Happy Birthday baby!
Dear Grammy (Hazel Clintonia Todd Townsend),
You would have been 87 today.
Thank you for having my Mom and through her and my Dad G-d gave me life. Thank you for loving all of your friends and family in such a way that we all thought we were your one and only. Thank you for telling me stories that inspired me as a Black man…stories about your Father and how he stood up to the Klan; stories of your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. These stories and the way you cooked are with me every day of my life. This is what we call a Heritage…and not everybody gets a Heritage—so for that I thank you and I express unending pride it what you passed down to me.
Things were not always perfect. We made each other mad sometimes. You were right when you said, “Someday you’ll miss me when I’m gone.” You were right. But by and by when I think back to growing up with you, Grammy, you had my back. I will never forget when you saw my history notebook I kept and said “Lord have mercy, you’ve done so much research!” That look on your face and that rub on the head and that smooch on the cheek will stay with me every time I get up in front of an audience, every time I see something I did in print. It’s not just me its you there right beside me.
You told me every day after school “Get your lesson and walk with the Lord.” That’s the master plan.
You grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama. You had six brothers and sisters, you married your high school sweetheart and had seven kids. You had the courage to go North and leave the South behind. When you got to Ohio, you found it was not the Promised Land but that didn’t stop you. Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati–you followed your husband to London, England and then Nairobi, Kenya and eventually to Washington, D.C. where I was born.
For somebody that claimed that she could only make sandwiches and chili when she got married, you left a hell of a legacy in the kitchen. You knew how to impart that Alabama way to food—fried fish, fried chicken, bean soup, collard greens, mustard greens, smothered pork chops, fried pork chops with applesauce, apple crisp, potato salad, macaroni salad, scalloped apples, caramel cake, buttermilk biscuits, potato rolls, candied sweet potatoes, green beans and fresh tomatoes, okra, beef roast, baked chicken, egg custard pie, grits, peach pie, peach cobbler, coconut cream pie, chocolate pie, homemade bread, strawberry pie, rhubarb pie, blackberry pie, mulberry pie (in Kenya), macaroni and cheese, sweet tea, pecan pie, fried green tomatoes, creamed corn, cornbread, chicken and dumplings, beef pot pie, sauteed squash, fried apple pies, sweet potato pie, black eyed peas, and best of all Barbecue!!!!! Add that to what all the incredibly delicious things my Mom can cook and ya’ll could have opened a restaurant.
But I think above all else you loved cornbread in a glass of buttermilk and fried green tomatoes 🙂
I did not appreciate when you made me sit there for 4 hours over a cold, then colder than cold, plate of okra. That was not fun. I kind of like it now-but only because I grow it and use it when its really short and not so gummy.
I cannot look at a bottle of Texas Pete without thinking of you. I finally got the “hot sauce” thing. I make my own now, as you have seen.
It was fun to talk to you about life over snapping beans and that kind of thing. I know I was generally–and still can be–a total wreck in the kitchen but I am slowly but surely learning the rigor of “clean as you go.” Gotta tell you, Grammy, cleaning sucks–but I use it as a time to think of what I’m going to write next.
Thank you for taking care of my Mom every time I’ve come to you for help. More than me, watch over her everyday.
Btw, I saw you sitting in the audience at Oxford. Don’t think I didn’t notice you sitting there with your “Go head!” look. You ancestors are really really tricky….
Angelface. (And Pat, Albert, Bobby, Tony, Gail, Ginger, David, Kellye, Brian, Derek, Jonathan, Evan, all of your Great-Grandchildren—Devon, Quincy, Zoe, Donovan, Milan, Rowena, Quinton, and all of your Todd, Hancock, Hughes, Bellamy and Mabry cousins and relations left here on earth. From All of your Friends and from all the people I wish could have known you.)
Fried Green Tomatoes: Grammy Style
According to my Mother, “Mama raised some beautiful, fist-sized tomatoes. We’d go out to the garden at Kennedy Street in D.C. and get baby squash, a few green beans, greens, and one time you wanted to plant like the Indians, so we planted broccoli each with a sardine.”
- 2 medium, firm green tomatoes–of a nice round shape….about 3 inches in diameter
- Kosher Salt, to taste
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- Black Pepper, Coarse, to taste
- Cayenne Pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Small hot green chilies
- green onion/scallion/sliced thin
Wash the green tomatoes, cut them in a quarter inch or half inch slices depending on your preference. Season the tomato slices with a little kosher salt, coarse black pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Season the flour with the same. Dredge in the flour. Heat the oil to hot but not smoking. Fry each tomato slice about two minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Garnish with a small pinch of salt and cayenne, the chopped green chilies and green onion and enjoy.