I don’t work on Mondays. Not for money, anyway. I’ve adopted a personal policy, like many restaurants and theaters that work hard on weekends. Mondays are reserved to press the reset button. I am free to make this decision as an executive order because even though I have an involved partner as my husband, it’s Mommy that makes the house go.
On Mondays, I do the things that I want to get out of the way for the rest of the week;
- Do laundry
- Clean out closets or flowerbeds,
- Make large meals that we can warm up later,
- Visit the doctor/dentist/spa, and
- Mop with the windows open and the stereo really loud.
On my list last Monday was groceries. I’ve always hated that task given that it only creates more tasks, like cooking and washing dishes, but people have got to eat. I headed to a grocery store in the country because I thought I might save time by not waiting in line to spend all our money on food that’s not even cooked yet.
I didn’t want to be making groceries – I wanted to go tip someone’s car. I’d been enraged for weeks about the killing of Trayvon Martin, which had served as my last straw regarding race, and power and privilege. I wanted someone to know all about my attitude as evidenced by my hooded sweatshirt, pulled up over my head. I could only hope that I terrorized some stranger.
Before I left my house, I asked God, show me.
Once I got there, I walked through the store trailed by an elderly white woman on a power scooter. I got paranoid, feeling her watch me very closely. Finally, she gave me a little smile, so I asked her, not kindly, “May I help you?”
“I notice you’ve got greens.” She said.
I turned and kept walking, suspecting her to be some kind of secret shopper, waiting for a false move so she could call the police.
We spent three aisles together and most of the things that I bought, she bought too. She even had the nerve to ask me to pass her a bottle of hot sauce. I was furious – She was the one who killed Trayvon Martin and the one who gives life sentences to people who really could use rehabilitation. She was The Man, and we were making quite a picture, an elderly lady with a mangy dog in the basket of her Hoverround and a wanna-be thug, buying soul food ingredients together in the middle of nowhere.
In any case, she finally ran into the back of my leg with her scooter. I set my lips close together, as I do when I’m trying to be patient with idiots and turned to her saying, “Ma’am. That’s my foot.”
The dog panted and kind of smiled at me, if dogs can smile, and she said, “I wanted to ask you something.”
“Can you show me how to make greens?”
Absolutely not. I would not Mammy this woman in a farmer’s grocery store so she could tell her family and friends about the real, live Negro she met who taught her What Negroes Eat. Besides, I don’t work on Mondays, which made diversity training out of the question.
I shook my head slowly but firmly and told her, “No.” And then I moved to walk away.
She said, “My partner died in January. She’s from Mobile, and she used to make greens at least once a week. Usually on wash day. She was black, too.”
I soften, because I do wash on Mondays, and because when I look at her again she reminds me of Mrs. Drier, my neighbor. Same pale skin, thick glasses resting on the tip of a pointy nose, with her bluish white hair in a roller set from Friday afternoon. They could be sisters. Mrs. Drier and her husband have lived in their house since I came to the neighborhood when I was little. As kids, my brother and I went to her house with skinned knees if our mother wasn’t home. He’d go check her perpetually filled jelly bean jar when there was nothing sweet at our house. We swam in her pool. And now, my family gets her mail and shovels her snow seeing that she’s grown old. Mrs. Drier is just as I one day will be, hopeful that some nice person will help my children take care of me.
So I told the scooter lady, “You can get greens in a can now. I hear they taste just fine.” My resentment of the system, and “white people”, and especially white people who kill black kids for unspecific reasons is telling me to push her off her scooter, or at least steal her dog. I refrain.
“But, I want to make greens, not eat them from a can. On washday.” She moves her hands like a magician before performing an amazing trick.
And then it hits, the lesson of the day – It’s not her fault.
And it’s not. I’m clear that I am charged to love everyone, especially those who hate me. But this Hoverround lady doesn’t even hate me. She’s just missing her girlfriend, who made her greens while she did the laundry, like I do.
“You got a pencil?” I asked her, and she did. And while I rubbed her little mangy dog, I told her my grandmother’s recipe for greens, because it’s not her fault, and it’s not mine, and all we can do is love one another, out here in the middle of nowhere.
Gumbo Z’herbes Recipe
- 1 bunch collard greens
- 1 bunch mustard greens
- 1 bunch turnip greens
- 1 bunch spinach
- 1 bunch watercress
- 1 bunch beet tops
- 1 bunch carrot tops
- 1 bunch radish tops
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 1 bunch chicory
- 1 bunch arugula
- 1 bunch sorrel
- 1 bunch dandelion greens
- 8 or 10 sprigs of tarragon
- 1 head romaine, green-leaf or butter lettuce (not iceberg)
- 1 green cabbage
- 1/2 bunch green onions
- 1 gallon water, salted
- 1 large smoked ham hock (optional; omit if you want it strictly vegetarian)
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 4 tablespoons oil or shortening
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 3 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 whole cloves of garlic
- 2 whole allspice berries
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Cayenne pepper to taste
- 6 cups cooked long-grain white rice
Wash all greens thoroughly and remove all stems or hard centers. Boil them all together in the water for about two hours. Strain the greens and reserve the water. Chop the greens finely and reserve.
In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot make a brown roux of the flour and shortening. Add the onion, bell pepper and celery and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the chopped parsley and sauté 5 more minutes.
Add the reserved cooking water, greens, herbs, spices, and seasonings. Simmer on low heat for 1 hour. Adjust seasonings as necessary.