Memories are on the menu in the family kitchen


I rested my top lip against the wood grain of the dining room chair.

Sitting in the chair, turned backwards, up against the kitchen counter, I kept my eyes glued to the magic happening across the linoleum surface.

Maw Maw was making her famous chicken pot pie. The dish had gained a reputation among the neighbors along Nobles Road. And its notoriety was beginning to spread clear across Lawrence County.

She made the flaky crust from scratch. And as the flour danced up, it would hit me on the nose as I continued to watch her do what grandmothers everywhere do.

There were no certificates from chef schools on our walls. There were no fancy cookbooks sprawled out.

This was country cooking with no measuring cups and no recipes needed.

It was the first day of my summer vacation with my grandparents in Monticello.

I had arrived first thing that morning. I was welcomed with a plate of hot biscuits with tomato gravy. After a good meal and a quick kiss goodbye to Momma, I was out the door and on my bike.

Now it was lunchtime.

This was no place for hot takeout or delivered pizza. This was Maw Maw’s house, and that kind of stuff wasn’t allowed.

As Maw Maw continued to work the flour, my Paw Paw was hunched over in the sink. Armed with a kitchen knife and a pipe full of Prince Albert tobacco, he was cutting up the chicken that would soon be put into the pot pie.

Paw Paw was a man’s man, but he insisted on cutting the meat. From Thanksgiving turkeys to Christmas hams to pot pie chicken...he handled it.

As a child, I loved to watch my grandparents cook. I was fascinated at how they could whip the best meal together from scratch.

Got a fridge filled with leftovers and scraps? Maw Maw and Paw Paw could make it into a first-class meal that was delicious.

Both came from large farming families that struggled to keep enough food on the table. But with a house full of kids and hardworking adults, nothing went to waste.

I only wish that I would have taken notes on their signature dishes. Since their passing, I will never have those plates of home ever again.

But those childhood moments in the kitchen with my grandparents did more than just teach me how to cook. They taught me how to live.

It taught me about working hard to provide for those you love.

Did Maw Maw really like standing on her feet all morning, making cinnamon waffles for me? Did Paw Paw enjoy cutting up a sink full of chicken?

Probably not...but they did it because they knew somebody at the eating table wanted it.

Maw Maw loved to see me smile when the smell of cinnamon hit me in the face.

Paw Paw knew to hand Maw Maw the chicken drumsticks first to fry because they were my favorite.

Either way, cooking in the Jackson household was an all-day affair. But the work put into it was worth it because your family gathered around the table with a gleam in their eye and a rumble in their tummy for that dish in front of them.

Cooking with my grandparents also taught me about tradition and family pride.

Those classic Irish recipes from my great grandparents and beyond were passed down to me because of my Paw Paw. You can’t find that online or inside an expensive cookbook.

It does my heart good to see my own family eating a hot plate of boxty (potato pancakes) on a cold morning. I like to think Paw Paw is having a plate with us in heaven.

And cooking with my grandparents taught me about respect and embracing the wisdom of an older generation.

There was a pecking order in the Jackson kitchen. And after you got over learning your place, you could really learn some stuff in the middle of a hot kitchen.

I learned about the Great Depression, sharecropping, farming, hog-killings, family traits, family curses, hillbilly engineering and how to tie my shoes in a kitchen.

I was rewarded with a bowl of homemade ice cream. I was spanked with a wooden spoon and a wet dish the same time.

Advice was given over pots of gumbo. Praise was shared over a four-layered cake. Punishment was issued as the chicken and dumplings bubbled. And love was shown over a homemade milkshake.

In today’s modern era, it’s almost hard to find that feeling you had inside the kitchen of your grandparents.

Perhaps I will never find it again. But I like to think that much like that family recipe, you can pass that feeling down for the next generations.

I need to remember that when my own children want to help out with my cooking. We are doing more than just making meals.

We are making memories.