My passion for food began where the majority of passions for food are born: home.
Home has always been wherever my mother lived, which up until March 3 was Brownwood, Texas. That’s the day Lila Cathey drew her last breath surrounded by loved ones. Home it remained the week that followed as our family descended on the ranch-style home in central Texas to say their goodbyes and ultimately lay our matriarch to rest. She was 79 when cancer took her life.
Because people gathered in my mother’s house, there was never any doubt food would be prepared. Thanks to my job description, it was my job to make sure there would be plenty.
In a small, brown wooden box with the word “Recipes” etched in black across the front, I found the inspiration for this last supper in honor of my mom. I thumbed through dozens of recipes — some typed, some handwritten — on index cards, finding familiar dishes drawn from magazines, boxes and friends from a bygone era.
Ambrosia salad, lemon jello cake, pecan pie, Southern cobbler, company casserole, fiesta chicken casserole, baked cream of mushroom soup chicken, chicken curry, party meatballs, chocolate blossom cookies, peanut butter cookies and party punch passed before my eyes.
Few of them inspired memories of culinary triumph, but all of them sparked memories of laughter and joy associated with a gaggle of dinner parties, pot lucks and fellowships my mother hosted or participated in over the four and half decades I’ve been alive.
My mother’s gifts were many, but few were more powerful than her ability to make people happy. Her recipe was simple: Listen to the problem, form a plan, take action. She took the adage about friends in need being friends indeed more seriously than most. She spent a lifetime seeking out those in need, helping them with whatever problem might be between them and happiness.
“Old She,” as she often referred to herself, recognized the healing power of food and laughter. She was wont to engage in all manner of practical jokes, and while she never loved to cook, she loved what cooking for others did.
One day about a decade ago, a gentleman named Gray leaned against a store counter looking life-whupped. Bad a time as Mr. Gray was having, his luck was on cusp of a full reversal because he happened to be at the same place at the same time as Lila Cathey, who could spot a downtrodden soul from three states away. She tapped Mr. Gray, who at that moment was a total stranger, and asked if anything was wrong.