Peas and greens,
I'm not a superstitious man, but my granddaddy was. My grandmother used to laugh at him because he would stop in the middle of the road - traffic be damned, and negotiate another route around a black cat crossing. He wouldn't walk under a ladder period. If he spilled salt he'd throw a pinch over his left shoulder. Yeah, she laughed at him, but he lived longer than her. Superstition?
All the grandkids called my grandmother, Nuna. I thinks it's German, but nobody knows for sure where it came from. I called my grandmother Mama because she was the only mama I knew growing up. She used to make black eyed peas and collard greens every New Year's Day. The whole house smelled like three generations of southern grit rising from two pots. Both of these dishes had to have pork in it, not only for flavor but for luck. She would say, “If you get some of the pork on your plate it is extra luck,” so she would always tear a piece off and put it in with my peas. I guess Mama was was hedging the bet for her baby. She would always do it real sneaky, like neither me nor God could see her. She would giggle when she did it. I'd always give it to my faithful little dog Ginger… Another adopted stray (like me). It was our secret, she was the only person that knew all of mine.
After I moved out of the house and on with my life, I lost that tradition. Sometimes a year or three would go by without greens or black eyed peas on the new year. Maybe I'd pass a restaurant in my travels that was serving them or dining with friends that had kept the tradition. That would bring back memories for a minute or two, luck or not. These last few years I've been cooking greens and peas and I honestly don't know why. Like I said, I'm not a very superstitious man. Maybe it's for the memories that seem to rush further away with every year that passes. Maybe it's my way of trying to hold on to them as tightly and with the same conviction I let go of them when I ran away from Mississippi. I tried to outrun myself and my past - neither one worked.
So here I am… About to eat black eyed peas, greens and cornbread. It's gonna be a holy moment. I won't talk much. I'll quietly chew and ponder while trying to remember what it was I was running from so many years ago. If I have a moment of clarity, I'll write it down; but I have a feeling it will be as simple as a meal with someone you love. It's always the simple things.
May you find peace in this new year and pork in your peas. And if your past haunts you more than heals you, may you remember that hope finds its way up like a blade of grass finds its way through firmly formed concrete or bitter winter dirt. Sometimes it takes a while, a concerted and sweaty effort, but it comes. When it finds you, let it hold you as long as it wants to. If it lets go - remember as long as you’re breathing, it comes back around just like Christmas and the promise of a new year... Cornbread's done.