OF MICE AND MINESTRONE by Joe R. Lansdale preview: “The Kitchen” and “Mama’s Pecan Bread”

In celebration of the release of Joe R. Lansdale’s enthralling OF MICE AND MINESTRONE – HAP AND LEONARD: THE EARLY YEARS, Tachyon presents glimpses from the collection that is “full of humor, gritty drama, and insightful observations.” (Publishers Weekly)

The Kitchen

Joe R. Lansdale

I must have been six or seven at the time, and it was an event that went on for years, this gathering of relatives. Neither do I remember the occasion, or if there was one. Meaning it had nothing to do with Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any holiday. I believe it was just a visit to Grandma’s house. She lived about an hour from us, in a big old house on about thirty acres. She was quite old then, but still very mobile. She was the only living grandparent I had. The others had died long ago.

My grandmother had been born in the 1880s and had come to Texas as a child in a covered wagon from Oklahoma Territory. She had seen Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and she had seen men land on the moon. She lived to be nearly a hundred years old, until a bout of pneumonia killed her chance at achieving a centennial.

On this day it was cold. Not common in East Texas, but we have a couple, sometimes three months or so, when it’s that way. It wasn’t icy or wet, just cold.

The smell of chicken frying in lard after being dipped and rolled in flour and eggs and dropped into the hot grease was the smell that woke me up. I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but my father wasn’t there, so it was most likely a workday. That could be any day from Monday to Saturday, and sometimes on Sunday, thoughmy mother and other religious folks didn’t like the idea of
working on the day of the Sabbath.

“Let God come get me,” my dad used to say, and I could envision him whipping God’s ass. My dad inspired a lot of confidence.

When I got up, my mother fixed me breakfast. I remember I had what she called cornmeal mush. It was essentially grits with butter and a tablespoon of sugar and a dash of milk. It was my favorite breakfast food at that age. Now and again I added a sliced banana.

While I ate, my mother dipped the fried chicken out of the deep skillet with tongs, and put it on a plate covered with paper towels, and then she covered the chicken in paper towels.

After my breakfast, I got to mix the cornbread batter with a wooden spoon so big and long I had to rest it on my shoulder. When that was done, she made cornbread in the oven, and then we packed everything in boxes and brown paper sacks to be loaded in the car. I don’t know what kind of car it was, but it was green. She let me carry some mixing bowls and a sack that had some cooking utensils and a box of Lipton Tea, which most East Texans back then viewed as the nectar of the gods.

I still do.

Continue on to page two for more OF MICE AND MINESTRONE content with a preview from GOOD EATS: THE RECIPES OF HAP AND LEONARD by Kasey Lansdale.