Saturday, November 29, 2008
Cotton Bolls and Clean Chefs...
My son is wonderfully imaginative and a good cooking partner. This morning, the healthy distraction for me was to cook a turkey, with his expertise and patience of course. At ten, those are the greatest moments that I remember, playing catch with dad, learning how to clean freshly caught fish, being allowed to use the sharp knives, and learning how to season everything just right. That was with my stepdad, of course, by that time, my parents had found new soulmates, and I was living in Philadelphia - a small southern boy riding the subway to school, not really afraid, but confident that things were going to be okay after they had been so not okay for a long time.
Gabe asks a large number of questions when we cook together - why does the bread for the stuffing have to be so small, melting butter smells really good when you add garlic to it, how should I inject the season medicine into the turkey, are you and mom doing okay this morning...
I distracted him by reminding him "A Happy Chef is a Clean Chef" - and we cleaned up the kitchen, sterilizing every surface lest it be infected by some raw turkey or bad emotion that welled up during our excursion this morning. I was in a dream state for that hour - working with him, possessed with his youth and his questions, and in love with his brown eyes and small hands as they sliced bread, or stirred celery and onions and garlic, or his tousled hair as he told me that he loved cooking with me and also loves it when we have fires in the backyard. A happy chef is a clean chef, and for me, I wonder when it will feel clean again, but that is another story for another time and another place.
Both of the kids are showering away their cooking and cleaning chores right now, Christy has left for the gym, and I reached into my pocket and pulled out the Cotton Boll that I picked up on my drive from Maryland back to Florida. When you drive this time of the year, it is cotton season - that staple crop that they still grow throughout the south, but most gets shipped overseas to be made into towels and q-tips and bandages, and then shipped back here for us to consume.
Raw cotton is pretty - after the fields are cut, the cotton that has escaped the bailers blows all over the roads and highways, like big fluffly snowflakes, or a cotton candy storm - it drifts and piles in little piles that eventually start looking like the remnants of a snow plow pile rolling down the highway...this piece in particular was my piece, so I saved it. I don't know why I save things like flowers and sticks and wrappers - they don't mean anything to anyone except me - but I save them, and I keep them, and when I look at them, I can tie them back to the exact moment and the exact thought and the exact smell and the exact feeling that I was experiencing at that time. A collector of sorts. I have a trunk full of these things - not necessarily cotton bolls, but different wierd things.
Right now, I am collecting cotton - when you hold raw cotton in your hands, it is like holding a piece of dry hair with a stickle burr in the middle - it is soft but dry - it has no particular smell, and usually it is a little dirty from months of rain and dry dust in the cotton fields. Focusing on this piece of cotton helped me then as it is helping me now - the feeling attached to it is one of uncertainty and fear, but also one of hope - that whatever life that cotton is going to be, it is going to be, and serve its purpose, it is going to be processed and changed and shaped, woven, sterilized, molded, cut, combed, but transformed and be better for all of us.
That's about all I can think of right now. Process, Process, Process. There is no heavy conversation, just heavy feeling, there is no emotion, just process. There is no real connection in this house with the exception to children - just process. Maybe it will be transformed into something that is better for all of us, but for now, I kind of like the odorless, tainted, dry, soft cotton boll feeling that is out there - it means that I am not falling back into process and not ignoring things and not confronting and selling out. It means that I am just a raw cotton boll that can be anything - it is just a matter of getting to that point and moving on.
Melancholy is not the drive of this post - I am giggling as I write these words - that there is a future - different, unknown, uncertain and perhaps alone - but happy chefs are clean chefs, and there will be many more years of cooking with Gabe and coloring with Gray and many more seasons and change for those cotton bolls -