The mystery in Mamaw’s kitchen

Alabama Living Magazine

Come with me on a trip through Alabama and down memory lane.

Over the river and through the woods, sorta.

Actually the trip takes us along an interstate highway that is perpetually under construction (don’t tell me that government can’t create jobs), in and out of suburbs with glittering malls, into the Black Belt with dying little towns – Safford, Catherine, Lamison, Alberta – then out and into the Clarke County piney woods to where my Mama, Mamaw, once waited.

In her kitchen.

Mamaw’s kitchen was a tribute to the lingering power that the Great Depression held over those who lived through it. Don’t throw it away—“we might need it one day.”

As a result, to navigate her kitchen you had to pick your way around things that were arranged and stored according to her own system.

Especially when looking for something in a refrigerator.

 Mamaw had two refrigerators.  

(Like most things at her house, there was a history behind getting the second one, something about needing more freezer space, and this was the solution, which she justified by the fact that the newer one has an automatic icemaker.)

It followed that when I went looking for something I either had to know into which refrigerator she put it, or go searching.

Thus began the game of “guess what is in the butter tub.”  

(A variation of this is “guess what is in the whipped cream container,” though that one is never as exciting as the other.)

You see, high on the list of the things Mamaw did not throw away were plastic containers. When a plastic container was emptied, she washed it out and saved it for the day when she has just enough of something left over to fit into it. 

This presented a problem when I went looking for butter, for the tub with “butter” written on it often contained anything but butter. 

So off I would go, opening containers marked butter but not containing any. Meanwhile Mamaw listened with ears unimpaired by age as I opened and closed container after container until I reached the magic number at which her patience wore thin and she called out:

“What are you looking for?”


And in a voice edged with exasperation she replied, “It is in the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ container in the other refrigerator back behind the jelly,” and of course there it was.  (I decide not to point out the irony of butter being in a container identified as not being butter while the butter containers contained everything but butter – as we say down in South Alabama, some swamps just don’t need draining.)

So the butter was found.

Also found leftovers sufficient to feed a small developing nation, leftovers I could proudly point out when and if anyone asks “what’s for supper?”

But I won’t.

That knowledge would only remind Mamaw of my search and how useless I am in her kitchen.  

I would not want to do that.


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Award-winning Alabama Living is the official statewide publication of the electric cooperatives in Alabama and the largest magazine of its type in the state, reaching some 400,000 electric cooperative consumers.

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