I am saying grace before supper. And a lot is going through my mind.
Namely because we are eating biscuits tonight. And I love biscuits. When I am done saying this blessing, I will experience one of the best feelings on planet Earth. Which is peeling open one of my wife’s hot, handmade catheads.
Steam will rise from the soft bread to kiss me square on the nose. And I will swear I can almost hear the Vienna Boys Choir singing “Ave Verum Corpus” somewhere in the distance.
I have a long childhood history with biscuits. The day after my father’s funeral I remember awaking to find our kitchen covered in a fine dusting of Gold Medal Flour. There were old coffee cans of lard on counters, and matronly women in beehive hairdos.
The oven had transformed the kitchen into a sauna. The sound of female chatter was like the sound of geese on a pond. I sniffed the air.
Hallelujah. They were making biscuits.
After a funeral you have a lot of food around. This happens when someone you love dies. Church ladies with solemn faces show up at odd hours to leave hot pans on your porch, or shoeboxes of fried chicken, or Tupperware containers with notecards attached to the lids.
And you receive a lot of biscuits. This is because the American biscuit is not something that merely sits in a bread basket, covered with gingham. A real biscuit is true. It is something real.
Next time you eat a biscuit think of the hands that mixed the flour. Human hands that have seen their share of pain, and loss, and life. See the fingers flex when they knead lard into the ivory dough. Watch the dusty palms use an upside-down cup to stamp each one.
Verily. This is love.
The ironic thing is, after my father’s funeral I didn’t feel like eating. I had no appetite. I had bleeding ulcers from the time I was 9 because of a crummy homelife. And after my father’s end, my nervous stomach only got worse.
And do you know how they treated my ulcers? Well, the first method was something called wax suppositories, which I firmly believe ought to be outlawed.
But the second treatment was soft, hot, golden-crusted, crumbly centered, buttermilk biscuits.
The women in my life took it upon themselves to heal me with food. Strange old ladies appeared from the shadows with plates of food in hand. Had it not been for these women, I would have surely withered and died.
When I met my wife, one of the first things she ever cooked for me were fried gizzards and biscuits.
We shoved these scalding hot gizzards inside the steaming, floury biscuits, then smashed the pieces together, slathered them with butter, and ate until we were ill. And I couldn’t quit grinning at the supper table.
Because you see. Life is jagged. And it never quits lunging at you. Just when you think you’re through the hard parts, there are more bumps over the next hill. But biscuits. They make life into art.
They are more than they seem. They are the stuff prayers are made of. All food prepared with tenderness is this way. This bread comes to us from another realm, even though we don’t deserve it, there it is. Proof that someone loves us.
Over the years, my wife’s biscuits have undergone subtle changes. They have varied in thickness and weight. They have grown softer, larger, smaller, fatter, richer, more buttery, more flaky, more crumbly, lighter.
Like them, my wife and I have also undergone changes. We never had children of our own, for instance, but we’ve had our share of dogs.
We got most of these pups when they were no bigger than softballs. We watched them grow, we let them destroy our furniture, and we saw them into their late years when their snouts turned white.
And on their final days, we held their heavy heads against our chests and told them we loved them, through soaked and swollen faces, while a vet helped them drift to sleep forever.
In other words, my wife and I have had a nice life. We’ve been to Mexico twice. And we have seen the prairies of the Midwest. We have eaten brisket in Texas, and seen the stars shine over the Grand Canyon like scattered snow on asphalt.
We have walked the shores of Cape San Blas, tossed shells into the water of the Chesapeake, and dreamed aloud while looking at sunrises over the Appalachians.
We are growing older. And it’s happening faster every day. I wish that time would slow down, but it doesn’t. One day, my joints will hurt more than they do now. One day I will be white-haired and need help getting out of my La-Z-Boy recliner. One day we will be but shadows of the children we were. One day I will be gone.
But I can truly say that I have known the finest that this world can offer me. The hand of a lover, and a friend.
Tonight, I’m seated at a suppertable, holding that flour-covered hand. My head is bowed.
If I were a painter, I’d put my whole heart into the greatest painting ever painted and give it to her. If I were a sculptor, I would carve something from the best and biggest piece of marble. If I were a builder, I’d give her Buckingham.
But there is so little I can give, other than my beating heart. And these few words:
“Bless this food, Lord. And bless the hands that prepared it.”