Saturday, September 19, 2015


I made gumbo for dinner tonight. As I helped Ianna stir the roux just so, I thought back to when I first learned to make it myself. I had an obsession for making things from scratch, and even though I grew up in the suburbs of New Orleans, I had never learned to make real gumbo. We had some friends over one afternoon, and they were talking about how good their mom's gumbo smelled cooking. When I applied to her for instructions to make it, she told me that what her kids were calling gumbo wasn't REAL gumbo. "My mom knows how to make it though," she said. "I'll call her."

So I got my gumbo-making information over the phone.

"How do we know when it's done?" I asked.

"Mom says it'll be the color of a dirty penny."

When I was explaining to Ianna how to know when the roux was done, I pulled a penny from my wallet. "See?" I told her, "that's now you know it's done."

After the roux was make she went back to her game with her sister, and I continued working on dinner. Every time I make gumbo, I think of one particular pot that I make about ten years ago. 

It's kinda a long story, actually. 

When I was a young teenager, I got to know the wife of a distant cousin, and found her to be something of an unlikely kindred spirit. She was about fifteen years older than me, and her oldest kids were a little younger than me. When I met her, she had five or six children. I'm pretty sure that we were the only ones in the family who didn't think that they were absolutely crazy, when the babies kept coming. For the last three babies, Robin and I, stayed with her to help during the last few weeks of pregnancy and keeping things running after the new baby. For baby number nine (I think) I was eighteen, and Robin was seventeen. They were in the middle of moving, and though they were still mostly living in Arlington, they were having the baby in Tyler. So, we arranged for Shane and Adondra to go stay in Tyler once it got down to "any minute now" time, and Robin and I stayed in Arlington with the other kids. All of them. 

It need hardly be said that some family members were not impressed when they discovered that this was the arrangement. My cousin, who is almost my grandfather's age, and his wife drove from Tyler and dropped by one afternoon unannounced. I'm pretty sure they were expecting to find the disaster that two teenagers left in charge of more than a half a dozen kids would CLEARLY to in the middle of. 

As it happened, the house was clean, the kids were happy, and dinner was cooking. It was gumbo. They were impressed. It was darn good gumbo, too. It would have been better if someone had told me that okra gets woody when it gets too big. The kids got tired of "woody gumbo" pretty quickly. But I digress.

I was thinking back to that day as I was cooking this afternoon. I was so pretty proud of us too that day. I felt more than equal to the thought of a house of my own and a gaggle of kids. Fast-forward ten years, to a house of my own and a couple of kids, and I feel anything but. If those same relatives had dropped by my house unannounced, they would not be impressed. I wondered what happened. I'm far more experienced now. Why can twenty-eight year old me not handle what eighteen year old me handled masterfully?

The first thing, I realized, was that I didn't do it alone. My sister, my fourteen year old cousin and I shared the job that I do myself now.

Secondly, those kids were already trained to help, and listen, and contribute to family life.

Thirdly, I was only there for a few weeks. Even a month is a lot less long than "for the foreseeable future."

And lastly, the house we were in was almost empty. They were in the process of moving, so only the absolute necessities were left in the house. And it was SO easy to keep up.

Overall, I was encouraged to continue training my children, because eventually they will be more help than hindrance, and to not give up on my quest to get rid of the excess stuff in our lives. A have always admired Adondra, my amazing mother-of-eleven role model, but the longer I'm a mom, the more respect I have for the profound of time, energy and love she pours into her brood. When I grow up, I want to be as great of a mom as she is.

Which brings me full circle. To making gumbo with my little princess. I hope that she has gumbo stories of her own some day, and  that making gumbo with her mommy and making sure the roux is the color of a dirty penny is one of them.

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