My great-grandmother lived ’til I was into my thirties; notably, for all but the last couple of months of her life, she was pretty dang lucid, too. Had she survived another year she’d have met her great-great-grandson. But, to quote a friend, she still won.
Gracie. She lived in a tiny, vernacular cottage perched at the summit of a steep slope on the main channel of the Tennessee River; the view was to die for. Any morning of the week found her hunkered down on the corner of her worn wicker sofa in the 1970s addition she built on a tight budget. (She did everything on a tight budget but only because of willful frugality–as an adult woman she never wanted for anything.) From there she could observe river traffic and the wildlife on her three rural acres, and opine about anything and everything, politics mainly. At her right elbow sat a saucered cup of black coffee and another saucer of crisp bacon slices (she rarely had fewer than two pounds in the fridge). When they were in season there were also a few generously salted tomato slices on that plate. Wisps of smoke unfurled from the cigarette between her fingers, her skin and hair betraying a lifelong nicotine addiction. It took so little else to make her happy, with the possible exception of the company of her multi-generational progeny.
In her last decade Gracie lived in a nursing home where she made daily trouble for the staff. She defied the no-smoking-in-the-room rule, sitting openly on her toilet with cigarette in hand. You could confront her about the ash pile on the floor in the bathroom and she would only shrug. A small pleasure in the absence of coffee and bacon and tomato slices on the Tennessee River, for a woman who had lived nearly a century, and who was the only sibling of five to survive childhood during hard times in Victorian-era Knoxville.
She broke rules without a stitch of guilt.
Of Gracie’s culinary triumvirate I share her passion for black coffee and tomatoes. (Bacon is evil as we all know.) But at the confluence of this holy trinity I can taste the southern-grown and harvested fruit at the height of the season, and there is nothing like it. I have had some pretty good approximations here in New England. Not a true Southern tomato, though. That succulent mouth explosion is Nirvana, enough said.
Last week I resolved to start tomato plants from seed inside (since it is Still Winter here) as I intend to make a vegetable garden this summer, dammit. As I mentioned in the last post, I enjoyed success starting other vegs indoors from seed but was a bit eager and now have sprawling plants that are ready for the ground too soon. They will probably die before I can move them, although they continue to look pretty healthy and I will nurture them inside as long as they will allow.
Gracie had the Midas touch with gardens and houseplants, African violets especially. She did not share this particular gift with me. But sometimes I think I possess her intransigence, which is occasionally desirable and even helpful when you’ve got to navigate through tough and unforgiving wilderness. I leave you with Gracie’s language, written in her own hand, and I shall keep you posted on the tomatoes.