I believe in gumbo. I grew up on a bayou in Pascagoula, Mississippi, in a home next door to my grandmother. We all knew her as Dee Dee, rather than the typical “grandma”. I spent most of my time there as a child. Her house was modest, built by my granddaddy and her only décor was his artwork and some family pictures. She spoiled me rotten and always made me feel special even though she had over thirty grandchildren.
Dee Dee was one of a dying breed; a matriarch of large family. On holidays or sometimes just Sundays thirty or more people would gather in her little house on the bayou. Anyone was welcome. The one constant at these gatherings was gumbo. We usually had normal holiday fare like turkey or ham, occasionally venison, but there was always a gumbo on the stove. Sometimes it was chicken, sometimes shrimp, sometimes whatever one of my uncles or cousins had caught or killed.
Gumbo is sort of the epitome of peasant food. Its basically flour and grease made into roux, stewed up with some celery, onion, bell pepper, spices, and meat. At its core gumbo has always been about survival; taking nothing and feeding your family with it. But Dee Dee made it into an art form. She made gumbo part of the family, and it always had a seat at the table. To this day I can smell gumbo and it takes me back to the bayou.
My fondest memories or not of the holidays but of the of the smaller gatherings, five or six of us crowded around her dining room table, eating, laughing, and talking. She always had a container of it in the freezer so if you dropped by with a problem she would have it heated and ready to serve in a snap. It didn’t matter how bad you felt about life, Dee Dee’s hugs and her gumbo made it better.
I miss her dearly. Dee Dee passed 14 years ago in July. The house on the bayou was destroyed by hurricane Katrina. I’ve moved to Denver and gradually the family has spread from here to Germany. The gatherings have gradually moved to aunts and uncle’s houses. Much has changed but there is still one constant: gumbo. In these tough times I have found myself making more of it. I stand at the stove, stirring the black gunk known as roux, and I am warmed with thoughts of easier times.
Sitting here in my chair on this snowy day in Colorado, so far from Mississippi, eating my gumbo alone, I’m taken back home and I do feel better about life, even if only for a short while. Gumbo is probably the best legacy Dee Dee could have left us; even with her and the little house on the bayou gone, bringing us together.