Sharon Randall column: Lessons from a cast iron skillet

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 25, 2022

By Sharon Randall

Maybe you’ve heard people say, “In my next life, I want to be….” Then they fill in the blank with something they think might be an improvement.

I can’t imagine having another life. My current life tends to be about as much as I can handle.

I hope to stay here long enough to see my grandkids grow up, then spend eternity in a rocker on the porch of heaven, watching over my loved ones, asking God a lot questions and letting somebody else cook.

Here’s a confession: I have an annoying tendency to think about things I don’t need to think about and to ask myself questions I can’t answer.  Do you ever do that?

I’m not sure why I do it. But it often seems to happen on days when I’m trying to avoid doing something I don’t want to do.

This has been one of those days. And I don’t even know what I’m trying to avoid.

Anyhow. After considerable thought, I’ve decided how to fill in the blank on the sentence that started this train of thought: In my next life, if I have one, I want to be… a cast iron skillet.

Why? Thank you for asking. Bear with me while I explain.

I come from a long line of hard-cooking Southern women who would give up most any prized possession (except maybe their deviled egg dish). But Lord help the fool who would dare to come between one of those women and her cast iron skillet.

My grandmother lived on a mountain in North Carolina, and baked cornbread like none you’ve ever tasted. She’d mix up a batter of locally milled cornmeal with milk from her cows and eggs from her chickens. Then she’d slap a hunk of home-churned butter in a cast iron skillet and slide it in the oven of an old wood oven. When the butter sizzled, she’d pour in the batter, bake it to perfection and serve it up with more butter and honey.

I wish you could’ve tasted it.

My mother and her cast iron skillet kept us fed. Country ham. Bacon and eggs. Fried chicken or pork chops. And a peach cobbler I can never duplicate.

I was married with a family, living in California of all places, the day she phoned from South Carolina, to say she had cancer.

“I’ll come see you soon,” I said.

When I got there, I could see she was failing. But it was a good visit. One of our best. As I was leaving, she said, “Wait!” She went out to the kitchen and came back with her skillet.

“This was my mama’s,” she said. “I want you to have it.”

On the flight home, I held it in my lap. Yes, that was before the days of airline security.

That skillet, and her middle name, are the only possessions she left me. I treasure the skillet for the meals it has served my loved ones and for the memories it holds for me; and I treasure our name for reminding me that I will always be her daughter.

Why would I want to be a cast iron skillet? Five reasons:

1. It’s incredibly strong and it never, ever breaks.

2. It’s not fancy, but if you need it, it’s nice to have around.

3. For some things, like bacon on a high flame or injustice to the innocent, it burns hotter than the hinges on the gates of hell. But when the bacon is done, or the injustice is righted, it always cools down.

4. It’s a little on the heavy side, but nobody seems to mind.

5. It feeds a family, holds a wealth of memories and keeps on doing what it does best.

Think about it: You could run for office with less character than a cast iron skillet and probably get elected.

I’m thankful for this life. I don’t plan on a “next” one. But I’m hoping that skillet can teach me things it taught my mother and my grandmother and a lot of good cooks before them.

I’d like to be as strong and good and purposeful as they were. At the least, I’d like to bake a decent cornbread.

I’m not there yet, but I’m still learning. And learning is life.

Even if we try to avoid it.

Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924, or www.sharonrandall.com.

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