Growin' Up Southern

rg_dudleyThere are many days, while I’m prepping at the cutting board, preheating our oven or rattling them pots and pans around the stovetop, I stop and think about Mama’s cooking.

How I love the thousands of dinners, breakfasts, sack lunches, snacks and treats she tirelessly assembled, not only for me, but for our whole family. The sheer volume of food she prepared, the ingenious use of the ingredients available to her, leaves me awestruck. Putting it mildly, the butchers, green grocers and shelf merchants were good, but limited, so mom had to improvise like a jazz soloist. Dad worked hard to provide, and mom’s economy did him justice. Not a scrap was wasted. She shopped the sales, gathered and stored from the kitchen garden, used the fish and game we found the mountains and fields..

I recall, for you, the momentous purchase of our first deep freezer. We were living next to some Cajuns out on a rural route in Westlake, Louisiana. It was 1957. Inspired by these neighbors, daddy started raising chickens. Dudley was a little baby, but you and I just loved having those yard birds out back. When the fowls’ days were coming to an end, mama would have to rent locker space for their storage. One day, daddy packed us down to the Western Auto Store and bought her a brand new Wizard Deep Freeze — man oh man, welcome to the modern world. I can’t count how many times we moved that appliance – back to Houston, out west to New Mexico – before it retired itself back down on the bayous in Slidell. Like everything else, mama made the most from that purchase.

I remember Mama’s fried chicken, meatloaf, venison breakfast steaks, green chili stew, her mustard greens, mashed potatoes, black eyed peas, string beans, apple pies, chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, Rice Crispy Treats, those endless menus in her various kitchens. And how about her camp cooking? She fried fresh caught trout over a wood smoke campfire to die for – the best I’ve ever tasted!

There are so many days – every time I put on a pot of coffee or scramble an egg – I am transported back through time to that most special, intimate place: Our mother’s kitchen, where she shone like the sun while we revolved around her.

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Illustration by the author, Roger Gregory.
Roger Gregory

Roger Gregory

Roger was born and raised on the Gulf Coast and came to Atlanta in the '70s to pursue a career in music. He's recorded several albums and is the founding owner of Blind Willies on North Highland Avenue, where he plays bass for the Shadows.