(by Kathy Lofton)
My father remained in my life after my parents’ divorce, but Momma had primary custody. Since I was an only child, it was Momma and me against the world—or maybe I should say against Shelby County, Tennessee, where we live. Her lessons and sacrifices afforded me the opportunity to live in three other states as an adult, but it has been only one locale for Momma.
Actually, it was great visiting between two parents. Some children don’t see their father much, or ever again, after divorce. Not in my case. I got to have two houses and two sets of activities. A big adjustment, but welcomed. I could do PTA meetings with Momma (she was the president for two years) or go fishing with Daddy, even though I am super afraid of fish and worms. My parents remained extremely amicable until Daddy’s death in 2020. I took care of him while ill for nearly eight years.
My parents had married at age 19. Since they did so at such a young age, they encouraged me to explore life and wait until I was older to marry. I have never counted on a man as an indispensable plan. I have two master’s degrees, have owned two homes, and survived—all while never being married. (I’m still hopeful, though. It is a deep desire.)
When grade school was out every summer, I stayed 15 minutes away with my maternal grandparents while Momma worked. In typical African-American culture of “a village raising a child,” I usually stayed with relatives, neighbors, or at a classmate’s house. The only drawback was obeying house rules and routines I wasn’t used to. With Momma, I was accustomed to space and a little autonomy—not unusual for an only child. But the benefit of visiting my grandparents and other homes was seeing how the women did things in the kitchen—for instance, their respective cooking styles and use of secret ingredients. One simple trick I learned was that rinsing white rice at least three times before cooking in a very small amount of water at a high boil is the magic for making it come out fluffy and not sticky.
It is in part because of Momma’s work ethic and mindset that I can hold my own today. My mother was private school-educated and had a comfortable lifestyle as a child. She grew up on hot meals, not fast food. I remember her cooking all those poor animals that Daddy hunted and brought home. I never had the courage, nor the palate, to eat them. But I learned how to get them to the plate.
Momma was a housewife before being trained to work at a retail cosmetic counter, followed by becoming an insurance auditor. Due to her excellent communication skills, she was offered a job with more flexibility and less stress as an office administrator at our church. Eventually she took on a part-time job at the airport, straightening up planes before the next passengers boarded, along with the main airport lobby and restrooms. She let that job go when she was asked to be a part-time store activities coordinator at a McDonald’s. (She was a hit at hosting kids’ parties.) The extra income helped us live as best we could. But working two jobs meant that she didn’t always have time to cook for me. Leftovers were a solution, but I don’t really like leftovers. So I learned to cook for myself from watching her. I learned how to season food well by “compounding” spices as experiments. As I got older, I took on cooking as one of my chores so Momma wouldn’t have to deal with it when she got home late from work.
I was given a full scholarship from a local university. I had a car and lived at home, working part-time jobs and then a full-time gig right after graduation. So I was able to contribute to the household. But despite my mom’s poker face, I always knew when money was tight. One night, I left my shift at a merchant credit card processing company and stopped at a nearby supermarket. I knew things were tight that week based on what was in the fridge. But I planned to surprise Momma with a huge buy of groceries. She was already in bed by the time I got home, so she didn’t see me load the fridge. I went to sleep, anxious to see her reaction the next morning. When I awakened, I heard her talking to a girlfriend on the cordless phone. As I lay there, I could tell she was moving closer toward the kitchen. Suddenly I heard her burst into tears and say, “That girl done gone to the grocery store!” I listened to her sobs, giving her a moment to take it all in before getting out of bed.
A feast was in order. Momma asked, “What would you like me to cook?” I told her to choose the menu. I wanted her to feel in charge, because actually she was. And just like when I was a little girl, I peeped into the kitchen to see what she was doing, occasionally assisting with the cooking. Some habits never grow old. We enjoyed a hearty steak dinner together.
One random day later that same year, I told my mom that maybe it was time for her to stop working the part-time job. She seemed tired, I was grown, and I knew we would be okay since I was working and there to help. She did. We’re still okay.
Kathy Lofton is a National Urban Fellow, community advocate, indie filmmaker, photographer, and writer who lives in Shelby County, Tennessee. She can be found at www.kathyolofton.com.
Dyan’s Baked Chicken Breasts with Wine Sauce
2 whole chicken breasts, skin on, split into 4 pieces
salt and black pepper, to taste
garlic powder and lemon pepper, to taste
1/2 c. ReaLemon juice from concentrate
1/3 c. Lea & Perrins Marinade for Chicken with White Wine & Herbs
1 large bell pepper, red or green, cut into large chunks
1 large yellow onion, cut into large chunks
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Place chicken in a baking dish, skin side up.
Season with salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and lemon pepper.
Add ReaLemon juice and marinade.
Scatter bell peppers and onions around chicken.
Cover and bake until chicken is done, approximately 50 minutes.
For a crispy topping, do not use a cover when baking.