After her husband died, she thought she’d never cook again.
Posted in , Jan 27, 2022
I’ve been cooking my entire life, starting with helping my mother and grandmothers. I’ve loved watching my family, friends and my husband, George, enjoy good, home-cooked meals. Gathering around our wooden table—bonding, laughing and, of course, eating—was such a huge part of our relationship. But when George got sick, I stopped much of my cooking. Then he passed away just a month after our fiftieth anniversary. What does the Lord have in mind for me now? I wondered.
George and I had met in 1965 at a small Alabama college. I first saw him while looking out my dorm window. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and cutoffs. I thought he was just darling!
We married in 1968. I was so excited to cook my first meal as Mrs. George Gantt that I forgot to wash the dirt off the turnip greens. Those greens turned out so gritty, we had to pour them out. George just laughed. That was his way. If I put it on the table, he happily ate it.
The kitchen was the heart of our home. George and I and our son, Dallas, and daughter, Hannah, would join hands and take turns saying grace at meals. When a good song started playing on the radio, George would grab me and we’d dance around the kitchen. Our song was “Unchained Melody.” In their teens, our children would groan and say, “What are y’all doing?” Even as grandparents, we still danced in the kitchen.
George loved my biscuits and gravy. Naturally, when we organized a fund-raiser at our church, Bethany Baptist, biscuits were on the menu. I must have made 900 of them that night. “Miss Brenda,” people said, “these biscuits are amazing!” I was already famous for the chicken and dumplings I made for fellowship meals, but now everyone wanted to know my secret for biscuits.
What secret? I thought. I just used simple ingredients and an old can to cut the biscuits. Several young men offered to pay me to teach a cooking class for their wives. I was flattered but busy with my own family.
Busy worrying about George. He was 70 by then. Something was off. It got harder for him to work up lessons for the Sunday school class he’d taught for 30 years. Then he started asking me how to get to places we’d been to hundreds of times. Hannah and I took him to a clinic in Atlanta. George was diagnosed with vascular dementia. “Brenda, I want you to promise me some things,” George said. “I don’t want you to use the power saw or drive my tractor. Let someone else do that.”
“Okay.” I tried not to cry.
“And don’t ever take ice cream away from me.” Vanilla ice cream was his favorite treat.
“Darling, you’ll have ice cream,” I said. “I promise.”
George began having trouble swallowing, then walking. Soon he couldn’t do anything on his own. Taking care of him became my full-time job. I didn’t have the energy to even think about cooking, so I hired a lady to make our meals.
At the end, George had to go to a nursing home. I insisted on one thing. “I want him to have two of those cups of vanilla ice cream at lunch and two at supper,” I told the director. Within days, George couldn’t eat at all. One day, just 18 months after his diagnosis, we lay cheek to cheek, and as I sang “Amazing Grace” to him, his last breath left him.
Our church did a big meal for our family after the funeral. So many people expressed how they loved George. But when that was over, I was left with an aching emptiness.
Lord, I asked, will it ever stop hurting? The more I prayed, the more I came to accept that I would never stop missing George. But my grief was proportional to the great love he and I shared, a love that had been a gift from God.
One day, I thought about George faithfully teaching Sunday School for 30 years. It was part of his service to the Lord. Just as cooking was mine. And I knew that he’d want me to keep cooking and enjoying our family. I called Hannah: “I’ll see y’all here after worship for Sunday lunch.” Big Mama, as the grandkids called me, was back.
Cooking brought me comfort. In the spring of 2020, I decided it was time to share my biscuit recipe. Then the Covid pandemic sent everyone into quarantine, so I made a video. I used my phone to film myself. I cut the biscuits with my old Chef Boyardee can, the same one I’d been using since I first got married.
I shared the video on Facebook. That should make the church folks happy, I thought. The next day, a friend called. “Brenda, do you know how many people have seen your video?” I couldn’t believe it: Within days, my shaky video had reached more than a million people! They messaged me: “How do you cook butter beans?” and “How do you cook rice so it’s not sticky?”
My son-in-law, Walt, set up a Facebook page called Cooking With Brenda Gantt. Now every week, I’m showing how to cook something else. I published a cookbook this past November, and it sold out before it was even printed! “You’re a viral sensation, Big Mama,” my grandchildren tell me.
Lots of people say I’ve inspired them to start cooking again or that I remind them of good times with their grandmothers, something they sorely needed during the pandemic. I love helping folks learn to cook so they can enjoy meals with their families, and I love talking about Jesus while I’m cooking.
George would be so tickled. More than anyone, he’d understand how glad I am that the Lord gave me a new purpose so that I can wake up every day and say, “It’s going to be good, y’all.”
Brenda Gantt is the author of It’s Gonna Be Good Y’all: A Collection of Family Recipes & Stories.
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