Tuesday, August 18, 2009

burnt toast and cow butter

This morning I made some toast to serve as a vehicle for a slather of thick Greek yogurt and peach preserves. Naturally, I burned the toast. I took it from the toaster and carried it over to the sink to scrape, scrape, scrape the burned edges off and redeem the otherwise perfectly good slab of Macrina goodness from the countertop compost bucket AKA fruit fly hotspot.

I've burned lots of toast in my lifetime, and every.single.time.I.do, I think of my maternal grandmother, Mommo. When I was a kid, I spent lots of time at her house on E. 17th St. in Little Rock, where she lived with my grandfather and both her parents. I adored the rest of them, but had a somewhat conflicted relationship with her.

Here's an example of why: once I returned from a year abroad in Germany, and when I emerged from the jetway at the airport to see all the waiting throng (pre-TSA) after 12 months away, and sporting a super fab and hip German haircut, Mommo frowned, put her hands on her hips, and screamed: "Jenifer, why do you deliberately sabotage your appearance??? I HATE that haircut!!!" But that's a different story...

Mommo also had a tendency to burn toast, and in my stubborn child way, I refused to eat it. It was SULLIED! It was not PERFECT!!! Never mind that the toast had been scraped, that there were no more burned edges--there were no EDGES!!! At all!!! It was aesthetically compromised, and I demanded a do-over.

Now I understand why she was so frustrated with me. It's not even that she had been raised during the Great Depression and to throw away salvageable toast was unthinkable, it's just that I've learned in the meantime that the good bits of Macrina toast trump the uneven edge.

Even more puzzling was my childhood aversion to "cow butter." My paternal grandparents lived on a farm and my grandmother churned her own butter. It was ever present on the table and accompanied the homemade biscuits or cornbread that she made for crowds of Cecil B. DeMille proportions at every single meal. Oh, how everyone fawned over that butter. Problem was, I had seen the cow get milked--an unsavory process, to my teensy child eyes--had seen the churning process, had seen Mamaw's batwing arm undulate and flap as she churned, had seen the clots separate from the buttermilk, had seen the paddling to get the water out...and none of that added up in an appetizing way to "butter" for me.

So while everyone else clawed and scratched to get a bit of that creamy goodness on their bread or their cob of corn or their grits, I demanded Sherwin-Williams colored Mazola. Oleo! I wanted a stick of oleo on the table!

I think now of all the butter I missed. Of all the sweat and love and, yes, duty and fatigue, that Mamaw put into it. Of the biscuits she made every night and put in the icebox to haul out in the morning to come to temperature while she milked the cows or fed the chickens, of the aunts and uncles and cousins and the splendid table and the cedar chest I sat on, and the singing and laughter, and the red, red dirt of the road in front of the house, and the cow that produced that butter, and the ridiculous stick of waxy, y-e-l-l-o-w Mazola.

I want a do-over.

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