Don becomes “Donnie” again. I see it on his face. Even though he’s old enough to file for AARP, Mama's pride reduces all grown men into little boys.

I am in the kitchen with an elderly woman named Pauline. And, dear Lord, can she cook.

Her son, Don, brought me here. He tells me his mother’s downhome fare is good enough to coax even the most depraved human being into behaving like a Pentecostal.

This is Pauline’s old home. She raised a family here. She doesn’t live here anymore, she’s too old. She’s in the retirement home.

This house sits vacant most of the time. Old photos line the walls. Bed sheets cover furniture. The last time they used this place was for a family reunion last year.

I arrive at eight in the morning. The smell of bacon hits me like a freight train. Crackling eggs. Biscuits. Grits. Holy Chet Atkins, I’m home.

Pauline is wearing 1962—red polka-dot apron, pearls. She’s all business. The woman is a feeder. If you don’t know what that is, have a seat at her table.

Her food is breathtaking. Her grits contain so much butter I need to say three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers when I’m finished.

After breakfast, she takes a breather. We wash dishes.

“Now,” she announces. “Let the REAL cooking begin.”

Class is in session.

I’m here as an observer, watching a feeder teach her son to make pound cake. It’s a private moment. I feel privileged to see it.

Don is beside her, paying attention. She uses no recipes. She goes by feel.

“See,” Don tells me, “I always wanted to learn Mama’s poundcake. It’s the best there is, ask anyone, I just wanna carry on her legacy.”

You’ve never met her, but you already know her legacy. She represents every kitchen queen there ever was.

She is frilly aprons, Thursday-night Civic League, pear salad with cherries and shredded cheese on top, and an accent that makes your heart sore.

She cooks by handfuls, gut feelings, intuition, and can cure broken hearts with enough bacon grease.

Pauline learned to cook when she was ten. As a girl, she fed six brothers. As a married woman; three sons and a husband. Her whole life has been behind a stove.

“It’s what I am,” she says. “I feed folks.”

Her hands don’t work like they used to, and she gets winded after talking too much. She is not just an old woman. She is old America.

Her husband was a pipe welder—the backbone of this country. Pauline was his lumbar muscles.

Every day, another elderly woman like her crosses The River and the world loses another recipe index.

Pillsbury tube-biscuits are taking over the universe. Shoot me.

After a full day of baking, Don is testing his pound cake. His mother samples bites like a county-fair judge.

It’s impossible not to smile in this kitchen.

The old woman chews slow. “You DID it,” she says. “I’m so proud of you, Donnie.”

Don becomes “Donnie” again. I see it on his face. Even though he’s old enough to file for AARP, Mama’s pride reduces all grown men into little boys.

She kisses him. The day is over. They send two cakes home with me. They shut the lights off to a vacant house.

I’m eating cake while writing you. My lap is littered with crumbs. I’m no expert, but this cake has a familiar taste. I can’t pinpoint the flavor. It hits the gut first. It’s sweet.

I know what it is.

This cake was made with the same ingredient all feeders use. The only ingredient that matters in this life.

Hug your mother today, if you have one.


  1. Penn Wells - February 25, 2018 6:53 am

    Can I have just the tiniest little bit of Hellman’s mayo under the shredded cheese on my pear salad? 👍😀

    • Jennifer Feist - February 25, 2018 7:17 pm

      Do you reckon I’ll be able to eat some of that food at the wedding feast of the lamb and meet all our wimmen folks from the past granddaddy always tried making biscuits but they never turned out like my wifes or mommas

  2. Judy G - February 25, 2018 7:34 am

    I can smell the bacon right now, sounds like a wonderful place to spend the morning with folks you admire. You’re a blessed man, Sean.

  3. Pam - February 25, 2018 8:02 am

    I must learn this magic…..

  4. Susan Hammett Poole - February 25, 2018 8:11 am

    Umm, I’m tasting that secret ingredient — L♡VE.
    A couple of times in my life, after baking a Sour Cream Pound Cake, I cut the entire top crust off (about 1inch thick) and ate it all by myself. Why? Because it’s my favorite part and because I gave myself permission!

  5. Pamela McEachern - February 25, 2018 8:18 am

    I am in the process of learning to make my grandmother’s chocolate pie. My Aunt Bettye is the only one left to teach me. It is the Best and the homemade crust tastes a little salty. The pie has been the birthday “cake” pie to many of us. Thank you for this beautiful story and praise that lets each person know how much they are loved when someone bakes from the heart.
    Peace amd Love from Birmingham

  6. Kelly - February 25, 2018 10:54 am

    I treasure every recipe and cookbook I have from my Mom. Even though she’s passed, when I am making one of her recipes I can feel her standing beside me smiling with love.

    • Wendy Franks - February 26, 2018 3:11 am

      So do I, Kelly. Most were inscribed on the inside front cover “…with love from Mother” and the date. They’re almost as treasured as the flawless diamond she received from my dad 15 years after their wedding when they had so few material things. Now I’m blessed with so many beautiful keepsakes all representing LOVE.

  7. Trina V. - February 25, 2018 12:59 pm

    I grew up with feeders and married a man whose mother was a feeder until Alzheimer’s stole that ability away from her. A pinch of this. A dab of that. A whole lotta love. That is the recipe for most anything a feeder prepares. I have several of my grannie’s recipes. Her chocolate sheet cake and her orange slice cookies are my favorites.

  8. Marty from Alabama - February 25, 2018 1:16 pm

    Another sweet one. And as Bear Bryant used to say on that famous telephone ad, “Wish I could call my mama.”
    Have a good week, Sean. Keep writing.

  9. Sherry - February 25, 2018 1:46 pm

    Wish I had Mama’s biscuits…thank you Sean!

  10. Sue Cronkite - February 25, 2018 2:40 pm

    I still make Mama’s chocolate fudge cake. It’s what everyone aims toward at family reunions. They get their cake before they even look at what else is there. I usually make three.

    • Dru - February 25, 2018 7:21 pm

      Sue, want to share that recipe?

  11. Connie - February 25, 2018 2:42 pm

    I come from a long line of feeders. I picked my mom up yesterday from the nursing home and took her to see her sisters and her remaining brother. They are all on borrowed time on earth but sitting in that room, watching my mom, I remembered hundreds of meals at my momma’s house. She didn’t “teach” me to cook. She went to work when I was 12 and left me to feed my brothers and sisters. But I became like her. I feed people. That’s how I take care of them. How I love them. And my son and my granddaughter will carry that on. I’m thankful for that. So, thank you for the sweetness this morning. Family has been much on my heart this weekend. Have a blessed day.

  12. Laura - February 25, 2018 3:00 pm

    I’m a feeder, too. Still take food to sick folks, for funerals, church suppers and the like. My Mother was a feeder from a long line of feeders. Her mother’s pound cake was heavenly, too! Can all good feeders make pound cake, I wonder? I was only 12 when Mother left cooking supper to me when she had to go back to work but I had watched her and knew how. Here in Alabama, you learn early from watching. Mother never measured anything. When my son got married, I decided if his wife was going to join our family, she would need to learn to cook like us. It was then I realized we didn’t measure stuff. With great effort, I began a family cookbook for the next generations. Estimating measurements for the non-Alabamians or those who don’t have feeder mothers was a challenge. The cookbook was a hit with cousins asking for one for their wedding gifts. Mother is almost 93 and doesn’t remember anymore how to make dumplings that melt in your mouth or dressing to die for, but her legacy lives on and I am happy we won’t lose the blessings from our feeder mother.

    • Wendy Franks - February 26, 2018 3:21 am

      Oh my! Thank you for the memories stirred of my grandmother’s chicken & dumplings…somehow ģolden & crunchy on top with little puddles of butter standing between.

  13. Jack Darnell - February 25, 2018 3:29 pm

    Yep, missed chances in this world, allowing ‘knowledge’ to be buried. I shoulda learned how to make a sweet tater cobbler and ”FIX” collards the right way! Plenty of ladies gone on used a little of this and a handfull of that with a pinch of salt. LOL

  14. lapaylor - February 25, 2018 3:35 pm

    I feel the moment. I make notes of moments and characters like this, it’s what I’m made of. Noticing the details. You paint a picture of a moment. I’m suspended there with you. Thank you for noticing and writing about it and taking me there. LeeAnna at not afraid of color

  15. Kathryn Rich - February 25, 2018 3:39 pm

    This made me smile and tear up thinking of all the special Feeders in my life. Thank you.

  16. Regina Peavy - February 25, 2018 3:44 pm

    I will. She’s 97. And her Mother’s name was Pauline. 🖤

  17. muthahun - February 25, 2018 4:02 pm

    Damn… true confession: MY name is Pauline. Nana Rete specialized in white bread and filled cookies, Grammy Smith’s mincemeat was amazing enough that my brother still gets starry-eyed just talking about it, Aunt Gladys had the biscuits and just about anything else down to perfection. And from the rest of Chebeague Island, there was Helen Miller’s divinity fudge, Shirley Burgess’s chocolate, Etta Ross’s popcorn balls that drew kids all the way from the West End on foot to trick-or-treat at her house. Mabel Doughty’s corned hake and baked beans, Walter Morlock’s blueberry muffins, Clara Ross’s whoopie pies, and I’d be an idiot not to tell you about Elsie Hamilton’s Valentine’s Day cookies – one for every kid in the school, frosted and named. Years later, when my kids were in pre-school, I called Elsie to ask if she’d share the recipe with me. She laughed and laughed, and said, “Sure! I’ve got it right here in my purse!” What a wonderful thing to celebrate, Sean, in this time when love and sharing and yes, grace are sometimes in short supply.

  18. Jack Quanstrum - February 25, 2018 4:30 pm

    Thank you Sean. Wish I could!

  19. Steve Welch - February 25, 2018 6:07 pm

    Great piece today. My mother was a feeder. My brothers and sister and me are feeders as well. All can make biscuits, cook ointo beans on a hambone, fry a chicken, you name it. Momma made sure she showed us how to cook. You are right. We are losing an entire generation of folks that cook by feel and love. Thankfully, Pauline will live on thanks to your writing and a great pound cake recipe. My mom lives on in biscuits, macaroni and cheese and country ham and red-eye gravy.

  20. Jan Wylie Plagens - February 25, 2018 6:30 pm

    Sweet article, I can see both my grandmothers, cooking up their specialties. Oh for the simpler times when food was an art and the most important ingredient was their love.

  21. Dru - February 25, 2018 7:18 pm

    Wonderful. One of your best. Wish I had that recipe.

  22. Amy - February 25, 2018 8:06 pm

    This IS my mother and grandmother. There is nothing like their cooking anywhere. In fact, the Thanksgiving after my grandmother died, my Mom and I were in the kitchen and my Mom said, “Do you smell that?” I did. It was the smell of “Mamaw Rolls.” My grandmother had come to visit us right when we were missing her the most.

  23. Kathy Dunn - February 25, 2018 9:20 pm

    Sean my momma was a feeder and made the best pound cake ever! After she passed my 10-year-old nephew said to me,”I’m never going to have any of Granny Dunn’s poundcake. Well the biggest smile came on his face after I told him that just months before she passed away she had taught me how to make her poundcake. Just like in the story it was not just learning a pound cake but passing on love in a part of family food history! Today’s story brought me back to that day standing in the kitchen with my mom. I need to go bake a poundcake.

  24. Martha Laska - February 25, 2018 9:36 pm

    This is why I bake. I am a counselor, have run my own company, have been a consultant. But I bake to really show love and to remember my mother. Feeding people is true joy.

  25. Jody - February 26, 2018 12:18 am

    My mother was a feeder. Grew up loving the fragrance of dough rising for rolls , soup simmering in cold weather and the joy of everyone at the table three times a day.

  26. Steven P Bailey - February 26, 2018 1:38 am

    Just like my Mama…

  27. Rose M. Darby - February 26, 2018 3:23 pm

    This evokes many memories and tears. I always picture my mother standing at the stove. We decided to have finger foods at Christmas; the dining table was loaded. But, if you went to the kitchen, there were all the traditional dishes:turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce. IT WAS CHRISTMAS! I love the line: She was old America.

  28. Steven - February 26, 2018 5:13 pm

    Both my grandmother’s were this. No recipes, just get in there and do it. Such good food. They made the preparation look effortless. Three times a day…………for years upon years………anybody within shouting distance was welcome. “Come eat!” You’d hear the screen door squawk open, then pop against the frame. If you tried to help with the dishes most often you heard, “honey, I got that. You go rest.”

    My mother never cared about cooking. Not sure why. Too messy maybe. Maybe because she was the middle child, and only girl, in a house full of boys. She could out run any of them. Had to some days, probably. But we had a housekeeper who could cook like nobody’s business. “What we havin’ tonight, baby?” Whatever it was, it was good.

    I married a feeder. And a preacher. She is always providing sustenance. Stomachs and souls. Cooking is her therapy. Lucky us.

    But the best line (and truest) in this one is, “Mama’s pride reduces all grown men into little boys”. Yes, yes it does.

  29. Tammy - February 26, 2018 8:40 pm

    I’m from a long line of “feeders” too. I hope I can still carry on just a part of what my grandmothers did. That is why I love to cook, to show others how much I love them and care for them. Thanks for stirring up those memories today.

  30. Elaine Click - February 27, 2018 2:25 am

    Thanks for all your stories. The amazing thing is my mother and her mother both cooked like this. And the stories were our entertainment, as we had no TV until I was about 16. We lived on small farms in North Alabama. I view my own cooking the same way, learned to cook on a wood cook stove at age 8.

  31. Mike Mount - March 1, 2018 11:29 pm

    Oh if I could only taste Aunt Doris’s pound cake again melt in mouth center with that crunch crust that will make your tongue melt into your heart after passing your stomach.

  32. Mary Lee - March 4, 2018 12:35 am

    My Mother was a feeder..she started when she was about six. Washing cloths during the day, along with sweeping and mopping floors and watching the babies. She grew up and was still a feeder. Working a full time job and feeding my daddy and eight kids plus anyone who dropped in. Always enough food for everyone. Yes all of this along with washing and ironing and cleaning. Her food was out of this world. These best feeder I have ever known.


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