I missed the memo about pimento cheese, love, and whatever…
One of the few benefits of being born when your parents are both 19 years old is that your grandparents are proportionately young. My grandparents were active and vital during my childhood and as I grew into an adult, it was fascinating to get to know them and appreciate them in lots of different ways.
I was lucky to have my paternal grandmother, Mona Mills Walker, in my life for a long, long time. She lived to see me become a mom and seeing her hold my son when he was just a few weeks old was a tender moment that I will never, ever forget.
It’s been a couple of years now since my Grandma died and I think it’s taken me a while to really reflect on the legacy she left me. One thing I’ll always remember is that she had some wonderful and traditional notions of hospitality. When guests came to call, she was ready with her world-famous pimento cheese spread and a box of Triscuits. Her cooking was amazing, but it was this simple snack that everyone always begged her for. And when she sent you on your way, it was always with a sack full of snacks for the road, including an extra tub of that deliciously tangy, unnaturally orange cheese spread.
Another manifestation of her hospitality was that she kept the guest bedroom in her house wonderfully appointed with just about anything a visitor could need. There was a luggage rack in the corner and a hair dryer tucked in the drawer of the dressing table, just like a hotel. And there were always baskets full of magazines and paperbacks for quiet moments and bedtime reading.
It was during a particularly lazy visit to my Grandma’s house that I spent a great deal of time perusing all those paperbacks. She had a copy of Leo Buscalgia‘s “Love” and I quickly read it cover to cover.
Dr. Buscalgia died back in 1989, but in his day, he was a bit of a sensation with the PBS crowd as he delivered unapologetically positive messages about the power of love. To our 21st century sensibilities, he might seem a little corny and over the top, but it was clear from his words that he absolutely believed that people have the power to heal a lot of what’s wrong in the world just by opening themselves up to love. He might have been on to something.
Now, my Grandma was never particularly affectionate or effusive, and I never begrudged her that. But when I realized she was a fan of Leo Buscalgia’s, I kinda felt like I was on to her. She might have sometimes been a bit tough and cool on the exterior, but underneath, there was a tender heart. And I know she loved me.
And here’s one more thing…we sometimes teased my Grandma that her tombstone would be inscribed with one word: “Whatever”. My Grandma said “whatever” before saying “whatever” was cool.
But here’s the thing…she didn’t say it in a rude, dismissive way. When my Grandma said “whatever” it was usually after she had delivered a treatise on what she thought would be the most productive and appropriate plan of action for the situation at hand. She was a master organizer and she was kinda pushy, but in a good way. “Whatever” was shorthand for “I’ve said my piece, you know I’m right, but do what you want.” I can’t begin to do this dynamic any justice, but there was something graceful about it….maybe it was the way she delivered the word in her wonderfully deep, raspy southern drawl. It was just kind of adorable how she would order everybody around, but then take that little moment to soften the matriarchal tyranny with just one word.
It’s now my hope that I’ll someday embody some of the best of my Grandma. So for a start, I better get crackin’ on a signature recipe and a catchphrase. Memo received.