Bring Me a Cup

““Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”  Marcel Proust, 1871 – 1922

On the Web and in social media, you can’t throw a tomato in any direction without hitting a food writer. There are gazillions. A zillion more of us are wannabes. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to be a good food writer. What does a great food writer have that makes me want to live the culinary good life? I once thought it was about the food. Now, I know better. It’s about relationships.


                      Grandmother Mahoney WordPress_0018



“Bring me a cup of water.”

It was both a request and a command. At 11, I understood that “please” was not a  part of my grandmother’s vocabulary. But I did not need a “please.” I adored her.

I studied her steady movements in the kitchen. She moved with intention. Every muscle and tendon had a purpose; there was no wasted energy.  She’d place a hook into the rim of the metal plate on the stove, lift the plate, shove a log in, start the fire, and replace the plate. When the fire was at its peak, she’d place a coffee pot on the stove. The heat from the fire was fierce, and the small kitchen became too hot in too short of a time. It was summer. Rivulets of perspiration bathed Grandmother’s ebony face. A cool drink of water was the remedy.

“Bring me a cup of water.” That’s all she needed to say as she wiped the sweat away with the tip of her apron. Outside, the sounds of squealing pigs, mooing cows, clucking chickens, and crowing roosters blended with the sound of crackling firewood. One of those animals could be on the table by dinnertime if Granddaddy had his way. A rank scent of manure and dew-soaked fields made my heart beat fast. And there was a slab of bacon on the table, testimony to the alchemy about to take place.

Dipping the long-handled aluminum cup into a bucket of well water–I’d proudly pumped that water myself–I asked a question.

“Can I have a glass of water, Grandmother?”

She nodded and I grabbed one of the jelly glasses we often used for drinking. I still remember the taste of that water. I watched her in silence, sipping my water as she sipped hers. I wondered what she was thinking as she prepared to make breakfast. Standing away from the stove and staring at the kitchen table, she may have been creating the breakfast menu and counting the slices of bacon she would need for the 11 mouths that would soon be around the table.

Breakfast would be simple: homemade biscuits slathered with butter and homemade jam, eggs we had gathered together, creamy grits, and, of course, bacon.

As people began to move around, chamber pots were taken out and emptied, faces and hands washed in basins, and teeth brushed outside. Around the table, we were a Rockwell painting in black: Grandmother, Granddaddy, my parents, my brothers and sister, cousins, aunt and uncle. As we basked in the warmth and fragrance of the meal, Granddaddy offered a prayer of thanks to the God that kept us together.

Over the years, as I traveled around the country trying to “find myself,” I missed my grandmother’s funeral. Decades later, I’ve found that elusive “self.” But it’s  not as I imagined. It’s in memory and lessons learned from being around a wood-burning stove and a woman with pure intention.

I’m back to the beginning. It’s not about the food itself. It’s about relationships.



11 responses to “Bring Me a Cup

  1. Loved reading this. Made me think of my grandfather’s cooking, and inspired me to do a post on that. I also liked that last part about finding yourself. So true.

  2. Pingback: Pancakes – Essays From a Foggy Mind

  3. Love the picture you’ve painted here. And I wholeheartedly agree–it’s all about relationships.

  4. Teary-eyed here! What a beautiful scene, a strong and beautiful woman, and the way you wrap up what you’ve learned at the end! Sharing on my FB page.

  5. I loved this, Sala! And I’d like to see that Norman Rockwell.

    • Hi Ann,
      It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for reading. Nope. No painting forthcoming, but by and by other characters may make an appearance. Especially in food stories…hey! do I have your photo?

  6. Suzanne Fluhr

    Beautiful essay, Sala. Do you have the time to write a family memoir? Just this snippet whets my appetite (oh dear, an unintended pun) to read more about a different time and place that I was alive for, but knew virtually nothing about. My only glimpse was on a family road trip through the deep South where even my 9 year old eyes realized I was in a very different place.

    • Hello Suzanne,

      Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I am working on being disciplined enough (and PATIENT enough) to write and complete a memoir. Raised in the city with summer visits to the south, I believe that my experiences are part of a whole generation of African American boomers. I am excited about doing more. Thank you.


  7. Dear Sala — This one brought tears. Thank you. With love, Diane

    • Oh Dear Diane,

      Thank you for your friendship. Perhaps you will be reflected in my Proustian type memories? You’ve fixed some dynamite meals!!!


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