My mother had one dish she cooked – spaghetti with clam sauce – and only if we’d run out of Cambell’s soup and chicken pot pies. That was just the way it was. She didn’t clean, either. Cooking and cleaning were tasks that you hired other people to do. She had more important ways to fill her time, like being pregnant seven times and playing bridge at the golf club. When she headed off to graduate school, even the spaghetti stopped. I loved my mother, but concocting delectable dishes in the kitchen just wasn’t part of her persona. The women who did cook and clean for my family became my icons of home and hearth. The first one I remember was Louise Love.
Louise lived on the corner of 7th Street and Pine in “colored town,” across the street from the juke joint named Sadie’s Place. Her house sat askew on its small lot, as if it had just been washed up by flood waters, cocked at a crooked angle. It was wooden with curling paint and had jagged holes in the front porch floor where the boards had rotted through. The screen door gave a high-pitched squeak when opened. But the heart of Louise’s house was her kitchen. The floor was covered in faded linoleum, black in spots from wear, but free from even a speck of dust. There were red checkered curtains over the cabinets and a matching cloth on the small square table. Canisters of flour, sugar, and baking soda sat on the counter, and a can of bacon grease rested on the shelf next to the gas stove. There was a single window over the yellowed porcelain sink where sunlight filtered through the leaves of the big bois d’arc tree outside. A door, crooked in the wall, led to the penned backyard, where chickens scratched for worms in the black dirt and a rooster sometimes flapped his wings and crowed.
The floors creaked when Louise moved her heavy body over them, wearing old house slippers with the backs trodden down. The pink underside of her feet contrasted sharply with the dark brown of her skin. Her black hair was greased and pulled back into a short ponytail. She wore a clean white apron over her house dress.
“Baby, you sit in that chair while Ruby and Louise make us a little dinner, okay?”
That was not a question, of course, though I didn’t care. I loved it when Louise and her daughter cooked.
I sat in the crooked little kitchen and watched as Louise rolled out a pie crust with a floured rolling pin, then placed it in the pie pan. She could flute the edges and have the cherry filling poured in minutes, then she would let me eat pie crust scraps while she wove thin strips of crust over and under to form a lattice top. The pie would be in the oven baking while she dredge chicken in seasoned flour and laid it in a hot pan to fry. Louise’s daughter Ruby would pour “sweet milk,” as my daddy called it, into the potatoes she was mashing, along with liberal doses of butter, salt, and pepper.
There was a quiet efficiency as Louise and Ruby cooked, and also a happy banter between them. I was contented to drink in the warmth, the smells, and the intimacy the mother and daughter shared in their common tasks. I sat there, barefoot, in my shorts and sleeveless shirt, and felt the coolness of that aged linoleum on the soles of my feet. There was a bond in Louise Love’s house that didn’t exist in mine. Something born from doing tasks side by side, day in, day out.
The smell of fried chicken, homemade biscuits, and freshly baked pie will forever tie me to Louise Love and her ocean wave house. I understood as a child that Louise didn’t have the pretty things my family had, but she had something we didn’t. She knew the joy of puttering with someone in a kitchen. She also knew love was as simple as tossing pie scraps to a waiting child.
Louise Love and me at my house in the 1950s.
5 Comments Add yours
Thanks for this, Len. Brings back many wonderful memories of my own.
That was vivid.Thanks.
Thanks, Tommy, for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated. Len
Great description. Reading, I feel like I was there with you. And with a name like Louise Love, how could you not take her to heart? So sweet!
Thanks, Kelly. Yes, Louise LOVE. Perfect.