I was born on a tiny farm, run by my Grandmother, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. Those Mountains encircled that place like strong arms around a precious child. It gave me the feeling that only good could happen there. Only good did, I was protected, I was loved. The women that raised me up those first 5 years were strong and wise. They were gifted story tellers. They ran their own farms, made their own living, made their own decisions. In their stories and in their way of life they gave me the compass, the strength and the will power to make my own way in this world. Those stories and that life had everything to do with food. Planting it. Growing it. Picking it. Canning it. Cooking it and feeding it. It was like love in a spoon.
My Granny, Thelma Godfrey Eaker will forever be my touchstone, her kindness toward every single living thing she ever met stays with me still, 41 years after her death. She never in her life made a box cake, she churned her own butter cause it tasted better, her chicken and dumplings could make you weep. She could grow ANYTHING! Granny didn’t have a front yard she had flowers and roses. The side yard was grapes and fruit trees. She had 3 gardens for growing food, cantaloupes and watermelons down by the creek, corn in the lower garden across the creek. tomatoes this side of the creek. Beans, squash, and strawberries and asparagus and okra out back of the house. She could have fed most of that small town with what she grew.
My Great Grandmother, Ida Godfrey , everybody called her Mimi. She was a mid-wife and a mountain doctor, no degree, no letters after her name, just an extra-ordinary gift to help those who needed it. She could still pop the head off a chicken just by grabbing it up and snapping it a certain way well into her 80′s. Then she plucked it and fried it up for dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans from the garden. She was an amazing singer, perfect pitch and played the autoharp on saturday nights in Granny’s front yard when the adults would gather to tell stories and sing.
My Momma, Barbara Leigh Eaker Price White Eller. There were a few more names, few more marriages than that, but let’s just stop there. Momma liked the modern conveniences, could not make a biscuit to save her life, but was beautiful and brilliant, and loyal to me all her life, she helped me raise my precious son, when I had to work to make a living. She ALWAYS asked when I walked into her house, “Honey, you want me to fix you something to eat?” I miss her like a stab in my heart
My great Aunt Bonnie, Granny’s sister, Bonnie Godfrey Duncan. Raised 2 sons who became war heroes and a beautiful gifted daughter, pretty much by herself. Raised ducks and fed us duck eggs for breakfast along with her fritters and dark Karo syrup. She watched over me like a white-haired angel made me clothes and taught me the finer points of quilting.
Aunt Tina, Bonnie’s daughter, Tina Duncan Gilbert. Not really my Aunt, but I had to call her something. Breathtakingly beautiful. Raven hair and blue eyes. She married young and had a son. When things went bad she came on back home and went to beauty school. She spent her life making most of the women in that small town just a little bit prettier and more special in her little shop across the street. Whenever I would see her she would put ribbons in my hair and tell me I was pretty.
Aunt Louise, Granny’s sister, make soft jelly, not like Granny’s at all and little flat biscuits that were creamy inside. She taught me how to set a proper table in her elegant dining room. Her husband, Uncle Arthur was the butcher at the small grocery store beside Yelton’s Mill. I’d go to the back of the store and see him with his blood spattered apron, he’d set me up on a tall wooden stool set off to the side, so I could watch him chop steaks and roasts for the customers. He had a BIG wheel of wax covered Cheddar Cheese from Wisconsin and always cut me a wedge to eat while I watched him work. And then another wedge to take home wrapped in butcher paper.
I now live outside of Nashville, way too far away from that Blue Ridge Home, but those years were the best thing that ever happened to me. Those women and that place were the gift of my life. What they taught me about Love and Food and Kindness have filled my life with grace and hope. Their food, their ways I’d like to share a bit with you.
Now a little perspective……..
A good friend of mine, one who has helped me so much with my writing, Sue, who moved here for a while from the pacific northwest lent me her house in Nashville to have a birthday party for another good friend of mine Melinda, from right here in the south. I was going over the menu that I had planned with Sue and she gave me a puzzled look and said to me, that just seems like a lot of trouble for a birthday party, why don’t we just buy some wine and some chips, nobody’s really gonna eat anything anyway, they will just stand around and talk and drink wine. I just went right on with my friend Charlotte (my writing mentor and twin sister from another mother, who is also from the pacific northwest,but I swear that girl is a southerner) and cooked and made food as I had planned. It was a great success and mostly people stood in the kitchen, so as to be as close to the food as possible, moaning with each mouthful and asking for recipes. Even my dear friend Dr. Greg who knows better had 3 pieces of my 6 hour coconut cake. So as everyone left and we were cleaning up the dirty dishes, Sue commented on how there was no food left. I walked over to her and reached up to put my arm across her shoulder(she is tall and thin, I am not!) and said “Honey I don’t really know how y’all do it up there in Portland Oregon, but here in the South its ALL about the food!”