Pay Attention

To my mother, seasoning a cast iron skillet was an art. She took special care with her cast iron, and she wouldn’t let anyone else clean it. Her pans were almost as “non stick” as Teflon (and they were a lot healthier).

I can almost see a few heads nodding in recognition, and if one of those heads is yours, you might appreciate the image of an obsidian black pan, smooth as glass, bright beads of water dancing on its surface to let you know it’s time to cook.

The art of pan seasoning is not often included in a list of the manly arts unless you’re a celebrity chef, or were fortunate enough to have listened to your mama when you were growing up. You may believe that such things are more properly the domain of a mama’s boy. If so, I think you are mistaken in a sad and impoverishing way.

I learned something about mama’s boys on Parris Island. One evening our platoon was sitting on foot lockers polishing brass when we were instructed to put the brass away and get out our writing gear. We were informed that our next task was to write a letter home to our mamas.

One particularly unwise recruit piped up and said, “I ain’t no mama’s boy.” In the blink of an eye, said recruit was vigorously encouraged to do push ups without delay. The push ups as well as the encouragement continued unceasingly for the next hour while we all wrote our letters home. Then, without a moment’s rest, our weary but wiser recruit got to write his own letter after all. In the opinion of Senior Drill Instructor, Staff Sergeant Frasier, the recruit, the sergeant himself and every other male who ever had a mama, was and will always be a mama’s boy.

The world would be a wiser place if we paid better attention to our elders in general and our mamas in particular. I’ve always liked the expression, “pay attention.” The word “pay” implies that there is a debt owed, and that debt is the price we pay for gaining knowledge. Paying attention is the bill due in gratitude and respect for our elders. Knowledge and wisdom are not free. They must be purchased with our own experience or, if we’re lucky, with attention paid to buy the experience of someone else.

There are two cast iron pans seasoning in the oven as I write this. I found them just recently while cleaning out the old family home. Their seasoning had been almost ruined by an over zealous cook who worked for my dad after mom passed away. Fortunately I paid attention when Mama was teaching me how to care for my own cast iron.

Pay attention to your mama while you can. One day you won’t be able to. I wish I had paid better attention to my own mother’s knowledge and wisdom. Not only would I have had an easier life, but I would have eaten better. For years we have tried to recreate some of her recipes. She gave me her old cook book about two years before she died. On several occasions we talked about her recipes and I took some notes. She even typed up some of the favorites. But my efforts have just not been up to par.

Last week on the last minute of the last day before turning over the old house to the estate sale company, I found an overlooked drawer in a little used corner. It was packed with Mama’s recipes, clippings, hand written recipe cards, and a couple of those remarkably good church cook books filled with the personal recipes of the membership. Everything was organized, packaged up, labeled and waiting. I have no idea when she did all that. Her collection had been hidden away in that drawer for 10 years, waiting for someone to pay attention.

While we’re still talking about skillets, picture the one Granny Clampett used to whack Jethro with to encourage him to pay better attention. Life is just like Granny. Think of the accidents alone that we could have avoided simply by paying attention. However, cuts and bruises and even broken bones can heal, but what we missed with those whom we loved and lost, because we were too busy or too distracted to pay attention, well, that hurts forever.

One more thing about skillets before we go. If you have a vintage cast iron pan, hang on to it. Modern pans, in the modern tradition of cutting corners, are manufactured without the final polishing process. That new pan will never be as smooth as your mama’s old one.

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