La Toussaint, or All Saints Day, which is today, is the big decoration day for all the graves in France. We will go down to the village cemetery later this afternoon to take in the glory of the autumnal light raking across the splendor of thousands of chrysanthemums laid in honor of the dearly departed.
There is great comfort in the fact that this laying of the flowers comes very regularly every year, just as the leaves begin to descend and blow away, each of them, like us, falling in their own appointed time. It is a great mystery what precipitates that migration.
There is great comfort, too, in that we do the remembering all together, all on the same day, All Saints Day. Which is to say, ALL the saints, every last one, known and unknown, as they told us in church – those we know to love and appreciate, and those known only to God in secret.
Most of the big-time, capital-letter Saints get celebrated on their own special days on the calendar at another time during the year. But today is for the collective whole, including those less ostentatious good souls, and even those who might be thought of as the type only a Mother could love, those more uniquely twisted specimens among the lilies of the field, and those who might not have been so cuddly on the outside in life or just anyone’s cup of tea.
But “all” means ALL. No exceptions. And today we celebrate them as a whole.
That’s alot of humanity. And, in fact, I choose to think that when the final count is in, it will include all of us, without exception.
I choose to think that because in my personal experience, that’s what real grace means. I look to the closest examples of Heaven on this earth that I have personally known, and I figure God must be an awful lot like a big bosomy Southern grandma. She may not approve of all that goes on, but she ain’t gonna shoo any hungry children off from the table.
It is surely no accident, then, that without any conscious intention at all, I regularly find myself on this day stirring a big pot of gumbo, as I am again today and as I was when I first wrote the below, which I reprise in honor of la Toussaint.
Cooking with Ghosts
Tonight we have more French coming over and I am making cuisine américaine – a pot of gumbo (yes I made it yesterday to age properly, quit yer fussin’), enormous blue cheese and mushroom-onion hamburgers, tomato casserole, and the first banana pudding I have made since oh so many deaths ago.
Cooking reminds me of everyone, the living and the dead, but especially the dead, with time to think on them and make things the way they showed you, at least as best you can with what you have.
It’s pretty crowded in this kitchen with all these chefs tampering and directing and sampling, I can tell you. There’s a bit of cookin’ and cryin’, like dang Water For Chocolate in here.
I just wish they’d all lived to have a convection oven – now that is the stuff.
– – – – –
“You know I don’t put me no wine in the gumbo – ain’t no Catholic.”
“I don’t care if they won’t eat Romano. That’s how it’s MADE. I don’t know what you are making with Parmesan… No. No no no no.”
“Because I didn’t HAVE cream of tartar, that’s why.”
“Hon’ if you’ll quit stirrin’ that sausage, it’ll finally get a chance to brown.”
“Here hand me that spatula. Get all the goodie out of the bottom of the bowl like this.”
“You call this crab meat? It looks like cat food. Canned??! They put crab in cans? For goodness sakes, just takes a string and a chicken bone. Who’d need it canned? Hell crabs’ll come if you just call to ’em sweet enough.”
“I need a fish that can stand up to sauce – what is this anyway? It’s not blue fish, is it? You need a big blue fish. This stuff here is just bait.”
“If you use that square pan somebody’s gone’ get all the crust and the rest of us just gets middles.”
“Lawd, everything’s better with hog jowl in it. Even dessert.”
“I like being the cook because I get to eat twice.”
“Take the time to sift, or don’t. Just be ready to live with the lumps on your conscience.”
“This all reminds me, I used to know a hooker who…”
“Yes, ma’am, I already kept the hamburger meat in the fridge til’ it turned gray and blue.”
“This bought okra is tough as a nail. You can’t buy okra, anyhow. You have to grow it yourself. But I guess you are gonna boil it to death anyway. You can eat shoe leather if you cook it low and slow for long enough.”
“Now how can it be half-fat buttermilk – don’t they even know what buttermilk IS?”
“Well okay, but I have never seen a square hamburger bun anywhere but Krystal’s.”
“Did you oil that rice before you put it in there or did you just throw it in nekkid?”
“I boil my rice, I know you always steam yours – the hard way. But no no it tastes just as good, almost.”
“There are two kinds of people in the world – them that puts shortening in their biscuit and them that don’t. I used to be the former, but then I learned about men…”
“Two things make me think of God’s mercy – digging potatoes, and other people cooking my fish.”
“I like my onions black and my hamburger raw.”
“It’s done just about the same time you get tired of stirring.”
“What kind of fancypants cream is this? The stuff’s thick as lard. That must be one fat cow!”
ALL the saints, they say.
Let us put our hope in that “all” – every last one – and hope that our table’s big enough.