Do the best you can with what you’ve got.
My grandmother was a complicated woman. She lived in a place so rural that whippoorwills and mourning doves were about the loudest thing you would hear all day. She was forever locked in fierce battle with kudzu, wisteria and ivy and refused them quarter until her dying day. She was on a constant vigil for plants that could withstand the blistering heat of West Georgia summers. And her ferns. Oh my, her ferns were legendary. They grew to a massive size on her screened porch, and she swore by Epsom’s salt to fertilize them. She never let money get in the way of living well. She still remains an unrecognized Southern painter who practiced her craft while raising five children on a farm. And while she dearly loved the farm life, she could dress like she was born and bred in Atlanta.
She used to tell me a story about biscuits that goes a long way in explaining her outlook on life. Her father was a successful farmer and she grew up in a home where she wanted for nothing. She told me that her mother had a fancy flour cabinet that she used to store her flour in. When her mother went to make biscuits, she would pull flour from the cabinet and mix it with her buttermilk and lard. Her mother would roll out the dough and cut out the biscuits with a proper biscuit cutter. According to my grandmother, her mother made the most wonderful biscuits. One day, my grandmother went to a woman’s house, who did not have as much as her family. This woman kept her flour in a jar on the counter and mixed it with buttermilk and lard. This woman rolled out the dough and cut the biscuits out with the top of a glass. Once my grandmother ate this woman’s biscuits she realized that they were just as good as her mother’s. Then one day my grandmother went to the house of another woman, who had even less. This woman kept her flour in a sack on the floor and she mixed it with buttermilk and lard. This woman did not use a biscuit cutter or the top of a glass but just simply rolled out the dough with her hands. Once my grandmother ate this woman’s biscuits she realized that they looked and tasted just as good as her mother’s. My grandmother, at the tender age of eight, discovered something very important.
It’s not about what you have, it’s about what you do with what do you have.
This pandemic has completely upended our sense of hospitality. Social distancing has become far more important than table settings. Carports are the new entertaining spaces and bringing your own bottle now extends to food and sometimes chairs. But Southern women always find a way to entertain, even if Dixie cups and Melmac are the new table settings.
I often wonder how my grandmother would have encountered this pandemic. In her lifetime, she saw wars, a depression, recessions, poverty, plenty and personal catastrophes. She was the quintessential standard bearer for self-reliance and gumption.
I can’t help but imagine her sitting on her white wicker porch furniture in the cool hours of the day, chain smoking her menthol cigarettes; the time and place where her greatest thoughts were thought. I think that as she sat there looking past her ferns and caladiums to the bank of kudzu across the road, her greatest concern would be that it was Tuesday.