May 19, 2018
“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.” – Confucius
In memory of my dear mother – 10/2/1918 – 5/14/2014
Gumbo In the Air (Part 2)
By Kevy Michaels
As a proud maid, she maintained humility, finding joy in serving others, her family and her employer’s family. She also cooked, cleaned, and raised 5 children for a white affluent St. Charles Avenue family. She worked for them for nearly 50 years. Often her gumbo ritual began, after serving her employer’s family, then preparing and serving her own family a fish-on-Friday meal. We enjoyed freshly made file gumbo on Sunday or on holidays. Getting a serving made us feel obligated to attend mass. Okra Gumbo was the only kind of gumbo we ate occasionally on weekdays. Eunice earmarked each day of the week for certain dishes, Leftovers Monday, Fried Foods Wednesdays, Beans Thursday, Seafood Friday, and Special meal Sundays. Her home ran like a well-maintained piece of machinery. Her budget never ‘runneth’ over.
Eunice, who aged very gracefully, with what Creole folks said was ‘an olive complexion’, meaning not too light, but lighter than brown, stunned with charm. She had ‘good hair’, very fine, curly, and often unruly. Looking at an old 1932 photo of her, at 18, she looked like a young Sade. She looked slightly Cuban, yet Ethiopian. While preparing gumbo she told us how her grandfather, from Cuba, favored her because of her light skin. We learned about her dropping out of grade school to care for her dying mother and grandfather, abandonment with 9 of us after my father died. But she managed to keep fun memories even growing up as a poor ghetto child. Helping her with the gumbo had a residual benefit of acquainting us with our heritage, as well as, revealing to us family secrets.
Her prior husbands, both jealous of her beauty and quite insecure, accused her of flirting or cheating, but she never did. Even through her sometimes violent and alcoholic husbands, she maintained faithfulness to Catholicism, and to fulfilling her roles including serving her delicious gumbo, when the wind beckoned her to. She never divorced. Her steadfastness and toughness, since her early years kept her committed. She may have enjoyed ‘carrying the cross’. She coined herself ‘a tough titty’ as she was exceptionally resilient.
By the time her day-long gumbo regiment neared completion and rendered entrancing aromas, she found relief. You couldn’t tell though, because she looked a mess. With her tattered and worn house coat of many years soiled with roux drippings, shrimp and crab juices, and her hair all over her head, she sat down to break for a liver cheese and mayo sandwich. She found solace though, in the unmistakable aroma that permeated up and downstairs, and throughout the Irish Channel neighborhood. She found joy in delivering this treat to her family.
By Sunday she looked radiantly beautiful and proceeded to attend mass. She wanted to be admired by God too, even more than by her family. Her deeply divine spirit influenced everyone’s admiration of her. She greeted every encounter on her church stroll with an addicting smile. Though I could see the current and historical challenges in her face, hair, clothing and varicose veins as she damn-near slaved for others over the years, she never revealed all that she’d endured, when she socialized in public. She liked to look good. Her stylishness only decorated her already infectious smile. My six sisters groomed her, always keeping her current, as vigorously as she attempted to groom them for domestic servitude at home. It didn’t work for any of those often-bitter equally strong personalities, though.
When the Creole file gumbo wind blew though, it didn’t blow just for Eunice. It blew for nearly every Creole mother in New Orleans. They got the summons as if they had read smoke signals in the sky. Most of the city prepared for tasting a variety of different gumbos, as all creole mothers thought theirs tasted the best.
Eunice prepared the best file gumbo according to me and all who knew her. Her spirit was in the soup! …Not the spices, roux, or other ingredients. The sacrifice, love and smiles were the secret and unique ingredients. The stories and wisdom she shared entertained us each time.
These magical years will remain with me forever, as will the pain and disappointment that we all accepted when fragile health took this gift away from her, and from us forever.
Days like those have faded from our day to day living, but not the stories, the recipes, and the love Eunice shared with us all.
Planted deep in our hearts are the memories that seem to surface every time the first cold wind of gumbo season blows.
Let me set the stage. We are waiting in line for a ride at DisneyWorld. My young son grabs my hand and tugs. “Mama?” he says. “I have a question.”
“Yes?” I respond, scanning the crowd and internally strategizing the rest of the afternoon, totally engrossed in my thoughts. Out of nowhere, he asks, “Can everyone feel the same love? Like in their hearts, like I feel it in my heart? Can everyone in the world feel that love in my heart? And also. Do you think that love is God, did God make the whole world or did the whole world make God?” Continue Reading
Here’s a great Gumbo Recipe – Kevy Michaels
Creole Gumbo Recipe From Mrs. Elie – Invite your friends and family over to dig into the Creole version of this classic Southern dish
Read more at the Smithsonian Magazine – Follow on: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
A Mother’s Love
Published on May 9, 2008
There is only one thing like the love of a mother to her child…
When one experiences Transformation, as I have, they will experience the virtues of Inspiration, Hopefulness, Spirituality, Determination, Patience, Creativity, Healing, Prayer & Meditation, Self-Love, Communion With Nature, and Courage. – Kevy Michaels