Fried cornbread under the lights, anyone?

Published 2:12 am Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Fried cornbread and outdoor lights — interesting what becomes treasured childhood memories. That is what I discovered, thanks to a friend’s comments.

It started with a lunchtime discussion about the painting class my friend, Liz, teaches at the Lower Alabama Arts Coalition gallery. Another friend said she planned to take part in the class that night. I have known Liz since we were both kids, so I asked her to deliver a message from me.

“Tell her I’m going to bring her a plate of fried cornbread one of these nights when she is teaching,” I said. “Oh, and tell her mine is close to as good as my mother’s.”

There was a question mark in her eyes as she agreed to take my promise of cornbread to class with her.

“Liz will understand,” I assured her.

The next morning I saw a picture on Facebook of the lovely art created during the previous night’s class. I quickly complimented the excellent work done by a couple of the folks I recognized in the photo.

To my comment, Liz replied that she received my message about cornbread and that she would love some. She also reminded me that Mother’s fried cornbread has a special meaning for her.

It seems one of the memories she carried with her from childhood is how much she enjoyed sitting at the big table in our kitchen eating that cornbread. I am sure my mother had no idea she was making such a lasting impression.

Liz went on to say another thing she recalled from our days growing up in the East Park Avenue neighborhood was our lighted back yard. She thought it was a cool idea and remembering it led her to put lights in her yard.

With much patience and attention to detail, Daddy strung lights around pretty much our entire backyard. He connected the line to a switch on the back porch so with one flip night disappeared. The lights were Daddy’s masterpiece and something that made nights, especially in the spring and summer, feel endless.

It also made our house a draw for the entire neighborhood and we spent hours playing crochet, badminton, ping-pong and hide-and-seek under those lights. There were cookouts after which the adults joined in those games, too. (Well not hide-and-seek).

One summer we even had a big back-to-school party under those bright bulbs. It was magical.

Of course, I always knew the cornbread was good and the lighted yard was great, but I guess I never knew they were that special to folks outside my immediate family.

The fact that Liz shares those memories speaks to how we often don’t realize the ways simple experiences connect us. It shows big expensive things are not necessarily what we treasure and recall as we look back on our childhood years.

In fact, what I remember most are the day-to-day adventures, the small stuff that stitched together what was an amazing childhood. That is what shows up in my memory when I travel back in time.

Those moments laughing with my parents and siblings over some silliness are worth more than every present that showed up under a Christmas tree. The nights racing around the yard playing hide-and-seek under the glare from those big round bulbs hold more value than all the gifts that sat beside a birthday cake.

I think there is a message here for those who are still parenting children or for anyone who is part of a child’s life. Liz’s comments reminded me that it’s being present with children that matters most. For example, giving them conversation time around a table and a plate of warm cornbread.

It’s offering them the gift of fun that is free from structure and schedules. Like what Daddy gave us when he turned our nighttime yard into a lighted playground.

So thank you Liz for the reminder that the simple things are what remain with us. Oh, and that plate of cornbread is coming soon. I promise.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.