by C. Jeanette Tyson
On the cover of Betty Crockerís New Boys and Girls Cookbook,
background of cheerful yellow and white stripes. a boy holds a
chocolate cake aloft oh so proudly. A girl with bows in her hair, with
her own platter full of handsome hamburgers, nevertheless seems to
admire the cake more, her hand to her cheek in astonishment. Well, what
are you going to do? Just when youíre chuckling and shaking your head
about how much things have changed, you stop and wonder if they really
have. And then you pick up the paper and find out Bette Freidan has
the cookbook is my motherís handwriting:
Given to Jeanette Tyson by Mother and Father, December 25, 1971.
Who the hell are Mother and Father? In my world, mothers were Mama,
fathers were Daddy. Daughters were Sugar or maybe SisterÖ. a Southern
thing and I donít think I even want to know how that evolved. For a
while I called my father Fred, not because it was his name but because
I, for some inexplicable reason, equated him to Fred Flintstone.
But this book was Given by Mother and Father, and so, with all the
formality and portent, I have to believe my mother meant for it to mean
Oh, the delights that waited inside: Whirligig Cinnamon Rolls, Sunny
Sippers (a good-for-you drink) Tuna Burgers, Raggedy Ann Salad. Turning
the pages gingerly now, though, itís obvious where my heart layÖ with
the peanut butter cookies. And the sparkling sugar cookies. And Brownie
Slowpokes. These are the pages with the splatters and stains. Those are
the pictures I remember, little brown ďturtleĒ swirls with whole pecans
for the head and legs. For what itís worth, the turtles and the castle
cakes and everything else looked as they would actually look when you
attempted them in your own home, not like they would look if you had a
staff of 80 gay cake designers working on them while you did prison
time or whatever. And itís suddenly not so difficult to put two and two
together and understand why I wore those chubby sizes for a few years.
I have other pictures. One, black and white, of me standing on a stool
in my grandmotherís long galley of a kitchen. Another, a memory, of a
Saturday morning and my father showing me how to make cheese and eggs,
and grits, and how to pour sizzling bacon grease into a jar without
burning myself. Another, the touch of my other grandmotherís hands on
mine, deep in a bowl of flour, as she taught me how to work the
shortening in, adding buttermilk in a thin drizzle.
Of course no one eats biscuits these days. And Brownie Slowpokes? Well,
theyíre just a little sacrifice my children have to make in momís
valiant efforts to avoid waistline driftÖagain.
My daughter Maddy is five now and helps me in the kitchen. I lift her
onto the counter and she cracks an egg into the waffle batter. She
punches buttons on the microwave, observes how I hold the knife and
then my thumb against the apple just so. Jackson, my son, likes to
turn the mixer to higher and higher speeds.
Iíve been thinking of buying a cookbook for the kids. Then I thought,
no, Iíll write one. Iíll gather recipes and stories from all the
family, or weíll try something new and exotic every week and take
pictures and make a scrapbook of our culinary adventures. Maybe we will
do that, someday. Right now, though, my children are still quite happy
with chicken and macaroni. And Iím still fairly enamored of, and
indebted to, the chefs at Whole Foods. But still. A mother can dream.
In fact, isnít that what we do, as Mothers and Fathers? Think of better
ways? Thereís much about parenting that echoes in the kitchen. My
mother ate biscuits because her mother ate biscuits and her mother ate
biscuits and so on. But wait. I think Iíd like nine- grain toast now,
thank you very much, I think that will be much better for me.
Someone I love is working hard, right now, to create a father-son
relationship he never had. Itís tough; I watch with empathy and
admiration. The only way to make a new omelet is to be very aware of
the way the old one was made.
What I donít have is a picture of my mother and myself in the kitchen.
Maybe she was there for the first round or two of Brownie Slowpokes. I
vaguely recall some measuring cups being plunked noisily on the
countertop. But then the pans were never clean enough, the sink drain
was full of crumbs, the butter had a thumbprint in it. It was her
kitchen. At some point I stopped going into it. The upside is that no
one in my family believes I actually can cook and so Iím off the hook
at all major family functions.
My brotherís kitchen is a hubbub of activity, especially during the
holidays. I make sandwiches for the kids, my niece makes dinner, Aunt
Debbie makes the best pancakes in the whole world and cousins take over
the stove while uncles mix the eggnog. Thereís a lot of bumping and
sloshing. No one seems to mind, least of all Aunt Debbie, and everyone
December 25, 2005. Here, I found this in a box of stuff at your
motherís house. I thought you might want to have it.
My childhood cookbook. Given to me by my sister-in-law.
C. Jeanette Tyson is mama to Jackson and Maddy and AustinMama.com's