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November 14, 2000

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Thanksgiving in a Blue and White Box

by Debbie Lindsey

While there are many southern teachings I reject, the art of eating grits, as lovingly taught by my mother, is one I am thankful for. Unfortunately, training in the art of cooking them was overlooked.

Maybe Mother never completely learned the ropes of cooking grits herself. She always did look haggard after a bout with them. And there was always that pot soaking in the sink long after all the other dishes were washed. The lid placed on the sudsy Revere Ware seemed to be hiding some shameful secret. It is not surprising that I should remember eating grits in restaurants and diners rather than at our kitchen table. Looking back, I wonder if those two kitchen grease fires were prompted by Momís distraction over a pot of boiling hominy. Years later, when home for the holidays, I was rooting through the cabinets for a can of cranberries when I saw Mom's admission of defeat -- a box of microwavable instant grits. I did not begrudge her inability to master the grit, but I still harbor a resentment of microwaves.

Thanksgiving Day has provided me with many memories, some tender, some profound. But last Thanksgiving was a day of reckoning. With vegetarian trepidation I accepted a dinner party invitation. Southerners do not insist that a turkey hold court upon the dinner table, but be certain that the main course once swam, scurried, or sauntered outdoors. As a person who avoids dining on such things, I would hunt my meal among the vegetable casseroles, only to discover ham hocks surfacing through the grease slicks of turnip greens.

At my hostess' urging I foraged through her kitchen for anything that had not once drawn a breath. Instinctively I found, among the pasta and rice, the familiar blue and white box. Looking at the grits and then at the immaculate kitchen and unblemished walls I froze in terror. I just knew Donna Reed was lurking in the pantry ready to slap me for the mess I anticipated making. Nowhere do the instructions warn of the dangers of boiling hot hominy when it catapults out of the pot and glues itself to the ceiling.

At that moment I knew it was time to end the cruel cycle of unruly grits. Leaving my emotions at the sink, I approached the stove with cool detachment then with businesslike dispassion methodically followed the instructions. The timer sounded. Taking a deep breath, I lifted the lid. The surface was creamy and rich, but the truth lay at the bottom. I stirred and felt the smooth glide of spoon to steel! I could almost see mother smiling through a veil of steam. I was about to taste my victory. I poured the grits into an antique china tureen and took my place at the dinner table.

After the blessing, while plates were filled and wine glasses replenished, I lifted my wineglass to my friends and silently gave thanks to my mother. I listened to the sweet memory of Mom's dining instructions, "Never start in the middle, always spoon from the edges, as they cool the quickest. . . " I picked up my spoon and happily worked my way toward the quickly melting square of butter.


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