The COVID-19 pandemic, with its emphasis on “ shut downs,” working at home and long distance learning, has created a renewed interest in gardening, baking, and reading. I have embraced each with a passion. My neighbors have complained that they have gained unwanted pounds from my banana muffins and pound cake! I have introduced my daughter to my Book Club where we meet through Zoom, and I have learned how to cut roses as well as crepe myrtles, how to best weed broadleaf menaces, and how and when to plant pansies after taking wilting impatiens from the two-tiered water fountain we have turned into a flower bed. I have driven around our neighborhoods in our golf cart enjoying the improved landscaping and waving to folks working with their rakes or brooms tidying yards and porches.
Our daughter Kimberly came home last week to help finish the new stair railings our neighbor Chris Shriner built last August. He spent days in sweltering heat providing a very necessary safety net for Bill and I, and for other elderly visitors to our home. The weather was much more pleasant as Kim brushed the last of the paint onto the seasoned rails. Do drive by and see if you believe these are add-ons and not original to the 20 plus-year-old house. Beautiful job, you guys!
Kim brought with her two jars of Bill’s mom‘s recipe for Tomato Relish. Miss Ivery Horton was recognized by many as New Albany, Mississippi’s finest cook. Kim has just recently treated her dad to meals featuring recipes from his mom. Kim made (from scratch) a gorgeous Carrot cake for his birthday, mouth-watering chicken and dumplings for Sunday dinner, and Miss Ivery’s famous Parker House rolls on two occasions! That recipe is a real trial. You’ve gotta wait for dough to rise, then “punch it down” and wait again; use just the right amount of every ingredient and just the right amount of pressure on the dough. Maybe just the right amount of Love is also needed for these impressive rolls that drip with real butter.
Bill’s mom Ivery was for years the chef at the First Baptist Church in New Albany, Mississippi. Mid-week the line for Wednesday Night Supper was out the door and down the sidewalk. Ivery made the tenderest, juiciest roast beef, the most delicious hams and roasted chicken. Even Ivery’s meatloaf was a success. But nothing compared to the celebrity status of her Rolls! There’s no telling how many souls were saved with one or two …or three of Ivery’s soft, buttery rolls! I think the Methodists from across the street were often spotted in that line.
How important is food to your family? How many dinners begin or end with discussions of whose sauce or gravy recipe was used? Or end with funny incidents which occurred around the communal table. How many arguments involved who got the Wish Bone or who got to pull it along with the lucky diner for a chance at a wish come true? Do your family birthdays feature the honoree’s favorite meal and a special cake made from scratch by some gifted relative?
Ivery was a gifted baker and was coaxed to sell her famous coconut five layer cake featuring fresh coconut (usually grated by Uncle Doc as Bill’s dad was known to all the children and most adult townspeople in their small north Mississippi town). A man with a sweet sense of humor, he always reminded us to look for a fingernail or knucklebone in our slice of the delicious dessert! Ivery’s Caramel Cakes or Caramel Pies were legend! She could also whip up a beautiful banana pudding or lemon pie with mile high meringues on each; the kind that “weep” and with peaks that come out of the oven toasted like a marshmallow.
There is something incredibly comforting about baking and sharing the fruits of your labors with friends, family and neighbors, especially during these lonely days of Covid-19. Dear Kathryn, our next door neighbor, a sophomore this year, is a wizard at pulling weeds, trimming bushes and helping me with many outdoor chores that were once Bill’s domain. She comes over when I have baked the Quintessential Southern Pound Cake, my only “signature” recipe and have slices for my helpful neighbors. Truth be told, it is something I found on the pages of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, not once but twice. The second time was when it won their award as one of the ten best recipes ever published by the AJC.
Katherine’s dad also mows our lawn, taking turns with our son-in-law, grandson Ryan and Alan from across the street…a task I have never done and hope not to ever have to! Her mom shares meals with us on occasion, always a delicious treat, as does Myriam who will be leaving our neighborhood soon. A serious loss in a kind and generous friend. Mr. Jim Barnette calls twice weekly to get our news and report to the church. They in turn pray and send bushels of cards and good wishes, and bring meals when the church has a spaghetti dinner or special BarBQ lunch.
We dream of the day we can return to our warm little church. We watch via Facebook each Sunday. Members and guests wear masks and are seated at safe distances in the pews. We see them turn to wave at one another, blowing kisses across the aisles but no one hugs or pats another on the back. It is obvious that they are glad to be there and to see their friends. They sing, pray, take communion and give their tithes and offerings in new Covid ways. Here in my home, I sing along, and sometimes shush Bill when he tries to talk over the pastor, or I gently punch him when he seems to be falling asleep. Things like this rarely change.
After “church,” we Facetime his sister in Mississippi for our Sunday visit; we recall good times together, always remembering Sunday lunch and Miss Ivery’s melt-in-your-mouth rolls, as soft as a cloud, heavenly, and that may well have saved a few sinners.