“Mama made the best banana pudding in Alabama,” she said flatly. “She was such a good cook, one of her friends nicknamed her Betty—short for Betty Crocker.”
Well, since Betty is as good of a name as any, that’s what I’ll call her mother.
I have it on good authority that Betty was more than the miracle-worker of banana pudding. She was also a kitchen queen, with a knack for bread pudding, chicken and dumplings, Coca-Cola cake, and squash casserole.
“As kids,” Betty’s daughter went on. “We just loved it when folks had showers or parties, Mama’d start whipping up pimento cheese…”
She leaned in and got quiet.
“But we liked funerals even better, because Mama was head of the funeral committee. Which meant she made fried chicken—she always made extra.”
If you’ve never lived in a small town, maybe you don’t know about things like funeral committees. Imagine: twenty white-haired ladies, with sun hats and skirt-suits, who can cook circles around a chicken.
That’s a funeral food committee.
Often, these ladies have enough sugar flowing in their veins, they practically bleed sweet tea.
The funeral committee’s job is to help families of the deceased go up two pant-sizes.
This tradition existed long before anyone knew what Southern Baptists were. And it will outlive us too.
“It’s not like Mama had free time,” Betty’s daughter said. “She worked for the utility company, all week. She’d get home tired, then make our supper. While we ate, she’d start cooking for someone else. Our house always smelled like food.”
I can think of worse things than a house scented with boiling peanut oil.
When Betty reached an age she could no longer cook, the aromas disappeared. The house turned into a tomb. No longer was this the food capital of the South, but an ordinary home.
“I asked Mama to start teaching me to cook. I really think that’s what kept her alive for the last two years. We wrote her recipes down, since she did everything by memory. I made a book. You can borrow it sometime.”
Just say the word, sister, and I’ll fire up the copy machine.
“It was a nice service,” she said. “We had music, flowers, everything.”
But it was more than that, it was beautiful. It was one of the longest visitation lines Betty’s town has ever known.
And, I also understand, for the first time in her church’s history,
The food was just plain awful.