Fading to black

skilletTHE TWELVE-YEAR-OLD boy walked into the kitchen on a warm summer day. It was time for breakfast — eggs and grits and ham steaks or bacon. A coffee percolator on the counter plucked away, but he didn’t drink coffee, not way back then.

The only way to get into the kitchen unless you entered through the long screened porch from the back yard was from the dining room, so he entered from the dining room.

The first thing one encountered was the old refrigerator immediately to the left. Just beyond that was a heavy, antique table covered with oilcloth. That table abutted a casement window that opened to the yard where things also were eaten at times, dinners and watermelon and apple pie.

New ImageHe was sitting at that very table one evening with his grandmother when he heard the harp music coming through the window.

He was a bit older than 12 when that spooky thing happened, and the source of the harp solo was never explained to anyone’s satisfaction.

To the right was a fireplace which was always lit on winter mornings, but this being summer, school vacation, up from Florida, there was no fire. And just beyond the table was a wall-to-wall counter, left to right, and cabinets above.

Lemonade, and tea too, would be made on the left side of that counter. Glancing toward the right, you’d see a sink and beyond that the stove where cornbread, which was wonderful with red-eye gravy, was cooked in a cast-iron skillet.

An eternal fixture on the left side of that counter was a heavy, gray ceramic jar open at the top. That jar was always full of salt that you pinched and sprinkled with your fingers.

Above the sink was another window, one that looked out not at the yard but toward a pasture for Hereford cows and the one, happy bull. That was when the boy was 12. Later, that pasture was turned into a grove of pine trees, when the government started paying farmers to take it easy.

Back to the kitchen. The wooden walls were shiplapped, as were the walls in the entire house, and there was a nice-sized pantry just to the right before you walked out the door to the screened porch. The kitchen floors were linoleum.

After breakfast on a summer morning, there were a number of  options for a 12-year-old boy. Here’s a good one:

He left the dirty dishes for Willie the maid, and walked out the kitchen door, continued about five feet to the screened porch door, and stepped down to concrete steps. There were plenty of cats, sometimes up to 25.

Granny liked cats.

revolverAbout five years later, the boy turned a .32-caliber, chrome-plated, Smith & Wesson revolver on one of those cats, a mangy, sickly one who was suffering. Gunning down a cat is not a pleasant experience, even if it’s best for the cat in the long haul.

But that came later. Today is a sunny summer morning, and the boy walked straight ahead, passing the small building on the left that had been his sister’s playhouse and then a larger building, also on the left, where his father had written short stories after World War Two. Then there was a gate.

Stepping down about foot on the other side of the gate, there were dirt ruts of a road heading left. It was a good route to walk because it was not public. It was private, though people from far and wide would come, knock on the door, ask permission, and then drive down that road to fish in the pond,

On this summer day, the boy aimed for that pond. The dirt road separated the pasture on the left — the same one visible through the window above the sink in the kitchen — from a grove of pecan trees on the right. The farm made money from cotton, corn, peanuts, beef and pecans.

The walk to the pond was not long, maybe a quarter mile, and the pond was somewhat sunken. You had to walk down an incline to the pond’s shore. The word pond is misleading.

It was a large lake though it was called a pond, and it was surrounded by towering cypress trees, many of which grew in the water itself, providing shade. Here is the experience of the pond: silence, at times broken by bird songs.

boatAn old rowboat rested on the water’s edge.

A man with silver hair and wrinkles, though far fewer wrinkles than many his age, awoke, and there was a beautiful Mexican at his side. He popped a Hershey’s Kiss in his mouth, bit down, smiled, and was soon asleep again.

30 thoughts on “Fading to black

  1. When I was twelve, my favorite song was “Sh-Boom” (sometimes referred to as “Life Could Be a Dream”) and indeed it is, especially when you live in the highlands of western Mexico.

    We had a papaya tree right outside of the jalousie kitchen window in my youth and now I have one growing in the front yard. Some things never change.


    1. Muchas gracias, Jeff. As for the Hershey’s Kiss, every night for years I’ve kept one peeled (for easy access) on my nightstand. If I wake up in the middle of the night and, for whatever reason, don’t go right back to snoozeville, I just pop it into my mouth. Lots of folks do not think of it that way — same for coffee, tobacco and booze — but chocolate is a drug. It mellows me out in a flash, and I’m back to sleep.


        1. Ohhh, Smokesilver, I’ve never made red-eye gravy (not red-eyed). My granny or Willie the maid did that. And I last tasted it over half a century ago. As I recall, after you cooked ham in an iron skillet, you tossed in some liquid (probably water), maybe a bit of flour, and stirred, mixing it with the remnants of the ham fixings. I don’t think it was any more complicated that. It was reallllly good.

          Of course, any recipe is available these days, and I found the following online:


          This version is way more high-falootin’ than what we used to eat. It’s probably red-eye gravy made by Yankees.


          1. Red eye gravy was originally made for General Grant by a cook with limited supplies. So, it was Yankees that perfected the recipe.


          2. Some red eye gravy is made by deglazing the pan in which the ham was cooked. I was fascinated by the idea, but when I tried it, I didn’t like it.

            Now, milk gravy with country sausage crumbled into it, that can be worth eating. It very likely will rise your cholesterol levels.

            Don Cuevas


            1. That reminds me of the infamous SOS, which was my first meal in the Air Force, and was also my last meal in the Air Force. I loved it.

              Mexicans are not big on gravy. My wife hates it. When they brown the roux, it seems as if they cannot resist throwing in the chili. And that makes it something else entirely.

              Making gravy used to be an art form. Now it is a package of dry powder that gets mixed up with a liquid.


              1. Señor Gill: I believe we have discussed SOS here before, and I too loved it. I would have given it a more glamorous name.

                No, gravy seems not to have caught on with the Mexicans. Their loss. I’m convinced that few Mexicans know the true taste of anything due to the gallons of salsa and chile peppers they toss on everything. My sister-in-law chops up raw chile perón and gobbles it between every bite of every meal. She cannot have the slightest idea what anything tastes like. Not a prayer.

                I once spent some time preparing a great dish to serve my wife and a Mexican guest here at home. It was a shrimp concoction of some subtlety. The guy took about two bites and asked if we had any salsa to go with it. That was almost a decade back, and it still rankles.


                1. My Mexican wife makes many dishes with gravy (sin chile}. Fried chicken gravy, roast pork or roast beef gravy. Sausage gravy and biscuits probably twice a year. We have beef filet in black peppercorn sauce or with roquefort and portobellos. Seared fresh tuna with a green peppercorn sauce. And every Christmas a roasted turkey with dressing and lots of gravy.


            2. Don Cuevas: You are a born Yankee and therefore not expected to appreciate the considerable joys of red-eye gravy. Milk gravy is also quite good, and I’m surprised that its subtleties are within your grasp. I attribute that to your years in Arkansas.


  2. It was brain sandwiches on grandma’s homemade bread and trying to find Yankees’ games on a crystal radio set. We’ve gone from third in line to the front of the line in what seems like the blink of an eye.


  3. My Icelandic sister-in-law has a smoked sheep’s brain shipped to her in Marietta before every Christmas and it is delicious. It is a true delicacy.

    As for Mexican cuisine, I also add hot salsa to nearly everything I eat.


  4. Biscuits and sausage cream gravy cannot be beat. Biscuits now come in a tube. Nobody makes them from scratch any more. The secret to both the biscuits and the gravy is the bacon grease used in both.
    Salt and bacon grease are the secrets to good cooking.


    1. Señor Gill: Not just biscuits, but other bakery products also come in a tube, I recall, but I’ve never seen that sort of thing down here ever. Wonder why. Wish I did. It’s better than nothing.


  5. An improved version? I have a lovely Mexican wife of nearly 40 years. She just happened to be born into a family that had a very successful catering business in Guadalajara. Good food was important to them and I luckily benefit from it.

    But I know many Mexicans that don’t fit into the little pigeon hole you and the other poster have placed them. Guadalajara is filled with people that have enjoy cuisines other than their own.


  6. Guadalajara is a diverse and cosmopolitan place. It has a plethora of cuisines. But sometimes you find yourself in some small village in Sonora where the menu hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. Eat up and enjoy it. Don’t ask, just eat it.


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