Grandmothers are the glue of a family. They always have the warmest hugs and are so happy to see you no matter what. In the 80’s they were built in nannies for most. At least I know mine was. I was there daily even when I became old enough for school. I was for sure a grandma’s girl. In fact that’s what she called me. Her gal.
I can remember every detail of my grandma’s house. I can remember the house before and after the remodel to expand the kitchen. We spent most of our time together in the kitchen.
She always said, “ One day when you have your own family you have to make sure you keep your hands good and clean! A mother will touch every bit of the food that goes into her family’s mouths.”
When I was very small she would sit me on top of the washing machine so I could help stir. We’d make cakes, pies, cookies, rolls, and all sort of goodies. Churches and family members from all around knew grandma was the best baker.
It wasn’t the desserts that I loved. I loved her savory meals: roast and potatoes, mustard greens and corn bread made into hoecakes especially for me. But my favorite was hamburgers. I can recall other kids being fascinated with popular drive-thru burger places, but not me. I only ate my grandma’s or my mom’s homemade hand patty burgers.
Growing up a farmer’s daughter, grandma learned to stretch meals to accommodate a large family. She was the eldest daughter of thirteen children with one older brother. In our home it was just my brother and me, so I wondered why she wanted to teach me to stretch meals.
“Add a cup or two of broth to that soup,” she’d say. “The pastor might come by this evening round supper time.”
Always making more out of what little she had.
On Fridays we had fish! It was tradition. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that eating fish on Fridays was a tradition based in the Catholic faith. Humph? We aren’t Catholic.
Like clockwork the fish man would show up on a weekday. My brother and cousin would holler, “The fish man is here!!”
Grandma and I would turn down any pots and pans to a low fire or off. Picking the perfect fish took time. Nine-year-old me would stand there bashfully, hanging on to her apron. I must have worn a hole in that thing. I was painfully timid and reserved.
“You got any of them nice fat ones?” she asked.
Laughing, he’d say, “ Nobody want them but you.”
I’d wonder why people didn’t want the big fish. My mama and daddy always kept the big ones. After picking her bucket full she’d pay him from the pocket on that apron and we’d rush back to get supper on the table.
“We got some work to do this evening. You gonna help me?”
I’d smile and nod still holding her apron as if I’d get lost between the front porch and the end of the driveway.
“That’s my gal,” she whispered.
That night, along with cutting up the catfish into fillets and buffalo fish ribs, we’d also grind the beef we got from Madea’s out on the farm. I was old enough to work the grinder now!
We wrapped the kitchen bench good with plastic and some butcher paper we’d pulled from the pantry. I didn’t mind handling the raw beef meat like I did chicken. I even liked the way it smelled. Once we’d filled my large yellow Tupperware bowl with sections of beef I’d drag it over to the bench. PLOP! In goes the first hunk of meat.
“Don’t forget we gotta pass it through two times” she’d say.
While I ground the first pass, grandma started prepping the fish. I was glad to be helping her. I didn’t care that the other cousins were off playing. Grandma would usually sing a church hymn while we worked away. Sometimes she’d even turn on the old crackling radio in the kitchen window or put on a record from my uncles collection. But I liked when she just sang, slapping her thigh occasionally to get the right soulful rhythm going. We didn’t sing lively songs like that in our church. All the while she’d be making sure I wasn’t chopping off my fingers or dropping a big piece of meat that was too heavy for my small hands. Strange how she could do so many things at one time.
“I’ll do the second pass,” Grandma said.
“No, let me finish it,” I begged.
She agreed reluctantly. She inspected my work from the end of the grinder shoot. Still singing and smiling as before. She added filler (fat) back into the meat. This was to make it stretch and for flavor. I tried to take in all she did in the kitchen. She handed me my yellow bowl back, but this time it seemed to smell different and was covered with cheesecloth.
When I removed the cheesecloth the beef not only smelled different, it had some bubbly looking things in it! Grandma had a smirk as if she knew I’d react how I did. A smirk, not her usual full toothy beautifully gapped smile.
“EEEWWWW, what is that!” I screamed.
She said, “Child that is roe. Roe from the fat catfish.”
I apparently looked puzzled.
“Caviar! Fish eggs,” she said. “You’ve eaten it all your life.”
I was in shock. I sat there silently, wondering how long had I eaten fish egg hamburgers. The last thing I remember from that day is feeling sick. The next day grandma squeezed me close to her while she had her morning coffee wearing her big fuzzy pink robe.
“One day you’ll be able to tell your children you used to eat caviar. I won’t make you eat that ever again.”