The mostly true story of love, ambition, and the quest for a passable sawmill gravy

My mother held to it.  So did her mother, my granny on Daddy’s side, and both my great-grandmothers.  Granted, I never really thought of Big Mama as a typical grandma on account of her being a spring bride in Big Daddy’s dotage, but that’s not today’s story.  The facts on that one, whether a failure of memory or raising, seem to elude me.

But one bit of family lore rings clear as an echo:  “A good gravy covers a multitude of sins.” The wisdom of this maxim percolated slowly where I luckily shoved it way in the back of my mind as I squared my padded shoulders, adjusted my stirrups, and marched confidently into the exhilarating liberation of the ME Era.  My dreams were as high as my bangs. Where I was going, there’d be no need for such common, old-fashioned tasks as cooking. 

“Re-Kell,” Meemaw chirped, “One day you’ll want to ketch you a man.  Juicy fried chicken, a flaky pie crust, and good gravy will get you further than any career, mark my words.”

“Oh, Meemaw.  That’s just not how things work nowadays,” I replied with all my college sophomore sensibilities.  I had just declared myself an education major–a decision that would be sealed despite Daddy’s objections– the moment Coach Hermann treated the team to a special screening of Dead Poet Society.

“You just hand me that arn skillet, Miss Priss. I’ve done lived more life than you’ve even thought of.  I’m mighty proud of all your book-learnin’, but book-learnin’ and sense ain’t the same thing at-tall.” 

Ha!  I can picture this memory with amazing clarity!  Meemaw’s voice, fraught with truth, could cut me to the quick yet she was never cruel.  Her hands flew as she coated the chicken and bedded it in the waiting cast iron skillet, the sheen of countless fryings reflecting on her spotless stovetop.  She whisked the makings of sawmill gravy as the chicken sizzled and popped, transforming into crispy perfection.

Meemaw, flustered by her thoroughly modern granddaughter, clanked her tongs on the skillet so they jarred me into attention.  Turning her back on the stove, she said, “I ain’t never been nothing but a housewife. I ain’t never regretted it, neither. I gave your Papa and my babies a good life, a full one.  I’m proud of that. You don’t have to give up them blessings to be successful in this world. Re-Kell, you got both book smarts and sense. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, sweet girl.”

She spun back to the stove with a start.  “I’ve done burnt my chicken! It’s no nevermind.  Grandmama always said ‘a good gravy covers a multitude of sins’.  Amen!”

The whole scene is laughable now.  I can see myself rolling my eyes behind her back and checking my Swatch.  Me, full of ambition and Jolt cola running headlong toward enlightening teens with the beauty and poignancy of Victorian poetry.  The irony of my very traditional career choice completely lost as I tiptoed on that threshold between girlhood and being grown.

  • Are fried chicken, a flaky piecrust, and good gravy the secret to happiness?
  • Was Meemaw right about sense and sensibility without having read Austen?
  • Does Rocky (Ree-Kell) still own stirrup pants?

Find out in next week’s exciting conclusion of “Good Gravy”.

See all “Southern Alabama Living” stories


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