world. Would I trade those 30 days in the intensive care unit and that year in recuperation to be as one-handed as most folks? Can’t answer that because this strange quirk is a part of me now.
“I am here. You don’t have to worry I can see your tears. I’ll be there in a hurry when you call. Friends won’t have to catch you when you fall.” Kirk Franklin and Family signal the need for me to take a break. “Open up your heart and say…” the cute little White girl hits that note and the lady who plays Cora Brown starts to do that Gospel howl. I’m there. I am with you. I start to cry. The tears that I make sure Sarah doesn’t see. The tears behind my anger with John II, my wretched loneliness for my golden bear who is legally known as Grant Worthington Williams and the need I have to see my daughter Joslyn marry well and have children. It’s all there. “There’s a child who is sick and begging to be free. But there is no cure for his disease. He looks up to his mother as she hold his hand.” Ain’t it the Lord’s truth? Don’t we mothers hold that child’s hand? All the way from the first moments of life until the end. Whether that end comes when our spirit slips inside that sick room and looks on as our 90 year old baby gives up the ghost and comes forward into the arms of our Creator. When all has gone right in the culmination of a career achievement or an academic advancement? What demons straight from the pit can keep a mama from her child’s side? Only the demons which tell the mother she has something better to do or the demons which tell the child to tell the mama to stay away. Won’t we even find a way to sneak in those auditoriums or just stand outside on the cold hard concrete still warmed by our child’s excellence? Or when all has gone wrong and our child, strapped to the executioner’s table, can’t do nothing more than look at us with those same big brown eyes and mouth, “Mama, I’m so sorry.”
As for me? The meat is beat like it stole from the collection plate. I gotta go and cook now. My granma is right here beside me in the van and she’s saying, “Gon ‘head nah gal. The hoss is in the field and the barn’s afire.” That’s Mississippi talk for “stop wasting time, we got other stuff to do.” So maybe I don’t cook to be close to save money. To not get any restaurant worker germs on my tongue. Maybe I cook because I’m a child and I need my mama and this is the only way I know how to bring her close. Well, my friends. Amen. Ameenah. So be it. Let that be the reason. Let THAT be the reason. www.lavondastaples.com