My momma has this story that has literally been stuck in my craw for years. She had turned forty, was sitting at her desk at work (counseling psychology) and underwent an epiphany: if I am going to do anything in this world, I better get started. My life is half over. Now, I take after my momma in that we both have pretty real heart ailments–and both lived like we didn’t–so, here at 46, I’m fairly sure that well over half of my life has already passed on by. Facing job insecurity, economic failure and with one child left to raise, it’s been a mule push to write this blog and the book that I’m hoping will save my proverbial and literal ass. I mean, how can I stomp these words into cyberspace while worrying about the house payment? How can I sit, all comfy in my rocker, typing out chapter after chapter of Boondock Witch whilst my health insurance slips away?
Or, maybe more importantly, how can I not?
It occurred to me today, as Julie and Julia played in the background and I typed furious notes on Modernism and today’s Jay Gatsby (still a teacher at heart) that Julia Child was 49 years old upon co-publishing her first book. Paula Dean was 51 the day she shot her first show on Food Network. My dad was 53 the day his beautiful face hit the grass.
How can I not? I’m running out of sand writing this sentence and I have no idea if my family and I will starve or not next year. And yet, I write and write and write. Every other avenue has been closed against my feet and all that is left are these words like so many minuscule chicken bones in a pot. I’m hoping for Stone Soup.
And so I ask myself: what is it that makes my work different? Important? Worthy at all? My market is so sharp and particular: witches? cooking? Nothing much new about that, and most of us are poor as hell and couldn’t afford a book on the subject–not when we have the internet at our fingertips. What do I think I’m doing? I’ve always been late to the party. College wasn’t a factor until thirty, for chrissake, and here I am again at forty-six. Pounding words. Walking on water. Trying to silence the disgruntled rumble of negativity and disillusionment and BE an author.
I have no idea what I’m doing.
I could just take down this damn blog, scratch the book, click delete on the whole idealistic mess and go back to work at night cleaning motel rooms. Paula Deen owned her home, Julia had the support of a fairly wealthy husband, and I’m out here banging these keys without a savings account. Why? The sky is falling and I’m sitting at a computer. Like an asshat.
And I’ve never even told you why I turned to a magical relationship with food. What kind of idiot forgets that?
Let’s say this is my last blog, just so I can bear to tell you one last story. Deal?
Food heals us in the South. When I was sick as a child, my grandma would spin flour in the air and knock the bejesus out of ‘ary bacterial booger in my frame. My momma would make this homemade barbecue sauce, laced with bay leaf and vinegar and dried mustard, to bubble around pork chops and lift my broken ten-year-old soul after a rough day at school. My babies grew up eating comfort food: poppy-seed chicken and cream over noodles, Irish stew over smashed taters, chili with black beans, corn and tomatoes . . . and that was fine. And that was good. And that was safe.
Then, one day, I met the man I really wanted to marry. He was fifteen years my junior (I know, I know, cougar), I was 42 and the next thing I knew: I wanted another baby. Just once, I wanted to know the feeling of a man’s hand on my belly and count on that same hand rocking a cradle. She would have freckles, be very fairy-like and petite (we are both tiny people) and play with fireflies in bare feet. I would know better than I did in the 80s, let her dye her hair pink and blue, homeschool her, raise her as a dirt Pagan and teach her to love her funny toes. We were going to be shameless in our rearing of her: daddy had visions of shoulder rides and chocolate cake for breakfast and fingerpaint while mommy was going to write (from scratch) fairytales that ended fair and let her wear her wings in public, grow strawberries under her toes and nurture any and all moments in which she proclaimed you know what?! We fought for over a year in doctor’s offices. I became a pin cushion of bruises, chock full of hormones and vitamins, wiping out every dollar store in huge runs for preggers tests and tissues and then one day . . . one beautiful day . . .
It turned pink. It fucking turned pink. And the next four months were nothing but nausea and ultrasounds, dancing tiny toes and ‘what ifs.’ My body didn’t bear up well, at forty-three: it bent and turned green with sickness. I couldn’t eat a bite . . . so I cooked. And I cooked. And I cooked and I cooked. My son, then only twelve, announced one day (brandied gravy dripping from his chin) I LOVE THIS PREGNANCY! I turned to cookbooks and the Foodnetwork Channel, Ina Garten and Julia Child, pushing my limits and finally, truly, learning the burn rate of butter. Herbs grew along my porch to morph into pestos, teas, sachets for stews and crumbles for dry rubs. My best friend knighted me with a microplane, we splurged on a hand-held blender in blazon red and the first of many dutch ovens graced my countertop. The entire four months was a blur of infused oils, trussed chickens and smashed garlic cloves–and the magic that remains there in 2009 in a purple and blue country kitchen is nothing if not a living, beating reminder of the tiny heart in my womb.
And then . . . we lost her. I can never speak of that day, can never share the horror or the grief if I intend to keep walking and talking and breathing. Let’s just say: we lost her. And I lost my mind.
Her name was Riley. She liked the sound of Jackson Brown and the hum of a blender and danced a jig across an ultra sound screen for the last time in July, 2009. And I lost my mind.
It took several months to face the kitchen. I remember walking in, picking up a wooden spoon to stir tomato soup from a can and beating the walls and the floors with it until it splintered into the flesh of my hand. I can still see the soup, blood red, dripping from the ceiling, breaking my heart, ruining the paint. And so: I got another spoon. And stood there, salt water dripping into the bastard the whole way, and stirred another damn can of soup. Every day, another can of soup. I opened them until I could bear the weight of the iron skillet against my soul, then the smell of lemons peeled very thin, then smoked paprika against pork loin and then . . . one day . . . it wasn’t such a battle not to fall upon my carving knife. Moment. By. Moment. I communed with my Riley, rocked her in my heart as I had my body over simmering pots and the bright aroma of thyme, rosemary and anguish. We rocked together. And mommy was saved. Daddy never did come back right–but we’re still holding out hope.
Because: it’s magic, hope, isn’t it? That bright, opaque bead we wear around our necks? I wanted to write about magic, and cooking, and Southern witchery because I still held out hope for something fine and real in this brass world. I wanted to share my stories. What an idealistic, naive impulse in the face of economic tragedy.
I haven’t made my mind up yet. Mayhap, I’ll just go bust up a wooden spoon.