You know, if we were to put this apple down, and leave it, it would be spoiled and gone in a few days. But, if we were to take a bite of it like this, it
would become part of us, and we could take it with us, forever.
George Malley, Phenomenon
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about being a good steward of the Earth. Grandma was big on this one and lately I’ve been foraging for those words of wisdom that fell, unprocessed, on my younger ears. She was the epitome of Southern femininity, which meant that she never did her nails, kept them bit down to the quick, never wasted food, always grew something, forgot to write down her best recipes, and drank her coffee with enough sugar to make Solomon blush. It was a testament to her suffering during the Depression. What seemed like a Sunday evening on her front porch with tea was true church–and part of my soul remembers her smell. Soap, bread, and sun-warmed skin. She hated my smoking, but bought me Marlboro Reds once per week just so she could lecture for a spell on that porch before getting to the good stuff. Grandma was the oldest daughter of an alcoholic Irishman, claimed to hate “spirits” and made the doc “prescribe” her wine for her heart just in case her neighbor was in line at the Piggly Wiggly. Her Aunt Annie (pronounced Ain’t A-nee) concocted and hustled the strongest muscadine wine in the county, and of this Gran was proud since she reckoned it was God’s work. I miss that logic.
I am her first grandchild and her namesake and yet it took her dying on me before I saw the salt of her living and thinking as critical to my sanity. While Gran never had the option of recycling in her little town, every Cool Whip bucket that came through her kitchen became Tupperware. Coffee cans were for storing bacon grease, or maybe egg shells for the garden. Leftovers were for pushing on unsuspecting visitors, rubbing alcohol and yesterday’s paper were Windex and Bounty towels, and Magnolia blossoms were quickly pressed before they were past their bloom and framed in the guest bath. And that was just the beginning. Relationships were preserved like so much strawberry jam, stories were passed down over slices of banana bread (forever linking to the taste of banana and walnut to 1942) and suppers were marked by long-winded roundtables on pregnancies, marriages and remembering our dead. See, Gran had this idea that being a good steward of the Earth was about more than not leaving your “economic footprint.” She saw the philosophy of it all as inclusive, and boy howdy that was a serious responsibility.
Now, I live in a world far removed from Gran’s. It took me some time to get the jist of her Earth philosophy and even more to realize that she wasn’t just sitting on a porch all those Summer nights. No ma’am. She was communing. Stories melted into sweet tea, sunsets were a prelude to fireflies, an old hymnal marked the rhythm of her foot and all of it was Philosophy at its finest. I have this memory of being about five, Gran slicing sharp cheddar so thin and fine it melted on my tongue, and asking her “why you make it like that, Granma’?” to which she replied “so that I can savor it, baby.” Well damn. Isn’t that just the ticket? So, that’s what we were doing on a porch.
I’m forty-five now and have a rocking chair one of my sugarbabies bought me at forty. No one is allowed to sit there but me. And I still slice my cheddar paper-thin.
Now, yesterday my family had a helluva schedule: housecleaning, dog washing, tailgating (this is a religious observance in the South) and paper grading were all to be done by midafternoon. Somewhere in the middle of it all, it hit me that I was just plain miserable. Out of touch with the Philosophy. Rushing ’round like a chicken with its head chopped off and not being a good steward of a horse fly. There is this delicious moment in the movie Phenomenon where John Travolta’s love interest explains how she soothes her babies by rocking them like the tops of pine trees, swaying in the moment and feeling it in your core. This is what happened to me yesterday, somewhere around noon, in my kitchen. I slowed that puppy down, man. Went out into my garden and gathered up all the basil I could find, turned on a little Ray La’Montaigne, and made pesto. Then, for good measure, I took a two-day-old chicken carcass and slow-boiled up some roasted broth and filled a good three mason jars. The whole thing finished up with half a glass of cheap port, a cigarette, and some ponderment of a stray lizard on the back step. We were late for the tailgate, but Grandma showed up just in time.
I figure none of us knows when our jig is up. Grandma ate lard and bacon grease and — when the doc removed the artery from her leg and fixed up her heart at eighty-two, then got right back to butter and biscuits. Her take on it was, hey. Took me eighty-two years to clog that sucker up. I figure I only got forty more. (She was a hot mess.) Her last meal was a Krispy Kreme doughnut soaked in creamed coffee. Blessed be.
Now, I know that at first glance this particular piece of writing, if we can call it that, doesn’t shine on as a Paganistic spiritual. Well, now, Gran’s porch might have just looked like the front of the house when folks drove by it, too. I figure, as a Cherokee matriarch, Grandma knew exactly what she was doing when she was watching her willow trees dance in the wind. We all could use a bit of that kind of worship. Here’s a few notables from my ancestor we all could get groovy with as Pagans:
1. You do not need money to worship. Homemade athames, wands, and homegrown herbs do just fine.
2. An altar can be a rocking chair.
3. Big Momma (aka Mother Goddess) talks the loudest when you shut the hell up.
4. You can put more than butter in your cobbler: it’s a hearty vessel for love and comfort. Why, you oughta’ see my son’s face glow. Boy knows he’s special when momma takes that kind of time.
5. Being a good steward of the Earth has more to do with communing than it does recycling. (Although, keep that up. Just study a bit on how to recycle your ancestors. Man, they had the good stuff.)
I reckon being Southern is a state of mind. My daddy was a Jersey cop, and that man would wake us up, three a.m., to point out a banana spider in a tree. Like it was gold. He died planting a flower for my momma in the woods he called a yard ten years ago, but I can still hear the sound of his laughter tripping along the tops of my pines –if I’m still long enough. That’s my kind of Paganism. That’s my kind of worship.
That’s my kind of living.
That’s the good stuff.