I did not, like most southern girls, learn to cook at the knees of my mother and grandmothers. In fact, I didn't learn to cook at all. When I left for law school, after four years of living in the dorm and having all my meals provided for me, Mama sent me off to my first apartment with two things: an index card on which she had written how to make grits and a small cast iron skillet. Amazingly, I survived.
Not until I was in my 40s did I gain any level of confidence in the kitchen. Up until that point I had, probably, five or six recipes that I could -- with great care -- put together when called upon to bring a dish, but most of the time when somebody asked, "What are you taking to Thanksgiving?", my response was, "The centerpiece and my sparkling personality."
COVID-19 and social-distancing have found me, like everyone else, spending a lot more time in the kitchen. Chopping onions and garlic, melting butter, and cracking eggs have been soothing and meditative, taking me out of my head and the strangeness and uncertainty of the weeks-turned-months. I've found myself paying much closer attention to the shape of the spatulas, the sharpness of the blades, the heft of the pots.
And I'm taking more time in the actual preparation. Which is how I came to notice for the first time the markings on the back of that little skillet Mama gave me.
A quick Google search enlightened me to the fact that the Griswold company started in 1868 making door hinges and became one of America's largest and most respected cast iron skillet manufacturers, producing them until 1957 under a variety of brands and logos, including two made specifically for Sears and Roebuck. Mine, according to the photos on the website, is circa 1939 to 1957.
Mama was born in 1935, which makes me think that the skillet belonged to Grandmama and was given to Mama when she and Daddy got married in 1954. There is, sadly, no way to know. Grandmama died in 1994 and whatever Mama could have told me is hidden somewhere in the deep cave that is Alzheimer's.
The loss of whatever history is held within the well-seasoned cast iron burdens me. Every time I fry an egg or make a grilled cheese sandwich I think of all the other eggs and sandwiches, all the butter and bacon and bologna that have sizzled in its depths, and I am struck again by the importance of story.
Every object, every day, every person has one. It will be remembered only if we tell it.