I really hope God still lets us get hungry Up There, not starving, but that good kind of hungry, like when I was a kid, working or playing, just burning calories like a tornado in blue jeans, and you can smell cooking in the air, and it’ll be ready in 15 minutes, and no, you can’t have a snack because it will ruin your appetite.
For a kid who once lived on Vienna Sausage, butter-on-bread, and Cheerios, I’ve had some good meals. I’m no gourmand or anything, but I have tasted a steak grilled out in the piney woods of Texas that made all the restaurant steaks I’ve ever eaten bow before it. I’ve had a soup so good that instead of ordering an entree I just ordered a second round of soup. The best gumbo I ever tasted was in Florida, I kid you not. I’ve had a seven dollar hamburger that tasted like a 100 dollar hamburger. I’ve eaten fancy foods that I couldn’t pronounce that were so good I can’t forget them.
You know where I’m going, so let’s get it said, the first meal I want in heaven is rice ‘n gravy.
Let me go further: I’m not talking Uncle Ben’s and some shake-it-out packet of mystery powder; I’m not talking my Mom’s rice ‘n gravy; nor my Aunt’s; and I’m sure not talking about the rice ‘n gravy the lunchroom ladies whipped up at school (sorry to bring that up, really am).
I want my grandmother’s rice ‘n gravy.
Is there some organized reunion in heaven? Are they there waiting for you — your parents, grandparents, siblings, friends — like in heaven’s arrival terminal? If so, when I reach down to hug my grandmother and she pecks me on the cheek, it’d be just-ate-up-with-eternal-perfection if she whispered to me, “I knew you were coming; let me fix you a plate.”
My grandmother bought sugar and flour and salt, but she didn’t buy rice. It’s homegrown rice, like in that-field-across-from-her-house homegrown. Rice grown in our dirt, irrigated with our water from way down under our dirt, pumped up thick and clean and cold and coming out of that big pipe as shiny as an engagement ring. Seed planted with our tractors, our drills, levees walked by our feet and maintained with our shovels.
She kept her rice in a big sealed lard can. She’d pop the lid and scoop out her measure and put it into her rice pot. Then she’d run an inch of tap water over the pot and swish the water around to clean it. She’d jiggle the pot to expose any black rice grains and she’d pluck them out. Then she’d tilt the pot over and use one palm to keep the grains in and let the white water fall into the sink.
She’d add more water by some unknown formula, never measured.
The pinch followed. Salt, some mysterious quantity caught between thumb and forefinger and another swishing circle to get the salt acquainted with the rice.
Her rice was never hard, never gummy, my (and I want to yell it like a kid, “MY”) grandmother’s rice was always fluffy, loose perfection.
She had a particular spoon that was the “gravy spoon‚” a big Army surplus spoon with a long handle and a big mouth. She would dip this in the meat gravy, a little of the fat grease, but not too much, and set it upon the rice mound on your plate and let it press down, to make a little crater indention, like you’d do on mashed potatoes, and then she would lean the spoon to the left a little bit and then to the right a little bit.
This meat gravy, most of the time is coming from our homegrown cows, cows that ate our grass, our hay, maybe got a little treat of Purina Horse ‘n Mule from time to time.
This is the thing about all our blessings; that we never knew they are rare, until they’re gone, even to us. My grandmother cooked at least one meal a day 355 out of 365 days for every year of her marriage‚ and at every meal, there was rice ‘n gravy. My grandmother lived just-down-the-road-from-us and I ate countless meals at my spot with my back to the refrigerator.
And then I grew up, and went away, and found that other people from other cultures don’t eat rice like we Cajuns do. I remember a girlfriend from my 20s, she wanted to audition her cooking skills to me, so I asked her to make some rice ‘n gravy.
Not like my grandmothers, I said, when asked how I liked it.
That was a long evening.
If you can’t get things just right in heaven, then where can you?
If only just once, let me be little again, and let my grandparents be big and in their prime like when I was six. Let them put me on the red kitchen stool at the corner of the table, right between them, and after my grandmother has fixed everybody’s plate and she’s seated, I’d like to hear that short “O God” prayer from my grandfather, and then after I take that first bite of rice ‘n gravy, please fill out what’s missing, let me know just how good I had it, so that I can properly say Thank You for the gift of my childhood.
This “first” edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories in Lagniappe is brought to you by Eighty-one, where Louisiana creativity dwells.
To those who’ve followed Lagniappe through the years‚ my mother loved the old Joe Fenton columns from decades ago, right here on the inside back cover. Nobody would be more thrilled that I’ve stepped into those shoes than her‚ and so I hope the Lord allows the gone-on-er’s to stay up with current events down here.
Email Pierre at email@example.com or call him at 478-8115.