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When Mom Wasn't Looking

(by Candace Bell)

"Who threw away my pots and pans?" Bam! Bam! Bam! It was the sound of my mother banging on the doors of our bedrooms, waking my four sisters and me up from our sleep.

"Who threw my pots and pans in the field?" she asked in an extremely angry tone. "All of you stand in line." We got out of our beds to stand in formation, as if in the army. My mother was the drill sergeant, walking down the line of the five of us, looking at our faces to see who would crack. Again she said, "Who threw my pots and pans in the field? Your uncle is lucky he didn't put his eye out while mowing the lawn. He found so many of my pots and pans, and I know one of you did it. Now tell the truth and do not lie!"

There was only one of us who would crack under pressure. My sister Val, the fourth of us five girls, would always rat us out. She couldn't tell a lie if her life depended on it. We all looked at her collectively as if to say, “You better not tell.” But before we could stare her down, she blurted out the names of my two eldest sisters. "It was Renaye and Missy!"

"I knew it!" my mother said. “All of you are on punishment."

We all got down on our hands and knees, our heads facing the wall and our noses touching it. Our noses had to touch the wall, and we couldn't move, or our time-out would last longer. We were in trouble with Mom, but we knew the real storm was coming from the sisters who were the ring leaders for all the neighborhood kids. Anything they told us to do, we did. But hiding the pots and pans in the field was all their doing.

My mother was famous for her cooking in our town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We grew up not knowing anything of fast food or anything that came in a box. My mother cooked everything fresh from scratch. And she was famous for the Fish Fry she did every weekend to supplement her income. Our house was a full-fledged restaurant on the weekends. People came from all over the city for a plate of food from my mother—catfish, red beans, rice, cornbread, and baked mac and cheese. She would rent a jukebox and an arcade machine with '80s retro games.

My sisters and I were not allowed in the kitchen while she was cooking, but every now and then we'd take a peek to see her work her magic. We'd watch in amazement, as she was in her element frying her fish and singing to the tunes of oldies but goodies.

It was great, until it was time for us to clean up—a huge undertaking. My two younger sisters and I did our part grudgingly, but my two oldest sisters would throw the pots and pans into the field outside when my mother wasn't looking. They figured she had so many that she wouldn't notice a few missing now and then, and she didn't.

The field had grass as tall as corn. It was the perfect hiding spot, or so they thought. I'd watch them launch the pots and pans into the field, as if they were pitching a baseball game, and then throw their hands up in the air to high-five one another, celebrating as if they'd just won the World Series. In those moments, my sisters were my heroes. They were terrible and devious, but brilliant. I thought it was a genius idea to cut down cleaning time from the kitchen. Until it wasn't. My mother allowed the grass to grow during the fall and winter. But when it came spring, she asked my uncle to get out the mower, and that was the end of the genius idea. If social media was a thing back then, my mother, Lavida G. Bell, would be the most followed cook (and my sisters would be stars for their outlandish ideas). ---

Candace Bell is an actor who lives in Los Angeles, California. She can be found on Backstage

Fried Catfish

1/2 c. flour 1 c. yellow cornmeal 1 t. salt 1 t. pepper 1 t. onion powder

1 lb. catfish fillets 1 t. hot sauce vegetable oil for frying

Combine flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and onion powder. Add hot sauce to fish, and place in a Ziploc bag.

Add dry ingredients and shake.

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat.

Shake off excess flour mixture, and fry fish until crispy on one side.

Flip over and fry until brown and crispy.


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