Vivi’s intense brown eyes are trained on me like you would stare at a mosquito about to land on your arm, unblinking, not wanting to miss the point of contact of her words. She has just reminded me she likes the white grits best. A stranger—well, let’s just say it, a Yankee—might not catch her meaning, but I do. This is a talk I usually enjoying having, at these times when she picks up on my special otherness, my Southernness, and wants to prove that she understands me.
Feeling her gaze, I glance up, my view obscured by my bare legs bent at odd angles ahead of me as I lie propped in her small bunk. Just beyond my feet is the crook of her mostly-naked body, which attempts to reach as much of the cool evening air coming through her bedroom window as possible. It is June in Boston, a month that cannot decide from day to day whether to be summer or winter. Forget about spring, we seem to have lost that season amidst the snow. Strands of her sweaty hair are stuck together and stand almost straight up, giving her brown bob a flock-of-seagulls look. At a newly seven years old, she is only beginning to see her nakedness as something to shield; she picks a private stall at the YMCA to change for swimming. But she still lets me see her, for now.
There is no mistaking her look of determination, but I pretend not to have understood the urgency of her message. I want to finish this chapter. Flipping forward a few pages, I see we’re almost there. Laura is describing preparations for the big dance at Grandpa’s house, during which Ma serves the family warm hasty pudding with maple syrup drizzled on top. Vivi’s declaration of love for white grits came just after my explanation—an answer to the latest question in her constant stream of curiosity—that hasty pudding is made from the yellow grits commonly found here in New England. This exchange set off her flash of recognition, a connection she now proudly makes to my previously elusive personhood beyond that of MOM, hand wiper and meal maker extraordinaire.
Though I long to join my husband on the couch downstairs—where a cold cocktail and a few minutes of relaxed conversation await, when I will probably tell him about this interchange—I am also keenly aware of the longing I once held for this moment. The simple act of reading The Little House in the Big Woods contains a lifetime of waiting and wanting, but as with most things in life, it was the process of getting here that merited the most excitement. Even after having prayed for this time as a hopeful mom-to-be, now that it is here, I am pained to admit I sometimes find myself wishing it away, the pale ghost of romantic desire now tinged with a colorful reality of exhaustion and impatience.
Instead of finishing the chapter, I shut the book. She sits up in anticipation of reigniting our old ritual, a time we used to refer to as “Talk about it,” our private chats unencumbered back then by the little sister who now sits on the floor in front of us, planning tomorrow’s outfit. “I like the white grits best too,” I say, finally, “but I’m learning to like the yellow ones.” She smiles, secure that whoever I might have been in the past, wherever I might rather be right now, I’m hers for a bit longer. I smile too, glad for one more day where she wants to be mine.
Update: A friend kindly pointed out that based on my love of recipes and wont of posting them here often, she assumed I’d include a recipe for hasty pudding and was a touch disappointed not to find one. How right she is! There’s only one problem: I’ve never made hasty pudding. But I reckon it’s the same as making grits, and I’m happy to tell you how I make mine. Within this recipe are the three keys to make perfect grits every time (for grit jokes, see: My Cousin Vinny): 1. milk 2. butter 3. slow. SLOW.
As for where you can buy white grits, my favorite place is Logan Turnpike (where, I might add, they DO sell yellow grits, I just don’t happen to like ’em much), which sells them online as well as at their mill close to Blairsville, Georgia. Bob’s Red Mill also sells them.
Self-Respecting Southern Creamy Grits
2 c. water
1 c. grits (yellow or white)
1 1/4 c. whole milk
1/4 c. butter (plus more for serving)
1 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
1. Boil water and salt. Add grits slowly, whisking as you go, and let it return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low, and cook for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is incorporated.
2. Stir in milk and butter, reduce heat to very low, and cook for another 10-15 minutes until creamy and smooth.
3. Top each bowl/plate of grits with its own butter. Down south we don’t normally drizzle with maple syrup, but shoot, I can’t see that being a bad thing. Give it a shot!