AS I BECAME THAT WISER, MORE MATURE PERSON, A FRIEND TOLD ME ABOUT THE BUDDHIST-INSPIRED PRINCIPLES FOR EATING WITH FAMILY AND LOVED ONES. First, you must respect the labor of those whose work contributed to the meal. Second, you must commit good deeds in order to be worthy of sharing in the meal. You must arrive at the table without any negative feelings towards others. You must eat only in order to achieve spiritual and physical well-being. And last, you must be dedicated to the pursuit of enlightenment.
These beliefs have stayed with me, not because they inspire me to be a better person while sharing a meal with others, but because they are close to the principles good people practice anyway. I’ve always wondered where such knowledge comes from…it’s so natural and honest. No pretension. No competition. There was nothing except a shared love of food and people.
My mallie wanted it to be that way, but fierce pot-and-pan battles flared up between my mallie and pa almost every day. Cooking greens was almost a daily ritual, and both of them seemed to know exactly how to cook them to perfection. Only thing was I never saw my pa pick, clean, season, or cook one leaf.
My pa always knew exactly what my mallie had done wrong the second the greens landed on the table. “Did you fry the greens long enough this time? Did you put in enough peppered oil? How much butter did you use? Too much salt! Not enough pepper! Did you use that old pork skin in the shed? Too much oil! Not enough fat!” My mallie and pa could argue for days over game fat. Even Mallie’s sun-dried naartjie fruit turnovers, my pa’s favorite, fried okra, game stew, sweet pap, and German-style sweetbread were not good enough without extra game fat.
It was ironic that he immersed himself in such matters. God knows he couldn’t, and wouldn’t, ever cook anything himself. He never entered the kitchen unless he was walking through the back door or sitting down to eat…my mallie’s cooking. But game fat had some mind-powering influence over the Boers, as though eating the daily-recommended allowance would somehow counter the disturbing and harmful inequalities of poverty.
Where was Mary Margaret while my pa was around? I’m not quite sure; she watched from a distance I think, yearning to be a part of it all, but also needing to stay invisible. No matter how close we became, she always managed to keep a distance from him. Over time, this comforted me, but I knew it couldn’t last.
The fights between my mallie and pa were especially bad when my pa had filled up on hard dop. Sometimes he threw the plate back at my mallie and just left. During these times, my mallie would say the food must have been better down at the old dop shacks. “I guess the whores can make better greens than your mallie,” she’d say. She’d make it as if to laugh it off, but I knew she was hurting inside. I thought the fighting would never end, but then Mary Margaret showed up.
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