Cornbread and Buttermilk

Some of the strangest things can trigger memories.

Today it was a random commercial. To be honest, I don’t even remember what they were hawking. That is a sad, sad statement on the people who designed that particular commercial just to draw the attention of the viewer to their client’s product. Regardless, I was drawn because the commercial showed a very tired man coming home at dawn with his wife disparaging the rigors of the “graveyard” shift. This was followed by the magical passage of time to the man getting ready to go back to work and finding his young son at the refrigerator. In a scolding tone he asks the boy what he is doing up so late. To which the child replies, “I wanted to eat breakfast with you.”

Touching, isn’t it. Brings a tear to the eye. In these hard times, so many people are having to make compromises and give up time with loved ones just to make ends meet. This brings up a whole other conversation/argument/battle royal with my best friend about the cost of living vs. the potential wages earned. Not really where I was going.

That commercial stirred a memory, actually a couple of different memories. Both my father and my grandfather worked some non-traditional hours. Dad worked long hours. I often wouldn’t get to see him except for the brief time we got to spend as he drove me to my grandparents early in the morning to catch the bus to school. Dad’s old Volkswagon station wagon. It smelled like smoke and mustiness from his firefighting gear. The ride every morning was usually less than 10 minutes, but still those rides are some of my best memories of my father from early childhood, listening to the AM radio and shivering because the heater was practically non-existent.

My grandparent’s house was where I spent a lot of time, before and after school and during the summers. My grandfather, worked shiftwork. Sometimes days, sometimes 3-11, and sometimes graveyard. When Pappy worked the 3-11 or graveyard, I would sneak up well after my designated “lights out” to tiptoe into the kitchen. My grandfather’s favorite after work snack or pre-graveyard repast was a glass of buttermilk with homemade cornbread (you know the kind, cooked in a cast iron skillet) crumbled into it. Pappy always pretended to be surprised to see me, no matter how many times he found me at his elbow. He would pour me my own glass and slice me a piece of the cornbread for me to crumble into my own glass. The two of us sitting at the very 50’s-style Formica-topped kitchen table eating cornbread and buttermilk in silence while the rest of the house slept.

When asked about their best memories from childhood, many people think of beloved pets, winning the big game, or a trip to Disneyworld. Like a few of us, my best memories of childhood are quiet, purely mundane moments: A 10 minute car ride on frosty mornings with the smell of old smoke and the sound of classic country music on a tinny AM radio… and the taste of cornbread and buttermilk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *