In accordance to our weekly routine, we gather at my sister’s house every Sunday for dinner following church. Normally she who does most of the work chooses the menu, but the tradition is that each one of us gets to choose lunch for our birthday.
Since there are 15 of us, it is frequently someone’s choice of meal. Now, know this: We are simple, country folks so one of our favorite meals is breakfast for dinner or supper. For rural Southerners, a whooping big breakfast was important to sustain them through the course of a hard, physical day or until the noontime meal, another huge meal. Supper was of little significance, always leftovers from noon, usually left on the table during the day and covered by a cloth.
It would be impossible to count all the times that Mama phoned and said, “I’m fixin’ breakfast. Y’all come and eat.” Though sometimes it was Saturday morning, more often than not, it was suppertime. We’d eagerly pile into her house, opening the door to the smell of bacon and sausage frying. Grits would bubble to perfection, sawmill gravy was stirred to the correct thickness, eggs scrambled or fried and a huge pan of homemade biscuits was pulled from the oven. Nothing ever satisfied us more.
To have breakfast after church on Sunday is a minor ordeal because nothing, other than the grits casserole, can be prepared ahead of time. Normally, Louise is able to cook most of the meal before church, even doing much of it on Saturday. Now, I love having breakfast for Sunday dinner or supper anytime, but I have come to know the hassle involved, so I don’t ask for it for my birthday. Jay, though, who doesn’t mind the hassle to the chief cook, doesn’t hesitate to ask.
“Do you know how much trouble breakfast is for Sunday dinner?” I asked when Louise asked what he wanted and he replied.
He looked at me evenly. “You know you want me to ask for it so you won’t have to.”
He’s right. I can hide my own selfishness behind his.
That Sunday, after early church and Sunday school, Louise said, “You go on home and start the bacon. I need to stay for choir.”
In her kitchen — by the way, nothing is more challenging that cooking in another woman’s kitchen, where you have to hunt for everything — I put on an apron, started the bacon and then turned my attention to making sausage patties and frying them in one of Mama’s old cast iron skillets. When you’ve got 15 people to cook for, it takes at least two packages each of bacon and sausage. I had everything well under way, with pans hot, and cooked bacon and sausage draining on paper towels when Louise arrived. She opened the door from the garage and before I saw her, I heard her say, “It smells like Mama’s cooking.”
She came into the kitchen and over to the stove where I was turning sausage. She closed her eyes, inhaled deeply and smiled contently. She sighed. “Oh, it smells so good. It takes me back to goin’ into Mama’s house when she was cooking breakfast.” She paused. “You know, I never get to walk into a house and smell this because I’m the one who’s always cooking. Thank you so much.”
She went off to change from her Sunday clothes — after all, grease was popping everywhere — and I thought about what she said. She had sadly been deprived of one of the sweetest joys of all: the smells of home. It is a glorious experience to drift back to a precious time when there were no empty places around the family dinner table.
At church that night, I said, “My hair smells like bacon and sausage.”
“My house does, too.”
We both laughed, though. Nothing warms the heart more than the smells of home.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should). Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.