Editor’s Letter – 11/21/18
In Raymond Carver’s short story “A Small, Good Thing,” a grieving couple is comforted after their son’s death by a lonely baker—played in the 1993 film adaptation (“Short Cuts”) by the great Lyle Lovett—who offers bread straight from the oven: “Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this,” he explains.
The story, like grief, is more complicated than that. But I think about that line all the time. It struck me hard after my mom died, eating a Braum’s burger across the kitchen island from my dad in the house where I was raised, the always-on TV in the living room blaring one of the major network crime procedurals she watched religiously.
Things fall apart—you can count on it—but eating is a small, good thing.
I’ve thought about it: My last meal would be six fried catfish filets, six hushpuppies, and six very cold beers, with a heaping side of slaw and fried okra. (I’d also take two burnt corner wedges of buttered cornbread, too, please, and one grilled jalapeno, and peach cobbler with ice cream.)
My mom was the cook. Holidays were extra huge, but she made any family gathering into an event. She always sat down last—after a chorus of protest from the family—to make sure everyone had a full plate and enough sweet tea.
After she died, our new family tradition became dinner at BG’s Catch—an all-you-can-eat fried catfish joint in Kingston. It’s a squat metal building in a gravel parking lot full of beat-up farm trucks with cow shit-covered mud flaps and pristine F-350s so clean you could lick the hood. The carpet inside is greasy and worn, with overhead fluorescent bulbs casting a sickly light on the sullen teens bussing tables and scraping plates into the industrial rubber trash cans lining the open dining area. It’s not mom’s kitchen, but has its charms.
I get something close to that last meal ideal at BG’s—no beer, sadly—and I watch my nieces and nephews get older, get crushes, and learn Drake lyrics. (“I only love my bed and my mama, I’m sorry.”) Our time at the catfish buffet is a reminder that life crashes on, like an Okie tumbling from the back of a turnip truck in the heart of Chickasaw country.
This issue’s cover story by Angela Evans is about comfort food. If food can’t offer comfort “in a time like this,” then what can? It’s grim out there, but you can find love in a bowl of matzo ball soup from Jane’s Delicatessen, a Thanksgiving po’ boy from Lasalle’s New Orleans Deli, a hearty bowl of chili from Ron’s Hamburgers, or the gussied-up biscuits at Foolish Things Bar & Biscuit.
Life is complicated and horrible. Food shouldn’t be. To borrow again from Carver’s lonely baker: “You have to eat and keep going.”