I was remembering my Aunt Ruth the other day. Aunt Ruth lived outside of Delhi Louisiana on a farm and her son and my cousin, Bill, farmed the thousand or so acres that surrounded the old house. I remember that he was always busy repairing the irrigation systems that stood like giant centipedes along the dirt roads that crisscrossed the fields. I helped every now and then, and remember it was quiet except for the clanking of wrenches and the odd tractor in the distance. I remember the smell of diesel, of horses and hay, and of water and dirt. I also remember the chicken.
Aunt Ruth was a seminal cook; a chef, a magician of food that is rarely made anymore. When I would help Bill on my visits to the farm Aunt Ruth would always have a table full of magic when we arrived home for lunch. There would be fried chicken (from the yard outside the house), green beans (from the garden), macaroni and cheese (homemade of course), okra (fried and sautéed), homemade tomato jelly, buttered rolls, ice tea, several pies, and sometimes homemade bread. On top of all of that Aunt Ruth would serve us all with a smile and throw in a few laughs for good measure.
These memories cropped up in me some years later after I had “grown up” and I made a trip back to Delhi to reminisce. I stayed at a hotel off the highway and drove to the cemetery to visit some family. I drove to the old house where my family had taken me to visit their families, my grandparents and to the old farm where I used to play with the kids who looked after the place. I drove past the house where my uncle who used to hide whiskey in the toilet tank and yell at the help through the screen door on the back porch. I drove through the memories that have since haunted me and still haunt me today and I drove by Aunt Ruth’s house. I loved those people and what they stood for; something that I did not realize at the time because I was young, because I was from the city, and because I did not put a price on the priceless.
Those days are gone, but I believe it is up to me to remember them, to keep them alive; something I am working towards as best I can because like so many others today I have tended to hide behind the walls of houses too often, buy ease at the store and comfort with a credit card. Those people in our pasts, that we remember, were not perfect and they were certainly not saints, but I believe that my Aunt Ruth was a rare commodity, a rare species of person that has made the idea of what I think of when I think of the freedom that America offers.
Freedom and self-sufficiency are words now that are becoming more and more popular, perhaps a bit overused. But I believe in them and am striving to live up to their ideals. However, these ideals require work, character, time and talent as well as a smile and a laugh. My Aunt Ruth gave me the memory of an old house, creaking floors and a musty smell, smiles and care, but most of all she gave me a piece of herself in the form of food not bought from a store, or made from a box. In a few hours Aunt Ruth gave me memories that would last for a lifetime. I believe I need a lifetime to keep those memories alive for a few more hours.