Faraway, never-met friends are coming to visit in the Spring---surprise and lagniappe and an extra helping of Life Unexpected. I’m looking forward to the meeting and the talk-times and the teatimes in the arbor, whether communing over the dainty intimacy of a fresh-brewed pot and china cups, or laughing over tall glasses of lemony Southern sweet tea, slooshed over ice. I anticipate this visit just as I’ve always calendared and marked weddings and months-away births and trips to wonderful places.
They’re bringing THEM to me, the new two, their selves and their other-state raisings and thoughts and voices I’ve read and never heard with my ears. I’ve marked it; their itinerary is on my fridge door, like theirs of the magnetic mosaic of life-on-display which I’ve seen in pictures of their own kitchen. They could be my children, come home in a flurry of hugs and hellos and welcoming grins, and I hope they’ll settle in as into a familiar old chair.
I look around my Winter-neglected house and think, "How will this look to THEM?"---taking tally of changes and cleanings and excuses for little call-the-carpenter repairs I've been wanting to do for ages. The I-WANNAs outnumber the actual doings of the things; the carpenter will be here in ten days, the longed-for painting of the big hutch will wait for open windows, and it's too soon to dust. (Oh, my---that didn't come out right).
Chris and I have talked of where-to-take-them and what-should-we-see and will-there-be-enough-time-for-that, marking off the clock of the days with possibles and maybes. We’ve chosen a favorite restaurant for Saturday night, and then a stroll around the beautiful night-whiteness of the Circle, with its million-watt glow of tiny bulbs scattered like sprinkles on a cone, its fairyland trees twinkling, its white-leathered carriages with their patient steeds sporting jaunty bouquets. We’ll walk the enormous steps up to The Fountain which surrounds the graceful spire set like a birthday candle in the frosting likenesses of huge sculptured soldiers-from-All-The-Wars, with Victory's torch the blaze on top.
It’s a quiet place, somehow, in the rush of the water and the breeze of the night, with the cool of the droplets and the blue depths; you lean and look, musing on the times and circumstances depicted on the ever-frozen faces and haunted eyes. And it’s beautiful, a fiercely-challenging beauty of strength and courage and determination for the true and the right. The sound of the water and the night-breeze and the depictions of such brave dignity make being there much like the hush and comfort of church.
And for another evening, I’ve chosen a home-comfort kind of place, a local landmark we've never visited, which specializes in family dining and the kind of Sunday Chicken Dinners that everyone either remembers or wishes they did. It’s a pretty place, a set-the-bowls-on-the-table-like-at-Mammaw’s kind of place, and all the reviews on the website are glowing and fulsome in their praise. “The best fried chicken I’ve ever had,” gives way to “The BEST Fried Chicken in the WORLD.”
And perhaps, to their taste and experience, it is. And we reserve our judgment til the tasting, we of the lifetimes of well-seasoned black skillets tended by deft, talented hands. We’re experts in the field, whether we’ve ever been aproned up for the shaken paper bags, the sizzling skillets, the huntin' camp pots on tripods over a just-cut wood fire, the Church Suppers whose bounty and excellence of fare were occasioned by the home-pride of a hundred Good Church Ladies seeking not to be outdone.
They set down their BEST, every time---kept to a single-minded standard of excellence judged by each other and their own stern principles---and few restaurants can claim that. And we know Grandmas and Mammaws whose experience in that one cultural item would equal degrees and awards and testimonials were it in a field of work accredited by other than glowing compliments and an enviable reputation.
Good Church Ladies ARE AS VAIN AS ANYBODY WHEN IT COMES TO COOKING---A COOK’S REPUTATION IS ALL. The Pillsbury Bake-Off pulls forth no such efforts from kitchens as the collective strivings of a community of good cooks on Church Supper night.
They get into those kitchens and whip up Aunt Hattie’s Potato Surprise or Death by Kool-Whip desserts or Bean Bundles tied with pimiento strips, and dedicate the same time to the prettifying as to their own careful grooming and Standing Appointment coifs.
As a longtime student (PhD in Church Suppers, WMU meetings, Garden Club receptions, et al.) of the Southern covered-dish social phenomenon, I know the kitchen-proud heart of every woman who sets down her best effort, in her best, prettiest dish, and then looks up to see that new hussy bearing in a tray of hummingbird tongues garnished with Carmen Miranda's best hat.
I seem to have come full circle, so to speak, from elegant carriage rides to home-cookin’---but then I always do.