By: Tyler Newman
Kent Place School, West Orange, New Jersey
The old book was dusty and seemed to sigh as Mawmaw heaved it off the top shelf of her kitchen. “Diane,” she whispered, “out of all the books you’ll read in your life, not one will be as important as this one, for this book is magic.” On each brittle piece of browning paper were recipes passed down from generations, hurriedly scrawled in cursive. “It’s about time I taught you how to make one of my favorite dishes, seafood gumbo. It’s a meal that every son and daughter of this family should be able to make!” Mawmaw bustled around, gathering ingredients here and there, settling them on the counter beside an old fashioned cast iron pot. I could almost see the dozens of batches of gumbo that had been created by this magical pot over the years. After all the preparations were made, Mawmaw flicked on the stove and beckoned a gangly, 7-year-old me to a step stool in front of the fire. I looked down into the pot to discover chicken marinating in stock. We got straight to work, me chopping up garlic and celery, Mawmaw mincing onions and bay leaves. “The key to a good gumbo is the roux,” Mawmaw said smiling. “Make sure it isn’t lumpy now!” I stirred the stew, making sure to beat out any lumps. Next, in a skillet, Mawmaw added
I watched in awe as she stirred the mixture and the fire in the old stove sparked, flying through the air like fireworks. When the concoction was brown, she added it to the stock.
After an hour, we returned to a kitchen alive with delicious aromas. I fought the urge to jump up and down as Mawmaw pulled out
Finally, when the gumbo really got to brewing, Mawmaw added a dash of black peppers and a generous dose of Lawry’s. “Remember Diane, the gumbo ain’t the real thing if there’s not any Lawry’s in it. I swear by that stuff.” I stirred the gumbo for a while afterwards, watching the sea of gold swirl round and round with an occasional protruding crab leg. The sky was a dark, velvety blue by the time the table was finally set to eat. Grandad woke up from his nap and Mawmaw changed out of her apron for supper. Smoke mingled with the spices of soup as Grandad exhaled his last ring of cigarette smoke and snuffed out his cigarette in the ashtray before taking a seat at the tidy dining room table. He picked me up and set me on his knee as Mawmaw brought out bowls of gleaming white rice. Finally, out came the gumbo pot, which I watched with delight as it was set in the middle of the hard oak table. Mawmaw beamed at me and exclaimed, “In honor of you making your first gumbo, I’ll allow you to taste the meal first.”
After we all said Grace, Grandad poured a serving of steaming golden soup over my rice. I picked up my spoon, scooped up some gumbo and took a bite. I closed my eyelids as an explosion of light went off behind my eyes. It was as if the spices of the gumbo were colors and, as I ate, I was painting a picture of my own.
Finally, I opened my eyes and smiled.