The first time I made grits I used water, the same way I made my oatmeal. Granted, I’d never had grits, but was told it was a staple food in the south, so when I saw a two-pound bag for a dollar at the Grocery Outlet it seemed like a no-brainer to give it a shot. I mean, this was a food that helped mold a culture.
The red sedan in front of me slows down, or I come up on her too fast. I tap my brakes to keep a comfortable distance between us. My speedometer reads thirty-five exactly. She’s going the literal speed limit, but I’m not in a hurry today. All I have going tonight is cooking our family’s new favorite recipe: Uncle Pooh’s Secret Shrimp & Sausage Grits.
The grits were underwhelming that first time. This, I thought, was what an entire region kept in their pantry at all times? I made it just that one time, and I was so disappointed I threw the whole bag of grits into the trash. It was like eating a sub par oatmeal. The consistency of hot mashed baby food. I sprinkled cheddar cheese into the lumpy concoction, but the grits absorbed any flavor the shredded cheese had to offer, and instead made it into a bland, glue-like mixture.
A blue SUV zips past me. It’s a two-way double yellow lined road, but some people can’t ever stand going the speed limit. The impatience builds in the pit of their stomachs and they let impulse take over. Most people act on impulse at one point or another, like me with the grits.
It took the one meal of failed grits to decide they weren’t for me. I could let the restaurants and family kitchens keep them in rotation, but they weren’t going to enter mine. Or that’s what I thought.
The SUV whips in front of the sedan and slams on the brakes. Smoke rolls off the tires out of the wheel wells as it skids to a stop. The red sedan’s brake lights shine as they come to an abrupt stop.
My wife sent me a recipe she wanted me to cook for her: Uncle Pooh’s Secret Shrimp & Sausage Grits. It was on the internet, so it wasn’t all that secret, but I appreciated the attempt at mystifying the dish. She requested it, and I acquiesced. I wasn’t about to withhold her request because I’d sworn off grits years earlier. I gathered all the ingredients, again going to the Grocery Outlet to buy another two-pound bag of grits, but this time it was a dollar fifty. While I portioned all the ingredients out I noticed water wasn’t anywhere to be found. Uncle Pooh called for the grits to be cooked with whole milk and a heavy whipping cream.
A man in a dark blue suit steps out of the SUV. His clothes matched his car making it look like a surrealistic painting: him standing there blending in with his car with a double barrel sawed off shotgun hanging at his side. Before the sedan has a chance to open their door, or even attempt to drive away, the man levels the gun and fires. The driver’s side window shatters—and while I know I’m imagining it, I think I see a mist of blood evaporate into the air. The man pops the barrel down and loads two more shells into the gun. He snaps it back and cocks the hammers, firing once more into the open window. This time I do see strings of blood launch out of the car. It lands on the gunman’s lapel. He uses the back of his hand to wipe it away. He yells something that is too muffled for me to hear, then spits into the car.
The grits with dairy was to die for.
The gunman walks back to his car. It is still running, like he ran back inside for a forgotten cup of coffee. He pulls his door shut and drives away. The sedan’s door opens, slow and methodical. The woman tries to pull herself out, but collapses under the weight of her body, crumpling onto the pavement. I squint to see if she’s breathing, but can’t tell. All I know is her eyes are open and she’s laying on top of the double yellow road strip.
The heavy whipping cream thickened the grits so it wasn’t mushy. It was able to bring the cheddar cheese flavor to the forefront of the dish without gumming the entire dish together like glue. It was rich and filling, but I couldn’t help myself from getting seconds. And then thirds. It was me who had ruined grits the first time. It wasn’t that I didn’t like grits, it’s that I made them like a jackass. I had trouble sleeping that night because I was so stuffed. Well, that and because I wanted to eat more grits.
The traffic from the other side of the road moves around the dead—or dying—woman’s body. This isn’t going to work for me. She is too central, and her car is on the shoulder. The line of cars begins to build behind me. Honks waft up from cars backed up in a line. I pull off to the side of the road, inching the tires over the curb and onto the sidewalk. I drift around the red sedan, keeping my eyes ahead to make sure there aren’t any pedestrians walking down. Once I’m past the stalled car I drop back onto the road. My car bounces as it reenters the lane. The cars behind me follow my lead driving onto the sidewalk and continuing up the Post street hill. It takes cops forever to clean this kind of thing up these days. When I was a kid this would have been newsworthy. These new generations have no idea.
She wanted Uncle Pooh’s Secret Recipe again tonight. I tried to play it coy, but I think she was aware of how much I loved the dish as well. It calls for bell peppers, but I’m going to try mushrooms and sweet potatoes instead, like a meeting of two regions in one delicious meal. Even if that’s not good at least I know the grits will be worth all the effort.