Blood may be thicker than water, but it’s the gravy that binds
Meemaw’s been gone some eighteen years now. My mom followed a year or two behind her. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t think of one or the other. Maybe the wisest of us all are the ones who actually listened to their mothers and grandmothers in the early bloom of adulthood. Not me–I thought I knew it all, embracing every technology, every career ladder, and every piece of gussied up talkshow psychobabble that crossed my path.
“Good gravy covers a multitude of sins,” Meemaw said. I’ve always been told I was pretty smart, but it sure enough took me years (and the living of enough life) to realize she wasn’t just talking about burnt biscuits or scorched chicken. When something doesn’t turn out “just so” or go the way it is expected to go, a good gravy helps it along. It’s a way of making do that often creates a sort of synergy. That good gravy serves as both a binder and flavor enhancer for whatever life dishes up.
Remember Mary Poppins and her spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down? Meemaw’s good gravy is not so much about sweetening the pot as it is about sticking to the ribs. Mary Poppins employed an element of frivolity to combat the woes of the day. Meemaw went with practicality grounded in perseverance.
You see, good gravy requires persistent attention and a balance of ingredients. My mom laughed at me when I requested her recipe for sawmill gravy. “You can’t follow a recipe to make good gravy, Rocky. You have to make it by feel.” I regret to report my eye-rolling phase lasted well into my thirties.
It takes work and, at least for me, a good deal of practice to achieve a passable sawmill gravy. Over the years, I’ve learned to make a mean mushroom gravy that has nothing to do with a can of “Cream of…”. I can also make a redeye gravy stout enough to keep you humming for hours. Sawmill gravy, though? That’s hit or miss. Meemaw made it look so easy, drizzling it over her fried chicken in luscious streams. My mom laced hers with country sausage; the biscuit was almost an afterthought it was so good. My sawmill gravy either comes out like milky snot or spackle. One unfortunate time, I think I made concrete. I had to throw out the skillet.
A good gravy, I’ve learned, does much more than cover a multitude of sins. It transforms imperfection into something that sustains. It helps create something better than the sum of its parts. How could I have been so naive as to think Meemaw was talking about flour and bacon grease all those years ago? My sawmill gravy may never reach the culinary heights achieved by Meemaw’s seemingly effortless whisk. I may have to hit the Hardee’s drive-thru for a hint of my mom’s version of sausage gravy. But when it comes to the binding power of love, perseverance, and faith…I’ve got their recipes down pat.
And that, Gentle Reader, is good gravy.
PS: I no longer own stirrup pants, but I can still peg a pair of jeans like it’s 1986.