It is fortunate that my grandmothers taught me how to cook. Since it is legend in my family that my Mom’s atrocious culinary offerings caused Suzie the Dachshund’s premature death, I’m glad my grandmothers were around. In all fairness, Suzie wasn’t a particularly picky eater, even for a dog. She was known to eat underwear, socks, rocks, her own poo, Barbie heads and assorted limbs, and pretty much anything else that would fit in her gaping maw. So Mom’s cooking- I can still see the mashed potatoes with the big black burnt flakes and the accompanying “gravy” that was the texture, flavor, and consistency of partially hardened concrete- might have been a contributing factor or even the final tipping point, considering Suzie’s complete lack of discernment in her eating habits.
I won’t say that I am the best cook there is by a long shot, but I can hold my own with most old-time redneck cuisine. I can roll my own noodles, (no I do not “roll my own” anything else, except maybe pie crust) fry chicken, grill steaks, bake breads, pies, cakes and cookies, make soups and casseroles and roasts, etc. Unfortunately these are skills that most young people see as being quaint and obsolete. I could not be any more weird to the kids if I went out and shot deer, tanned the hides and made my own shoes . My son and his friends consider microwaved ramen noodles, pizza delivery, and Taco Bell to be the apex of fine dining.
The relevance of learning cooking skills just doesn’t register with the POMC. He worked at Taco Bell for two years and figured that was enough cooking for him. He thought I was completely nuts to be boiling a chicken and rolling out noodle dough when you can get chicken-n-noodles all ready to be microwaved in less than five minutes, courtesy of Marie Callender.
In my humble opinion- while some microwave meals aren’t half bad and I am not above eating them on occasion- when you do have the time and motivation to do the authentic slow food thing it tastes better. My old time redneck cuisine isn’t all loaded down with salt and preservatives and heaven only knows what else either.
Admittedly, most women of my generation (and most likely those younger than I) are about as clueless about home cooking as I am about football or other assorted man-sports. My grandmothers’ generation was probably the last generation to consider cooking an essential skill.
So here I am with my archaic skill sets- yes I can cook and bake, and do needlework for what it’s worth. I enjoy down-home slow cooking when I have the time. So there. But it does disturb me that it’s a dying art. It’s getting harder and harder to find things like shortening, cornstarch and various spices. Even worse, it’s getting harder and harder for me to find the time.
I am looking forward to Dad’s Birthday Cruise on Saturday. It’s sort of disquieting for me to go since I’ve not had a classic air-cooled VW for years, but his buddies in the car club are cool and it’s always a good time. I wouldn’t miss it barring extreme illness or Act of God, since it is also Dad’s birthday party, and an opportunity for me to get him an embarrassing gag gift.
We always go to one or two historical sites in Marion County. This year we are going to the tiny village of LaRue to see a collection of Jim Thorpe memorabilia and then to check out another guy’s extensive collection of license plates. Dad is always good at picking out interesting places to go. I was sort of disappointed that we weren’t doing anything architecturally related this time, (I so enjoyed touring the Harding Home and Etowah a couple of years ago,) but it’s good to mix it up. I might be surprised at what I get to see.
In a way it is almost painful to go home and revisit the past. So much that I see in the history of those places points to a future that should have been better and brighter than today. Unfortunately I was born into a place and time that was just on the cusp of catastrophic decline, and in a sickening sort of paradox, as I grew up, I watched it all fall and disintegrate and decay.
I know the reasons behind the fall, but hindsight is 20/20. When one is confronted with the lingering shadow of what could have been, that which has become a spoiled, dusty, failed memory, and today’s more sordid reality, it can be disheartening. Sometimes when I drive past the decaying monoliths of a long-dead industry I see my own heart, my own spirit- something that belonged to the past and sort of exists, at least in form, but isn’t really there anymore.
I look at the idle, rusting frameworks and I see my own metaphor drawn out, speaking the unsaid, wrought in cold, dead steel.
Everywhere and nowhere, all points converge here.
I can find divers examples of proof for the devolution of humanity, believe that. Just go to WalMart.
I don’t know what is more frightening- WalMart in the summer, or the stunning vision (or was that a sight) of fat, bald dudes in Speedos that we were treated to at Put-In-Bay.
The Birthday Cruise always ends at the Marion Cemetery, which I have not even come close to fully perusing despite emptying out my memory card and spending a Sunday afternoon last March taking pictures of almost everything that caught my interest. A 2GB card is not enough, especially if you want high res pics.
I’ve always thought this to be the saddest monument in the Marion Cemetery, poor six year old Wallie. For being almost 150 years old, his monument has held up remarkably well. Perhaps a grieving mother put this up years after Wallie’s unfortunate and premature passing, but it is consistent with the often maudlin Victorian traditions of memorializing the dead. In those days death wasn’t just an Old Person Thing confined to hospitals and nursing homes, shrouded in wiring and tubes and technology and sanitized by distance and closed doors. In 1864, when Wallie succumbed, death was a Living Room Thing, something that visited old and young alike, that was intimate and piercing and all consuming.
Perhaps in society’s sanitization of death we have also depersonalized it and in the process have stripped ourselves of some of our humanity. We live with the false assumption that we have forever.
Granted, medical science has come a long way in postponing death. I would have likely been worm food thirty-odd years ago if not for antibiotics (yes people did die from rheumatic fever) and was almost worm food for sure twenty years ago- even with an eleventh hour c-section. Delaying the inevitable is exactly that, though. We all have to die, but we aren’t very good at facing it.
Dylan Thomas exhorted us to, “Rage, rage at the dying of the light.” I think there is a sort of futility in that gesture. On one hand there is the tragic death of one who seems to forfeit so much potential- someone young, someone with a great deal of talent, but then there is also the tragic life of one who is suffering and weary of life who longs for the sleep and peace of death and can’t find it. God can make sense of such paradox, but I can’t.
There have been times in my life when I have wondered why I have been left to suck up valuable oxygen while those who I feel to be more worthy of life die. That’s a question that I can only leave to faith- and to trust in the wisdom of God. I figure no matter how long I am here, it’s only for a limited time.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls…
2 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Redneck Cookery, Historical Excursions, and Inevitability”
Thomas raged against the dying of the light by consuming “eighteen straight whiskeys,” which according to legend, he declared was “a record.”
There is something to be said for the preservative effects of alcohol, but its preservative effects are pretty much limited to 1.) making a day’s worth of hangover seem like eternity, and 2.) pickling the corpse.