She was at least 88 years old. Her face showed every child, every job, every heartbreak, every laugh, every row she’d ever planted or picked or hoed. And in those wrinkles, all three dead husbands still lived. When I drove to her house several years ago, she met me in the yard with the frying pan she’d told me about. It was black and worn around the edges like it had been abused by weather and pain and love all at once. It hung heavy from her warped, arthritically aggravated hand as if it might be a weapon instead of a cooking utensil. She leaned to one side to balance herself against its weight, her back hunched from decades of tough work.
“Well here it is,” she said. “It ain’t too big, ain’t too small.”
It was just about the right size to feed several generations of a family.
“I’m gonna give it to you if you write about it. It deserves a good story. It gave me hundreds of them. But there’s one rule.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
You cain’t use my name ‘cause my kids will be upset that I gave this away. It’s like part of our family. Just write about the pan, okay?”
I promised her I would. And then I got busy and things happened and somehow I didn’t write that story, and one day last week I got a call that she had died. I am ashamed of not following through on a promise to a fine woman. So here I am trying to make good on my word. I just shot that pic you see up there with my iPhone. You can see the old frying pan has seen some life – and perhaps still has some left in it. I’m going to try it out later tonight.
“My grandmother gave me that chunk of cast iron when I married my first husband, the one who died in the big war,” she said. “I don’t remember the year, but I can tell you I’ve baked probably 1,000 pounds of cat-head biscuits, a whole farm-full of pigs, several hundred cows, 70 years worth of greens, cornbread, gravy and killed at least three possums and one rattlesnake with it. I killed that snake last week, to be exact.”
She would not hand the pan to me directly, preferring instead to put it in the cab of my truck herself, reverently placing it in the seat.
“When it leaves with you, that’ll be the first time it’s ever left this farm in its whole life – or mine either.”
Standing in her yard, looking toward my truck and past it and into some memory from long before I was born, she told me a story.
“There was a time in my life when that pan was the only real possession I owned,” she said. “Women at the church gave me three dresses as hand-me-downs – a church I didn’t even go to, mind you. My shoes came from my cousins. I carved up and put cardboard in the bottoms to cover the holes they’d worn in them. My husband and I lived in the little back room of a widow woman’s house that used to sit down there next to the creek. No electricity, no plumbing, no furniture but a bed my husband made from rousted lumber and feed sacks stuffed with cotton we scrounged from the leftover pickins’. My momma let us borrow quilts. We was poor, let me tell you. It was cold in the winter too. But we had a little fireplace and I had that pan and I cooked what we needed to survive. When my husband was killed, a farming man came along and we married and he bought this farm from the old woman. And he died in the fields from a strong storm and a weak heart. I won’t go into my third husband. He left. Good riddance too. But I’m still here. So is that frying pan.”
I told her I felt bad about taking such a memory from her. She waved off my comment.
“I prayed for the day I would have enough to get rid of the pan, and I am long past that day,” she said. “So you see Mike, you are sort of like the answer to a prayer. Take it. You don’t want to fight against prayer, son.”
“No ma’am, I don’t,” I said feeling a little scared. “I’ll write that story.”
It’s taken me a little over three years and news of her death to do it. I should have written it back when she could have read it. I’m out of excuses. And I need to live up to her answered prayer.
You’ve probably noticed there was no mention of MoonPies in this story. And there’s a reason for that. Not everything in life has a MoonPie in it, even my life. And like this old cast iron frying pan, I guess that’s what makes a MoonPie special when you finally get one.