Southern comfort

July 13, 2010

No photo tonight because I was NOT waiting, once I fixed that plate of corn, fried okra, sliced tomatos and purple hulled peas. I was doing nothing but eating.

If there’s a more Southern dinner than that in the middle of July, I don’t know what it is. Well, I guess I could’ve had cornbread. I did have baked chicken (thought it was pork chops when I laid it out to thaw, discovered after defrosting that it wasn’t, and improvised), but who cares? It was good enough I expect I’ll have a replay for lunch tomorrow.

Seemed particularly fitting to cook that tonight. First, all the veggies were in my fridge (except the tomatos, which are on my counter). Second, I was thinking as I cooked, and ate, how much my friend Donna, whose funeral I attended yesterday, would’ve loved that meal.

Donna was my oldest friend. Not oldest chronologically, but oldest in that she was there the day Mama and Daddy brought me home from the hospital. She and her parents lived in the second house from us (her grandparents lived in between us), and they ran the little country grocery next to their house.

Donna was not quite 7 when I was born. She thought Mama and Daddy had brought her a big baby doll, that moved, for her to play with. The first two years of my life I spent riding around on Donna’s hip, or being pulled by her in my Radio Flyer wagon. Later, I was the pest who annoyed her when boys would come to visit. And then she got married, and moved into the house that had been her grandparents’ house, next door to us. And then she had Cara, when I was a freshman in high school, and for the first four years of Cara’s life, I spent at least four afternoons a week with her, my practice child.

And I went away to college, and got married, and divorced, and married again, and had a child, and Donna had another child, but her first baby was killed in an auto accident. And I had another child, and named her Cara. (That would be Child B, if you’re keeping up.) And years went on and we’d go for months and not see each other or talk, and then we would, and it would be like we’d been best friends forever, because, well, we had.

Donna had Stage 4 bone cancer for 12 years. She confounded the doctors; one told her, “I don’t understand it. You ought to be either dead or well. Nobody has Stage 4 for this long.” She lost her hair more times than we could count. The chemo weakened her bones to the point they’d break almost spontaneously. The steroids for her back pain made her retain fluid and she puffed up like the Goodyear blimp.

And she laughed her way through the whole thing. Traveled, until it got to be too difficult to fly, but kept up the every-other-week-or-so three-hour trip to Tunica to the casinos. A year or so ago, she went with Child C and me to Virginia. I quit wearing makeup after the first day, because I laughed so hard I’d cry on a frequent basis, and the makeup was just a waste of time.

Hard to be sad when you lose someone like that. She’d told me once, “I’m not a bit scared of dying. I’m just scared of what’s between now and then.” But three weeks before she died, she’d been in Tunica, winning copious amounts of money on the slots. (She won money like no one I’ve ever seen on the slots; she was the luckiest woman who ever pulled a slot handle. Except, of course, for the fact she had Stage 4 cancer.)

And the woman could cook. Old-fashioned, country, Southern cooking, the way both of us learned from our mamas, who learned from their mamas. Butterbeans and cornbread and peach cobblers and country sausage and biscuits and red-eye gravy, and on and on and on. And anything on a grill. We sat down one night and ate sliced tomatos and fried okra until we both thought we would die, and just couldn’t stop.

Tough to lose good friends, but the good memories are priceless. You and y’mama ‘n ’em enjoy your good friends while you have them, and make memories every chance you get.


One Response to “Southern comfort”

  1. littleclove Says:

    What a beautiful post. She was fortunate to have a friend like you. Thanks for the reminder to make some good memories…


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