In which a jug of buttermilk makes me nostalgic.

So to celebrate pi day yesterday, I obviously had to make a pie. I wanted a buttermilk pie of some sort, which of course, requires buttermilk, but not nearly the whole bottle. So my good Southern brain naturally went straight to biscuits. Then it went straight to wishing I knew how to make Granny’s biscuits, which will never be recreated upon this earth, sadly. Granny was my maternal great-grandmother, but she died when I was twelve, so I have quite a few memories of her. She made the best biscuits ever, and also the best tea ever. It, too, will never quite be recreated properly, though lord knows I’ve tried. It was so sweet and so lemony.

She was quite a woman, even in my fuzzy kid memories. She always always had an apron on over her dress, the kind that tied around the waist and sometimes had pockets. She had no filter and gave zero fucks about what anyone thought of her, save perhaps Pa, her husband, the preacher. You’ve never heard a preacher’s wife cuss quite so eloquently. She had a bunch of bizarre sayings, as older Southern folk are wont to, but my favorite will forever be “hotter than a fresh-fucked fox in a forest fire.” The alliteration! The many many layers of things happening in that phrase. It’s delightful. Her hillybilly accent made it extra lovely, I think.

It’s weird how quickly holding a jug of buttermilk took me back to their tiny, dark trailer, where she’d sit me at the table and give me a buttered biscuit and some molasses or jam and a glass of sugary, lemony tea that probably steeped in the sun. Pa was quiet and never really knew what to do with me, other than hand me a book or a toy he made in his woodshop, which were two of the greatest things he could’ve given me, really.

Granny (note the apron), Pa, & teeny tiny me. Click to embiggen.

I know my mom spent a lot of time with them growing up and that Granny taught her a lot, too. She loved and respected her, but I think was also sometimes a bit embarrassed by her brashness, her loudness, that one time when my mom was a kid walking with her and her underwear dropped themselves down to the sidewalk and she simply stepped out of them and kept walking. Legend has it that was the last day she wore underwear. To me, this is one of the greatest stories about Granny, partly because it encapsulates my memories of her so well. It’s hilarious, shit happened and she handled it unperturbed. She had a household to take care of, four kids and Pa to feed and she simply did it, but she saw no reason not to say what she thought. She was also stubborn as hell. My mother frequently accused me of being like her and I always said thank you.

My mom tried in vain for many years to learn to make Granny biscuits, as we called them. The only way to learn was to watch her, because there was no recipe and she didn’t measure anything. The biscuits were in her, somehow, and that’s where they’ve stayed. It makes me sad to think about how many recipes, skills, and family secrets and who knows what else get lost that way, have already been lost. But in another way, it’s fitting that these things so closely tied with a person, a place, a moment in time stay there, in memory. And honestly, if we did happen to perfectly recreate them, they still wouldn’t taste the same. They would not be Proust’s madeleine, because so much of what made those biscuits and that tea so delicious was the love she put in, the work of her hands, and the joy she took in feeding them to us. It’s a whole big moment, a whole feeling that we can remember and walk in, but we can’t get back to because that’s how linear time works. There’s something beautiful and human in that, too.

 

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