by Keetha DePriest Mosley
When I was little and visiting grandparents in the Delta town of Shelby, Mississippi, for the holidays, my cousins and I, about five of us, slept on the floor of the little den just off the kitchen. My grandmother and our aunts made pallets of assorted quilts and blankets, the sheets decades old and unbelievably soft. It was never altogether comfortable; the small den had been the carport and we were sleeping on top of quilts on top of carpet on top of concrete. We'd talk and giggle, a bit of yellow light shining through the louvered doors, and it felt like we were up late. The grownups stayed up for the longest. From two rooms away we could hear them playing bridge and laughing. Every once in a while my dad or uncle would come to the kitchen for more coffee, a piece of pecan pie, or to nab a slice of ham from the holiday dinner earlier, still chortling about some remark or play from the hand before.
The next morning I loved hearing the house wake up around us: first the stirrings of my grandmother in the kitchen, drawers opening and closing, the sound of the coffee perculator. My dad and uncles were usually up next. I knew they poured coffee and sat around the round kitchen table, looking out the double glass doors onto the backyard. I loved hearing them talk, at turns quiet, at turns laughing, at turns serious.
Lying there in my grandmother's quilts, the sheets soft and smelling of her and her house, listening to my family in the next room, I felt down deep that I'm a part of my family. I felt so much love for those people I didn't know what to make of it. I didn't know I felt that way, of course, until I was much older.
As more family gathered in the kitchen, we smelled bacon frying in the skillet and heard the creak of the oven door as Mee Maw took a pan of biscuits from the oven. By then, all the kids were awake. One by one we slid open the louvered door, eyes blinking from the brightly-lit kitchen. All the grownups turned to comment: "Well, good morning, sleepy head! Hi there, sunshine. You decide to get up?" Each mother and my grandmother ran a hand through our hair. "How about a biscuit with some grape jelly? Do you want a strip of bacon?"
The den was on the other side of the kitchen. From our comfy pallets we could hear our aunts and uncles moving around in the bedrooms and hear someone picking their way carefully among the sleeping children to go into the kitchen, my aunts and mother to help Mee Maw with breakfast, the men to enjoy a cup of coffee, homemade biscuits with sausage gravy.
In the last few years I realized with a start that we're the grownups now; we're the ones in the kitchen filling cups of coffee and sitting at the table munching on bacon. We sit and look out the window, re-play a hand from the card game the night before, trade quips, quick comebacks, and trash talk, and update each other on our daily lives as these get-togethers are all too infrequent. Our children sleep on pallets and play together.
When we have smaller holiday gatherings with just my husband, Jeffrey, and son, Tillman, my parents, my brother and his family, breakfast is just as important. It's one of my favorite parts of the visit. Jeffrey is often the first one up; he plugs in the coffee and quietly gets breakfast things ready. I join him, then my brother and we talk in croaky early morning voices, in our pajamas and unwashed hair. We sit at the table and everyone comes in. We talk and laugh and I know each time that this is the good stuff, these memories we're making. Then my son and niece stagger in, eyes blinking in the bright light. I hug Tillman to me. "Good morning sunshine! How about some breakfast!"
Keetha DePriest Mosley lives in Winona, Mississippi. She is a founding member of the Mississippi Writers Guild and the author of Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern and More Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern. Read her blog at http://writekudzu.blogspot.com.
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