“Remember This” by Darlene Taylor
“There’s no certain time to things,” I remembered mama saying as she reached for the canisters of flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and set them on the counter top. She sprinkled water in the flour and seasoned it with a dash of salt and baking powder. She didn’t use spoons. Her fingers were brown, the color of maple syrup with rounded nails. Working hands. She dug into the doughy mixture. Hands made things right.
Up to her elbows in flour, she balled the dough up in her hands, pulled and squeezed it. The veins rose up in her hands, slightly dusted. Blue green waves under her skin. She sprinkled water from a cheap tin she reused over and over. An empty lard can. The paper wrapper peeled off. Lard cut into flour was to make it rich, she said. The flour was as white as the sheets that dried on the clothesline, bleached in the sun.
The dough rolled up in a loaf, she separated it into two balls. She flattened the balls smooth and pressed the bottom crust in the roasting pan and along the edges with her thumb.
“Remember this,” she used to say, looking over her shoulder to see that I paid attention.
A young girl, it fell to me to pick the berries, wash them in well-water, and drop them in the mixing bowl. I sat on a high stool to see inside the mixing bowl. The bowl was just big enough for one pair of hands. When I thought mama wasn’t looking, I sneaked berries and licked the purple-black juice from my fingertips.
Mama lifted the bowl of blackberries, checking the weight. She knew.
She poured sugar and dashed vanilla and nutmeg on top, then dragged her hands in the berries. Cupping them in the palms of her hands, she let them fall into a purple-black syrup. The kitchen and her fingers sweetened.
The top crust stretched over the pan, she set the blackberry cobbler in the oven, trusting her hands got it right. I fidgeted, pulling at the potholder loops as I watched the stove glass window and clock.
“There’s no certain time to when the cobbler’s done,” she said, knowing I wouldn’t leave. “Just keep watch. And, if it’s not quite right, if things aren’t quite right, make it better next time.”
It seemed I mostly saw her hands covered. She wore gloves to church on Sundays. White gloves in summer. Beige in the cooler months. Cotton gloves with pearl buttons that fastened at the wrist bone. She carried irises and lilies to the family church graveyard and leaned the stems against tombstones.
“Tend the church graves. Pull the weeds to make room for flower blooms. Your daddy loved flowers,” she said. “Remember the springtime scents when the winter comes. Write your name and the children’s names in the family Bible…and the children’s birth dates too. Keep it in a place where it’s handled right.”
I remembered as I pinned a lily to my collar.
Share your response to this work, in any form, here
Darlene Taylor’s Artist Statement:
Darlene Taylor is an advocate for cultural arts and public affairs advisor from Washington, DC. Taylor builds connections with people using literature as a framework for cultural exchange. A recipient of an American Association of University Women grant, Taylor’s work has appeared in Kinfolks Quarterly and Blackberry: a magazine, Public History Commons, a KY Stories anthology of southern writing, and the magazine of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.