N.L. Helps Mama
One event for sure sealed all the deals, savored by all , brought rapture down to earth, and just for moments raised lives up to par with royalty. It was that sumptuous repast at noon on Sunday after church. No one along the meandering Cat Claw Creek could spread a table with farm fresh goodness or more bouquet style than Mrs. Ella McLeod. If fresh kinfolk unexpectedly rolled up in the front yard, got out, went over the salutations, and gave hugs and handshakes, she had already bounced out the kitchen door, neck-twisted an ol’ hen, plucked feathers, washed, chopped, floured, and had those pieces in the frying oil afore those folk ever stepped near the table.
She was not just fast, but she was good fast—smooth! She could run a fifty-yard dash holding a tray of nitroglycerin bottles and win—and you would have never heard a kaboom. Years later, they would say when the flash from San Benito, Texas, Bobby Morrow, won track sprint gold medals for ACC and America in the 1956 Olympics that he could have done better if he just tried harder. Truth was, for him, just like for Mrs. Ella, not a single sway of wasted motion, without sound combustion, in an all-consuming fire leaving no soot, ash, residue—top tuned on all cylinders an apparition of silk and smoke—then poof—gone!
However, this was a Saturday noon before all the ruckus of the Sunday, when a palpable quietness infused the house. Pete, up in the front room, would take boots off and stretch out on the couch for a well-deserved fifteen to thirty minute honest to goodness nap. The older boys would relax too, going out to the barn for small talk on the hay bales and playing mumblety-peg with pocket knives.
Mrs. Ella had N.L. with her for kitchen duty. She (and he) were going to be fixing up her famous banana pudding. N.L. was excited ‘cause Aunt Toadie had just given Ella the new miracle machine for the kitchen called an automatic blender. He had seen it in operation, how the beater blades spindled into the top housing and you could dial in the rotation speeds. It fascinated him that the tines just barely missed jamming into each other. He knew at any minute they were going to have beaters gnarled into a metallic twisted twined jabber-jaw mess.
With fixings laid out, she sat N.L. down, edged up against the table with a large mixing bowl in his lap. There was the Karo syrup, evaporated milk, melted butter, sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla wafers, and bananas would come later. This was mixing time. He just knew that at any moment Mrs. Ella was going to whirl up the magic marvel. Instead, she handed him a large wooden spoon and instructed him to slowly add in the ingredients and stir. She sounded out the word, “S-L-O-W-L-Y.”
Exclaimed the startled N.L., “But Mom, what about your new egg beatin’ machine?”
She slid over next to him, looked around, and whispered, “I don’t trust that thing, churning so fast like that sure’s to make for touch pudding—I want it smooth blended, not whirlwinded like a tornado would do. Why, have you ever seen what things looking like after a twister plowed through—not for my pudding!”
N.L. minded and slowly added and stirred, and added and stirred. It was empty church-house quiet. The only sound was the numbing drone of the small kitchen fan. Even though this was west Texas, a zephyr-like breeze from the Aegean Sea calmly ruffled N.L.’s hair. He dozed, stirred a little, dropped his chin, stirred, and then really dozed with arm bent on the table and his head resting there. He had a speckle of flour on his nose from a previous itch and scratch.
Course Mrs. Ella was aware of the drifter and softly removed the bowl and finished the mixings. After a while, N.L. stretched and stood up to stretch some more. Blinking and yawning again, he saw the bowl before him. “Mama, reckon I finished that afore I rested a little?” He was scratching his head now with prideful motions that he really had helped out his mama. Still, he was a little quizzical about his overall contribution to the concoction.
Next day at dessert serving time, out came the complete goodness of Ella’s Nanner Pudding. Of course, once Pete had finished his bowl he winked and said, “Mama, that was laripen-sure!”
Homer asked, “Hey Mom, did you use the new egg beater that Aunt Toadie gave ye?”
Mrs. Ella just smiled and said, “That’s a wondrous machine.”
Homer replied, “Sure is, and you can make everything so much faster and better!”
Mrs. Ella kinda tilted her head, saying, “Faster probably for sure, now better—I think the proof to that is still in the pudding.”
N.L. said, “Know what I would call this now Mama? Nappa pudding!”
“Dat’s right son, we could for sure.” She laughed.
Homer asked, “What?” Looking directly at N.L., he said, “Whata you know about it anyway?”
N.L. replied, “Reckon I could fix it up in my sleep—right, Mama?” From then on, just between her and him, if any reference came up concerning her Cat Claw Creek world-famous banana pudding, they’d look at each other, saying, “nappa pudding!”