by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Day after summer day, hours upon hours, her body doubled over, almost upside down, with thick gloves, digging through weeds to pull up yellow squash, or heads of lettuce and cabbage, or cucumbers and tomatoes…
Particularly amused, she’d hold one of the large ones up in the air, flashing it at us as if she’d proudly caught a rotund fish, and shout with glee, ‘Would ya LOOK at this thing?!’
From our swing-set seats or upon briefly halting our mad dashes through the water sprinkler, or our wrestling match with the dog, we’d give it a once over. A quick glance at that bumpy, odd-shaped giant, yellow catch-of-the-day. And roll our eyes in mutual amazement.
With her large-rimmed straw hat, she protected that fair, freckled, beautiful Southern-belle face from the bold sun beating down at her. I was always quietly amused at how she’d brazenly wear those strapless halter tops and short shorts, bearing all kinds of skin, sweating bullets through her pores— completely immersed in the greenery and rainbow of vegetables she tended patiently and cheerfully.
Ever so often, snatching up a hoe, she’d thrust it into the ground, as if spearing a swimming crab, let out an unexpected loud yelp, then flip her arms forcefully, to toss the remains of a garter snake against the fence.
How I used to moan and groan when she’d order me out there with her to pull weeds or pluck green beans, dishing out grief like a true adolescent whenever I had to sit out in that heat with her and my Aunt Nonnie, to pull strings off those green things. One by one, throwing them in a silent pile inside my grandmother’s big, antique porcelain bowl. Those moments were like sitting on time, as if nothing else in the world would happen next. As if all there was to do was sit in the heat plucking out strings, building my mountain of fresh, snapped pieces in that old bowl.
After all my fussing, there’s still nothing that compares to the aroma and those scrumptious feasts she’d lay out before us, day after day, night after night, with the colors of her garden always arranged as beautifully on our table as any painter’s glorious canvas scene.
Never will forget the warmth of her kitchen, the artistry of her table, set by me with careful instructions from her, my director at the helm. Every meal a special occasion of a mother’s love, each plate carefully decorated with her flair; Vegetables draped elegantly over those flowery designs on the edges of our china. Main course meats and pork sliced ever so symmetrically, dotted with sauces or gravies for just a splash of color or a special, flavorful sensation.
Even now, in my own inferior kitchen rumblings, those delectable moments in my memories of my mother pull me through, guide my tastebuds, hold me up, as I put together my own dinners. I sit, in silence, chewing my food while far away in time and thought, re-living my mother’s way of filling her children with love and nourishment.
I am grateful, and oh so satisfied, to have experienced my mother’s wonderful, Southern hospitality.