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A Black Iron Haven

Mimi's Biscuits

Posted by Leila Wells

As the mist was rising off the fields just outside the small cinder block house my grandfather built for his family, my grandmother would rise and make her way into the kitchen to begin her breakfast ritual. She would pull out her biscuit mat--a worn, malleable, waxy plastic powdered from constant use--and the mixing bowl wherein she would combine the simple and few ingredients to be flattened and reformed upon that mat.

She made quick work of the biscuits, unceremoniously cutting lard into flour before dousing it with buttermilk to knead into the mix. With the dough formed in the bowl, she would roll the ball out onto the mat and pat it out on a frosting of flour. Next she would pull a small metal cutter out of her cluttered utensil drawer to portion the biscuits. With a sharp jerk of her knee, she could shift the weight in the drawer and slide the pieces back into their confines enough to force the drawer back into place. Before long, the biscuits have found their way to a baking sheet and into the oven.

Next her attention would turn to the refrigerator; with one hand on the door and a back crooked just enough to peer inside, she would search the crowded shelves for a package of sausage. In a moment she located it and placed her hands upon its half-frozen contents. She muttered a question about the age of the meat and wondered when they’d get that fridge fixed so everything in the back of it wouldn’t have to be thawed out before she could cook it. She breathed a sigh of resignation, dismissed the thought and moved to the sink with the package in hand. She took a step backward and simultaneously bent forward to open the cabinet below the sink where she would pull a skillet from the assortment stashed haphazardly.

The old skillet was heavy and greasy to the touch, but the sturdiness of this cast iron piece was unparalleled in her kitchen. How many times had she used this particular skillet and browned meat or scrambled eggs or mixed red eye gravy for her family? It seemed somehow ironic that the years showed on her face well before they started to show on this skillet. Still, she was comforted; despite the wear and accumulated grease on the outside, the inside was smooth, shiny and conditioned for its task. Once upon the heat, it would react quickly and evenly. She still had something of that tendency in her, she mused.

Soon the sausage was sizzling and popping. My grandmother took her wooden spoon to the skillet, pushing the meat about with determination as the first pangs of hunger were starting to reach her stomach. My grandfather was now seated at the table in anticipation of the morning’s repast after having taken the walk up the gravel road to the mailbox and to retrieve the paper. He was stirring his instant coffee in a chocolate-colored mug chipped on both its rim and handle. A faint coffee ring was beginning to form where droplets had trickled down the side of the mug.

He cleared his throat and commented on the sale paper’s announcements for the day. “They’ve got butter half off at the Piggly Wiggly. And looks like it’s two for one on Cokes.”

My grandmother nodded and mentioned she wanted to stop by the nursery for some flowers this afternoon--if they went out. She’d been wanting to get herself a hollyhock lately. She asked if Ronnie had gotten there yet. He was easing down the driveway even as she inquired and soon entered the room with an amplified “Mornin’” to be heard by the household.

Uncle Ronnie was deaf in one ear. Since my grandparents were also slowly going deaf, the general decibel level of the household had increased two fold in recent years. Each morning on his way to the woods, Ronnie would amble in for breakfast. After a little conversation, a cigarette, a satisfied stomach, and a glance at the paper, he would climb into his tractor trailor and drive a great distance to the patch of land that he would be clear cutting for the day. If a piece of equipment had broken the day before, he and my grandfather would debate the best means of eradicating the problem, which would often entail a special trip to a hardware store. My grandfather would generally accompany my uncle either way.

He and Ronnie would push back energetically from the table, leaving it and the chairs sticky with honey or jam, blackened with coffee stains and cigarette ashes, in order to get on their way and begin their work. And once they departed, my grandmother would sigh with a different sort of resignation, hum a familiar melody, and begin the ritual of cleaning up after breakfast.

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