If you’ve been reading here, you know that we stalked Paula Deen for Mother’s 80th birthday. While this particular event was the reason for our trip to Savannah, we also did other things. Food was the common denominator of most of the events for a reason.
Although Mother is as trim and agile as I’ve ever known her to be, she and I are both foodies. We might do it for the personal art of it all, but there’s no sense discounting that at the core of our culinary adventure is the love part. I could tell you its born and bred in those of us who were taught southern hospitality, but I know for a fact that geography has little to do with it. It’s an appeal to that universal, physical requirement in all of us in the most tangible of ways.
Besides my Mother’s table, I’ve been to friends homes, restaurants, and family gatherings whose hands have prepared meals that fed my body and my spirit; my aim was to find that for Mother in Savannah. I figured our best chance was the The Church Cook.
You need to know a little background before I tell you about Kay.
Mother and I, we’re religious women, but not conventionally so and Mother is less that than me. Mother gave up on feeling like she fit in at church quite early. She felt more at home in Alanon, although after time she even lost her place there. But saying that, doesn’t do justice either to the conversations she has with the being that created her or the questions she has allowed herself to ponder about Him these past 80 years. It’s many times I have caught her praying before her own meals, head bowed. It may not be the God of the missionary Baptist church that we attended when life was hard in Arkansas, but it most certainly is the God in Heaven who is her Father, who grants her unexplainable peace and grace. Despite her characteristic nonconformity, Mother has always harbored a desire for traditional forms of church activity to be of value and true. As you might expect from what I’ve already told you, the ministry of food has loomed large in these expectations.
“Your grandmother Hershey was big in the Methodist church, Jan. They always had the best church suppers.” My grandmother Hershey appears to have been an amazing woman. My memories of her are mostly about her laying comatose in a darkened room but before that, she built houses and made incredible bean sandwiches and cared for my parents as with innocence they welcomed their first child.
I’ve heard many times about Grandmother Hershey’s role in the Methodist church suppers. If you really think about it, the story is actually more of a lament. Mother wishes there were such suppers at churches like that now. Mother is also asking for ministry, the kind of ministry, the kind she herself traffics in, the kind when dispensed at a church, teaches what she knows God is all about.
She doesn’t think its an accident Christ did his explaining around the dinner table.
I do not remember the details of how I found out about Kay, but amidst crock pot and pioneer woman blogs, I found her. Kay was formerly a professional caterer in Savannah who now serves meals at the downtown Independent Presbyterian Church. The IPC was rooted in 1755, by a Bible believing Scotsmen on property granted by King George II, “to the intent and purpose that a place of public worship be there upon erected and built for the use and benefit of such of our loving subjects . . . as are and shall be professors of the Doctrines of the Church of Scotland, agreeable to the Westminster Confession of Faith.”
This is some distance from hardcore, hell-fire and brimstone, reformed theology in the Bible belt.
However, as it turns out, Kay feels the say way about food as Mother does.
We had packed our hotel room and as I parked at the intersection of Bull and Oglethorpe streets in downtown Savannah, the huge white columns of the old church loomed large before us. I am sure Mother was thinking about our visit the day before to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. She had whispered to me as we had entered that church with it’s kaleidoscope of stained glass color speaking to her artist’s soul, she knew the Holy Spirit was there. I hoped she would think the same thing today.
Walking around the church past the main building, we located the dining hall, down one flight of stairs and to the right. Clanking pans and muted voices, the aroma of a busy kitchen preparing lunch met us as Mother held the rail, my arm around hers. Kay was sitting at one of the dining tables and having never seen this mother daughter duo, she greeted us with smiles and our names.
She was taller than I had imagined. She was as full of grace as I had expected.
We met her staff and toured her church. We took pictures. We went to church, a thirty minute mid day service. I didn’t know enough about Presbyterian theology to expect the sermon to be centered around the issue of the “elect”. As I said, I was raised in the overt evangelical side of things. We sang, we prayed, and then we ate.
There was salad topped with shrimp cake or egg salad and the most delicious Savannah mustard dressing. We could have chosen flatbread poorboys with meatball and sweet potato fries. We drank sweet tea and I would wish many times later that I had taken Kay’s offer of a few of the delicate cookies topped with chocolate kisses for the road. We sat with Jim and Linda and them, and us, and all those in that basement dinning hall, well, we didn’t know each other, but we did.
As I drank a bit more of my sweet tea, I thought about being part of the elect. I know I am. Linda who sat across from me, her hair burned from chemo, she and her devoted husband, must be. Kay is and so is my mother. I thought about those I know who hold God in their hearts. And I thought about those I don’t know. And those who don’t know. And then I solved the problem of the theological issue of the elect. It’s never been my job to do God’s accounting. It’s just been my job to show love. And cook. And to thank God for a mother who taught me that. And a Grandmother Hershey who knew it too.
Kay held my hand as we got ready to leave. She hugged Mother.
Mother would ask me later how long we had known each other.
Some things you just don’t try to measure.
Should you find yourself in Savannah, have lunch with Kay. It’s real home cooking. It’s real church.