I made cornbread. The old-fashioned kind. You know, with corn meal and flour, not the kind that comes out of a Jiffy or Dave’s box.
There was a time when I knew how to make cornbread from heart, the way I do my biscuits. Today, tho, I had to pull out my Cracker Cookbook by Janis Owens and actually look up the recipe. I feel a bit guilty about that. Every girl raised up in the South ought to be able to cook cornbread from scratch without having to look up a recipe. My ancestors are probably rolling their eyes at me.
But after the kids up and moved off, I had no need to make cornbread anymore. It was just something I did once a year at Thanksgiving, and then only so I could make Mama’s cornbread dressing which I still can’t really make like she did. My girlfriend Loretta makes cornbread all the time, and it’s good. I’ve had me some. People clamor for Loretta’s cornbread and greens.
I can still make a mess of greens but I don’t do that much either. Ever since my kids forsook me for families of their own, I’ve made do. Supper might be a bag of popcorn one night and a yogurt and granola the next. Sometimes it’s just a pint of ice cream, eaten straight out of the pint box, not in a bowl like a proper person might do. And when I am feeling like I ought to eat healthier, I might opt for a supper of hummus and crackers.
There’s just something about cooking for a family of six that I can’t quit. If I make a pot of lentil soup, as I did on Sunday, I make enough to feed an entire homeless camp. The thing is, I can’t invite the homeless into my home to feed them right now, you know, because of the virus.
“Is it gone yet?” my grandson continues to ask.
“No, not yet,” I reply. I don’t have the heart to tell him it’s probably not going away for a very long time.
My father-in-law was crippled by polio at age 3. I’ve heard the stories of the pain and surgeries and trauma he endured as a result of that virus. Gene suffered post-polio problems his whole entire life. The country doctor Grandma Martha took her feverish and lame boy to told her to go home and prepare for him to die.
In 1952, over 60,000 US children were infected with polio. Swimming pools shut down. Movie theaters. Parks. Insurance companies sold polio policies to expectant parents. Thousands of children died from polio. I am sure Grandma Martha must have been worried, but she took her sweet boy home and she nursed him back to health, while somehow managing to make sure the other kids didn’t contract polio.
My first published book was about Judge Rufe McCombs of Georgia. In that book. Rufe tells the story of how she contracted tuberculosis while working for the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.. Rufe was one of the first women to graduate from University of Georgia’s law school. She hadn’t been in DC long when she contracted TB. She returned to Georgia and was admitted to a North Georgia sanatorium, where she remained for over the next 18-months.
In the late 1880s, one out of every seven person living in the US and Europe died from TB, known as the White Plague or Consumption. Rufe didn’t want me to write the story of her having TB. She once told me that after the book came out that people at the courthouse where she worked didn’t want to get on the elevator with her because they feared they could get infected just being around her.
This was some fifty years post-treatment. I thought she was being ridiculous. There was no way anyone was afraid to get in an elevator with her in 1998 just because she’d had TB in the early 40s. But that’s how deep-seated her emotional scars were from having had a disease that was so contagious, she had to be locked away in the North Georgia mountains waiting to be healed or to die.
And, look, tuberculosis is still around. Over 500 people died from it in the US in 2017. We have a vaccine for it, so that’s certainly helped curb its devastation worldwide. It’d probably be eradicated totally were it not for those anti-vaxer wing-bats.
Sometimes I despise the fact that we are a people created for story and I’m a #*$#* writer. I believe it is our deep-seated desire for a good story that makes us humans especially susceptible to being manipulated by every bloody conspiracy theory that comes along.
Given a choice between the hard facts of science or a good myth, we humans are hard-wired for conspiracy theories.
Which helps explain why we have wing-nuts and well-meaning folks out there preaching a message that Covid-19 has been sent by God to punish humans for not putting the Calvin God first.
Biblical thinking presupposes that the world is peopled with enemies. Smiters are around to be forgiven, post-smiting.
That’s how author/playwright Kevin Lane Dearinger summed up the theology he was raised up in, growing up Catholic and gay in Kentucky.
Calvin’s God has never seemed to approve of the natures he’s created, Dearinger adds.
Thus, Calvin’s God punishes the very humans he created just for being human, by smiting those very people with polio, and tuberculosis, and AIDS, and now Covid-19.
God is going to punish America for the gays, my Tennessee-bred mama said in the last months of her life.
I didn’t argue with my dying mama but I did tell her I thought that was poppycock. Only I may have said it was total bullshit. Yeah. I most certainly said the latter.
The problem with the Calvin God is that he is all too willing to overlook the racism and bigotry and self-righteousness of those who go around claiming their Calvin God is going to smite America for the actions of others.
People who embrace the Calvin God (and let’s face it there are far too many of them in this country) don’t appear to own a mirror or have the capacity for self-reflection of any sort. Lord God, forget the gays, my mama’s lifestyle would have put Jeannie C. Riley to shame (Look it up, Millennials).
Seems to me if God is going to be punishing anybody these days, he might bring a whip to the White House and start driving out the evil-doers there. If anybody has earned a smiting, it’s that group of Calvin-worshiping wazzocks.
You might be wondering what all this has to do with cornbread.
Nothing much really, except it’s a comfort that reminds me of those times when Mama would sit in the den crumbling up cornbread into a cold glass of buttermilk and eating all that up with a spoon as we watched Johnny Carson and laughed together. She might tell me a story or two about her work or her dog or her garden or some book she’d read, or one she wished I’d write.
We’d turn the TV off after Carson and hug and kiss each other goodnight.
I took some of that lentil soup and cornbread over to my neighbors. A gay couple, they have a sign posted on their front door about how they are following all the CDC rules to protect their health. I placed the soup and cornbread on the doormat and rang the doorbell. Then I stepped back off the porch, into the drizzling rain and visited with my friends from a distance.
“We were just talking about maybe making some cornbread tonight,” Jeff said.
“Now you won’t need to,” I said.
We talked about dogs and politics and church and, of course, the virus.
Preaching online from the pulpit on Sunday, Pastor Andrew warned the congregation that even when the church doors open back up things won’t be the same. We won’t be greeting each other with a handshake or hug anymore.
Wingbats can scream all they want to about getting things back to the way they were, but there is no going back. Over 300,000 people worldwide have died from the virus. A 100,000 of them right here in Calvinist country. Factually, we can point to the specific failures of this administration and this president which has resulted in so much death and hurt from a virus allowed to run amuck.
As I walked back home from my neighbors, I thought about the ease with which I used to go into their home, eat at their table, drink their wine. We always began and ended our visits with a hug and a kiss.
I miss hugging my friends, my sister, my church family, my babies all grown up and gone, and their babies.
I miss sleep, too.
Karen Spears Zacharias is an author. She hopes there is something in here that ministers to your hurting places. Consider this a hug.