One of the things I miss most from home is comfort food. I’ve known since I was a little kid that food is important and that it has power; that power is, perhaps, why it plays such a large role in Southern culture.
Back in August, just a few days before I was scheduled to leave for Georgetown, my father asked me what I wanted him to cook for my last meal. I have many favorites when it comes to my dad’s cooking: his seafood boil, his Fourth of July barbecue, his white chili. However, I didn’t ask him for any of these things. I instead asked him to make drunk chicken.
It wasn’t a meal he made often, so it had been a while since we last ate it. And honestly, he could think of better recipes.
But, drunk chicken is something we ate a lot when I was a little girl. So when he made it again, back in August, I was once again transported back to those times. I can remember always thinking how funny the chicken would look sitting on top of the beer can while it grilled, and I always loved how the smell would consume the living room of our small apartment. That scent is one I love. It’s one I can never forget.
As of late, I’ve been craving macaroni and cheese a lot. I’m not talking about the kind out of the box. Not Velveeta. Not Kraft. I want the real stuff, made from scratch with love. My grandmother was the one who taught me how to make macaroni and cheese.
We would make macaroni and cheese and the dressing together every thanksgiving. And even now whenever I eat her recipe I feel like she is there with me. When I make it, it feels like I am traveling back in time to those early Thanksgiving mornings. My father, my grandmother and I would be in the kitchen, the room smelling like collard greens and ham; the air would be thick with smoke from the grease of whatever was frying; on TV, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade would be playing.
It occurred to me a while ago that the anniversary of my grandmother’s death was just two weeks ago. Honestly, I can’t believe nearly two years have already passed since then. However, it seems that something inside of me did remember. And maybe that’s the explanation for this sudden craving. I can’t bring my grandmother back, but I can always eat her food. I can always relive those precious times spent with her, if only through my stomach.
I do think it’s an art the way Southerners can convey so much through their food, whether it be an emotion or a message. “I love you.” “I’m thinking about you.” “I miss you.” So as much as I may complain about tradition and its restrictiveness, this is one I hope never goes away.
Culturally, there are a lot of things still wrong with the South. For some reason, Southerners often seem the most resistant to progress and change. We have our own way of doing things, and when others try to come and change that, it becomes a big problem. However, this stubborn mindset does have some benefits. There is something beautiful about treasuring and reflecting on the past, about holding on to traditions of your ancestors who lived decades before you.
Traditions, such as cooking, can bring about intimacy and can preserve a memory; this is similar to the way a picture or voice recording of a loved one preserves legacy, but food is much more physical. No, I can’t hold my grandmother’s hand anymore or watch her cook, but I can still a hold a wooden spoon the same way she did and lovingly stir my pot of noodles, butter and salt.
No, I can’t go back to being a little girl, but I can still eat the food that I loved as a kid, and I can still feel my father’s love, attention and care when I eat that food. I can still feel that same warmness in the pit of my stomach. And every time is like the first time.
I’m not sure why humans obsess so much over the past, but the truth is that we do. We long to relive those special moments, though we know we never actually can. Even now, though I’m still quite young, I am constantly thinking about the times of my childhood. I am constantly dreaming of re-experiencing those same feelings with those same friends. I want to have that innocence again, that same surprise at life.
And while I do think you should cherish each and every present moment, you should also stop sometimes and reflect on the things you’ve done and the people who’ve affected you. Then those happy moments, those wonderful times with those wonderful people, can continue to live even though they have passed.
Jasmine White is a freshman in the College. BAMA ROGUE appears every other Friday.