(Leon Youngblood lives in Texas but says his heart is in LeFlore County, where he owns land and plans to move in a few years. His stories are a mixture of fiction and non-fiction involving people and events in and around Briar Circle, a community in the Ouachita mountains in Leflore County. The names are changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike, and to prevent my reputation from being soiled by associating with some of them. His column appears on Wednesday)
By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
(I was 11 or 12 years old when this event occurred, and it predates fast food providers and celebrity TV chefs. I don’t know if similar dining experiences can still be found, but if they can, let us know. – LY.)
Uncle Frank, wearing his usual work shirt and overalls, stood in the kitchen contemplating a crime. Aunt Jewel’s cornbread dressing sat on the counter, a mere few inches away, waiting along with other dishes to be carried to the church’s fellowship dinner.
Frank had already had his share; a smaller dish made just for him (he was not a church-goer), but it wasn’t quite enough. “Aww – she won’t mind,” he muttered to himself. He bent the foil back from a corner of the pan, took a serving-spoonful and resealed the dish. Just in time, too! His son, Buddy, drove into the driveway, honking his horn to announce his arrival.
Buddy entered the house through the kitchen door. “Mornin’, Poppa. Is Momma ready to go?”
“’bout ready. Want some coffee?”
“No, sir! I want some dressin’!”
Buddy could not help himself. The aroma of the dressing filled the room, and indeed, most of the old house. He got a fork, lifted the corner of the foil cover, and saw a theft had already occurred. He stabbed a chunk of chicken with a generous portion of dressing attached, then, like his father, concealed his crime.
“Now, Buddy, you shouldn’t ought to have done that,” Frank scolded.
“It’s all right, Poppa. I’m going to say you did it.”
Aunt Jewel entered the kitchen. Morning greetings were exchanged, the whereabouts of daughter-in-law Lois verified (“At church.”), and Buddy started loading the car. The dressing went first, of course, before Jewel discovered any was missing. Then went the chicken and dumplings, the baked ham, and two meringue pies, one chocolate and one lemon.
Uncle Frank supervised while sipping coffee at the kitchen table. When this task was done, Buddy and Jewel drove a mile or two to the country church and unloaded Jewel’s masterpieces onto the tables in the fellowship hall.
The area was vibrant with activity. The tables were overflowing with the contributions of 30 or so excellent cooks and four or five bad ones. The food, the fragrances, the abundance and the general good naturedness of the assembled suggested to some what the first meal at the first family reunion in the Kingdom of Heaven will be like: Fried chicken, ham, pork and beef roasts, cornbread, biscuits, sweet potato casseroles, mashed potatoes, fresh beans, corn, home grown tomatoes and other vegetables, an incredible amount of tantalizing desserts, prepared by friends for friends, and it all perfectly cooked and seasoned, and all of it merely a hint of the glories to come.
However, regardless of what would be served at that first dinner, Aunt Jewel’s dressing would be there among the favorites.
Things eventually settled down, and the workers left the room. The service was about to start when the Pastor and Minister of Music slipped into the dining hall. “We won’t get here before the congregation,” the Pastor was rationalizing to his associate, “so let’s get a little bit now.”
The partner in crime agreed. They each got a modest helping with cranberry sauce and ate hurriedly while walking toward the sanctuary. The evidence of soiled paper plates was discarded, and the music minister testified, “Man, I could sing for three hours after manna like that!”
“And I could preach for three! But I won’t! Just in case we can get back here before Jewel’s dressing is gone!”
The service began. Just before the offering, three men stepped out to finish up any fellowship dinner details that needed tending. They began uncovering the plates, pans and bowls, and started with Jewel’s cornbread dressing.
“Look at this!” exclaimed the one who had the honors. “Some dirty thief has gotten into Jewel’s dressing!”
“And at church on Sunday, too!”
The men, two of them deacons, surveyed the crime scene, their countenances solemn. The sinfulness of the human race was acknowledged and bemoaned. “Maybe,” suggested one, “we should get some before that thief comes back?”
Minus three more servings. Those responsible were gone, though, when Vangie came in with Lois, who went straight to the kitchen to prepare tea and coffee for the adults, punch for the kids and water for anybody who wanted it. Alone, Vangie surveyed the offerings. “I honestly do not believe Jewel’s dressing is as good as mine!” she said aloud to herself. She sampled a little, and a little more. “Well – maybe it is.”
Two or three other cooks and dressing connoisseurs came in, had the same sentiment, performed the same test and arrived at the same conclusion.
The service ended a few minutes earlier than usual. A line quickly formed in the fellowship hall. Ladies and a few men went to check their offerings, stirring this, arranging that, all the little things master cooks do for the presentation of their efforts. Aunt Jewel checked her pies, stirred her chicken and dumplings, and then checked her cornbread dressing. At 67-years-old, she was charming, soft-spoken, everything a favorite aunt could be. Now, her noble character permitted her to do nothing more than put her hands against her hips and stare with obvious, though subdued, irritation at the crumbs and fragments in the dish.
She only said, “Hmpf! I didn’t even get any!”
So it was that sins of theft, gluttony, pride and envy were manifested in persons who on the whole were good, honest, sincere Christians. All the same, they were human. Jewel forgave them. The best dressing was gone, but there was still Queenie’s chocolate cake, Earl’s fried chicken, Jenny’s ambrosia, and many other wonderful things too numerous to list. If anybody left hungry or discontent, it would be their own fault. At one point, though, a deacon did make a poor joke. He said, with witnesses present, “Jewel, if the devil had your dressin’ at the Temptation, he might have had something the Lord would have thought twice about!”
Jewel did not appreciate this comment about the Savior, and rightfully so. The verbal lashing the man received may have been mild by most standards, but it was certainly unlike Jewel! I imagine, though, it was mostly due to the incriminating evidence staining the his shirt.