I had a wonderful grandmother. I called her Mamaw. I had two grandmothers growing up, but I was much closer to Mamaw than the other one, just by the nature of Mamaw being my Mom’s mom. It’s like that, you know.
She was the very best cook I ever saw, and to this day, that record stands. She could make the best french fries, hotcakes (pancakes), and fried chicken you could ever have. She was a wonderful person, and she had so many stories to tell.
About 10 years ago, my ex-mother-in-law and I (at the time she wasn’t yet an ex) were looking through some antiques that she wanted to get rid of. There were glasses, plates, cups, small pieces of furniture, and many decoration-type items, and a cutting board. Shaped and painted to look like a warm, loving cook, it instantly reminded me of my Mamaw. I could never use it as a cutting board, but I certainly wanted to have it for my kitchen.
The face, with a happy smile, the apron, and the full figure all reminded me of Mamaw. She was happiest in the kitchen, I think, because she loved to cook, or at least that’s the way I remember it. She was a former private school cafeteria cook, so she was used to making huge batches of dough, pudding, chicken, and other great foods. Unlike most of today’s public school, and maybe even private school, cafeterias, the one at which she worked had great food. I never ate there, but I can guarantee you that if she had anything to do with it, it was superb.
Her french fries were hand-cut, and they were fried in a black skillet in hot oil. No, not the healthiest thing in the universe, but oh they made the soul cry out for joy! Her hotcakes were an absolute heavenly experience, made from scratch, with a little butter and the only syrup I liked until I was grown, they melted in your mouth when you ate them and made your tummy sing.
Having grown up in the Great Depression, she saved everything, bought in bulk and froze bread, always bought Neopolitan ice cream so that everyone would have their favorite flavor, and she was still able to buy large rolls of plastic wrap from the cafeteria, long after she retired. I think my Mom still has one of those large rolls to this day, more than thirteen years since Mamaw has been gone.
In January 1998 when she passed away, I was heartbroken. I cried until I thought no more tears would come out. I lost my very best advocate, and the person who I knew always loved me, no matter what. While everyone else was clamoring over the other things from her house, I asked for two simple items. One was a blue plastic glass that I had always drank out of when I was at her house. The other were the Japanese silk flags that my grandfather had recovered from a dead Japanese soldier during the war. I had my memories, and that was enough for me.
Eventually, years later, I ended up with her kitchen table and chairs, by default. My siblings and cousins are all a lot younger than I am, and they weren’t married and didn’t have their own places yet. My Mom and Dad and my Mom’s siblings all had their own dining sets already. I did too, but my was my Mom’s old set, and it was not a family heirloom like the one I was about to receive. The table is a really cool table, as it opens up in the center by an ancient mechanism, revealing the two halves of the base. It has two leaves, as there were always big crowds at Mamaw’s dining table for family gatherings. We ate at that table, we played cards and dominoes, we talked about things, and we just lived. I have moved several times over the years, taking the table and chairs with me every time. I now live in a very nice house, in a nice neighborhood. She would be so very proud to see her table is what my family eats at every night. She would get a kick out of the fact that I tell my own kids to stop “keppeling” to keep the legs of the chairs from breaking, just like she did me so long ago.
I did get the cutting board. It sits on the back of my stove, away from the heat. It looks so very much like Mamaw. Every time I cook, she’s there with me. It’s comforting to know that I was so loved by her. It’s a joy that she gave me so many happy memories. There is a restaurant in town that makes french fries a lot like hers. Even when I’m on a diet, I still get their fries when I go there. It’s a comfort food, and it brings back memories of a black skillet and a good cook that I was lucky enough to call Mamaw.
Josephine Elizabeth Kresse Jackson 1915 – 1998, forever in my heart.