When Miss Virgie, my beloved mentor on all things Southern and proper, came to visit with her husband, Bill, she lovingly lectured me whenever I fell short.
"Oh my goodness, what a cook you are," she said, smiling as I set a platter of country fried steak on the table, then pulled a pan of homemade biscuits from the oven. "Those are the prettiest biscuits I ever saw."
That’s a strong compliment coming from a woman raised in Pascagoula, Miss., and schooled in the finer art of cooking in Paris.
Of course with Miss Virgie, I have learned that feeling too good about my competency never lasts long. In that aspect, she is Mama up one side and down the other. She understands the importance of keeping me cut down to size, and she does that incredibly well.
"Let me help you." She looked over the table for what was missing. "Butter. We need the butter."
She walked to the refrigerator, pulled out the butter tub. "Where’s your butter dish and butter knives?"
Uh oh. My comeuppance was about to take place. I froze with the spoon in the creamed potatoes that I was pouring into a dish. Quickly, I tried to decide how to break the news to her. But there was no prettying up the ugly truth. I took a deep breath and braced myself.
"Uh, I, uh, don’t have one."
She swirled around and gasped, her blue eyes widening to the size of saucers. She is, to say the least, dramatic.
"You … don’t … have … a … butter … dish?" Each word was an indictment on my lack of social grace as practiced by properly trained Southerners.
I shook my head and bit the edge of my lower lip. "Well, surely, you have possession of a butter knife." There was hope, faint though it was, in her voice. I dropped my head. She slapped a hand on the island, put another on her hip and shook her head covered with thick, dark red hair.
"Ronda Rich, I do not believe you. Surely, there is something in this kitchen that can be used for a butter dish." She began digging through cabinets, cupboards and drawers but came up empty. She sighed woefully. "This must be remedied."
When she returned to her palatial home in Nevada, she wasted no time in doing just that. A week later, a care package arrived. Inside the box were three small crystal bowls wrapped in bubble paper and seven silver butter knives. And, of course, she had written a letter of complete instruction — and reprimand — about the use of butter dishes and knives.
"Girl, you cannot shame yourself by laying out a poor table," she wrote. She explained that she had so many crystal butter dishes and sterling silver butter knives that it was not hard to scrounge up the ones that she was donating to the improvement of my table service. I wasn’t offended a bit. I was downright grateful.
See, I do think that most of us miss out on the pretty little extras that give every day life that fine touch of something special. We store silver, crystal, linens and little bowls in the cabinet and intend to use them for special occasions, if then. We forget that every day is special in some way and deserves a finishing touch of wonderfulness.
Someone recently told me that she has a beautiful set of china received when she married 25 years ago. She has used it only twice, she thinks. One time she remembers clearly, the other time she cannot recall at all.
"Maybe I’ve only used it once," she said, her face melting into sadness over the years lost. It struck a cord with me as I remembered Miss Virgie’s reprimand.
I’m going do better. Just as soon as I remember where I put those butter dishes.