Clueless in the Cul-de-Sac

Who are these people in my neighborhood? As the official Gladys Kravitz (the nosey next-door neighbor from the classic TV series “Bewitched”) of my hood I’ve been flummoxed by the number of people out and about in the streets that I don’t know.

And while I’ll admit brain fog at remembering some of my neighbors I pride myself that I at least know their dogs and I’m seeing canines I never laid eyes on before. At first I just thought the whole, “Who are these new people?” syndrome I was experiencing was me, you know, just being me.

But, then when my husband who’s not known for being blessed with my keen sense of cul-de-sac observational skills remarked, “Did we get a bunch of new neighbors?” I knew I was on to something. This meant an investigation was called for.

What I discovered was shocking, truly shocking. It turns out I’m an embarrassment to the Gladys Kravitz name. I, a self-proclaimed neighborhood know it all, was woefully clueless. The people forced out into the streets to seek the solace of sunshine during the lock down were not just part of my extended neighborhood but we live on the same street.

This prompted another fact-finding mission. How could I have been so unneighborly as to not, well, know my neighbors? I was raised on Mr. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” Rogers couple that with being from the south where you didn’t just know your neighbors you had a dossier on them should mean I have the training to be a super neighbor.

Oh, and it gets worse. I’ve worked from home for years. My desk overlooks the street. I literally have a bird’s eye view of all the comings and goings. Plus, I walk my dogs daily this means I’m like a beat cop patrolling the neighborhood.

If you want to know who’s doing home improvement, putting in some new landscaping or even getting their chimney cleaned I’m your girl. I also can forecast whose getting their home ready to put on the market by all the above being done to the same house.

So, where was this know your neighbor disconnect? I had to search inward and discovered that while I know houses I don’t know the people that live in them. Not wanting to do anymore self- flagellation I decided it was time assign blame on something other than myself. The culprit, I surmised, for my neighborly failings is the garage door opener.

This invention made us all stealth. You basically never have to see your neighbors. You enter and exit your vehicle from inside the comfort of your closed garage. Back in the day when you physically had to get out of car to open your garage door it was open season for some neighbor-to-neighbor conversation and or as my Grandma Stella liked to call it “cross examination.”

I have memories of this woman, the original Gladys Kravitz, sitting on her front porch and sprinting like a gazelle on the African Savannah chasing its prey when she saw a neighbor pull into their driveway. She said it was for church pray chain inquires but even at the age of eight I knew better.

Although as much as I would like to blame my lack of neighborly inclinations on the garage door opener I can’t. I have to admit that while I’m nosey, ahem, make the graciously curious, about the coming and goings about a house I need to work on getting to know the inhabitants.

Of course, I need to do this without going full Grandma Stella and true confession time that just might be the hardest part.

Can You Still Be Considered A Southerner If You Hate Grits?

Southern-Style-Grits-e017b085-1When your grandmother is the “Grits Queen” not liking “Southern Porridge isn’t an option.

As a Texas girl with a southern mama and grandmother, I was raised with a keen and enthusiastic appreciation of brunch, although we called it Sunday dinner. It was the meal you ate at noon right after you got back from church. In its purest form, it was a salute to carbohydrates. Nothing was safe from being battered or deep-fried. Even bacon got coated in a mix of brown sugar, eggs and flour and then was plunged into a pool of hot, bubbling Crisco.

The final flourish was rolling the bacon, which now resembled a hybrid of chicken tender and fritter, in cinnamon sugar and then dipping it in honey. I’m surprised no one had a cardiac episode at the table while they were eating. But then again, it was the late 70s and my grandpa’s preferred dining style was a forkful of food and then a drag on a Lucky Strike cigarette. Suffice it to say; the health movement had not permeated my grandparent’s house yet.

The one brunch food I had no appetite for was grits. I thought they were horrible — like, pretend to eat it and spit it out in your napkin, horrible. This devastated my grandmother. She had a reputation for being the “Grits Queen,” and she was proud of that moniker. In her mind, every southern woman had to be the master of three things in the kitchen: biscuits, gravy and grits. Not only could I not stand to eat grits, but there was also no way I wanted to learn to make them.

This lead to my grandmother staging what I would today call an intervention. She had the female family members gathered in her kitchen and each one shared with me how my shunning of grits hurt them deeply. (Did I mention I was still in elementary school?) The result of this exercise was me vowing to learn the art of making grits at my grandmother’s side.

It was a cooking lesson I wasn’t looking forward to because, in my opinion, grits were gross. They’re the equivalent of eating raw cornbread batter – tasteless and grainy. Seriously, blech. Even as a child my food theory was that if you have to work that hard to make something edible, then it’s the lord’s way of saying don’t bother. It’s the same reason no one should eat Cream of Wheat — it takes a pound of sugar and butter to even make it palatable. Grits are even worse.

First, hominy grits (the OG in the grits category) are just plain old corn kernels (my grandmother was all about the Boone County White) that have been tortured with some sinister substance like lye. (Do you know what lye is? It’s what our ancestors used for soap. I’m just going to throw it out there that if we moved on to lathering up with Irish Spring, why are we still using lye for food prep?) Once the lye bloats the corn kernels to three times their original size (kind of like my family after eating deep-fried bacon) and they look a little like teeth ripped out of someone’s mouth by a serial killer with a dental fetish, you then haphazardly grind up the teeth (oh sorry, I mean corn). After that, you have to soak the mixture in water and then add half of the stuff in your pantry and refrigerator to make it appear to be something a human should consume.

Based on all of this, was it wrong for me to just want to be left alone to savor the caloric splendor of bacon dipped in a brown sugar batter? Of course not, but I loved my grandmother, so I faked it. I put on an apron and vowed that I could conquer my fear of grits. Ugh, I embraced the creepy corn and went through the motions of grinding, soaking and making a “porridge” that looked like jaundiced papier-Mâché goo that had been left out on the sidewalk in mid-July. That was the easy part. The hard part was sitting down with my grandma to enjoy the “fruits of our labor.”

I took the smallest spoonful I could get away with and realized that, with my grandmother and two great aunts staring at me, I wouldn’t be able to pull the old spit out in the napkin routine. I was going to have to actually eat my grits. Then something magical happened – yuck turned into a very relieved me thinking, “Praise God, I don’t think I’ll die from eating this.” These grits tasted almost decent. My female relatives cheered when I smiled and took another very, very small bite.

I felt euphoric like I had passed some sort of generational test — and I had. I was now part of the sisterhood of grits.