When I was eight, a decision was made to send me on a train trip with my grandmother to visit “Mama Lizzie” my great-grandmother, who lived in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. She had visited up north, but this would be my first time down south. Grandma was perpetually good natured and laughed easily. And Mama Lizzie’s soft smiling eyes turned up at the corners whenever she spoke to me. She was the kindest, most generous, most loving, nonjudgmental person I’ve ever known. I had zero reservations about venturing on this vacation.
Shortly after the train got going, Grandma’s fried chicken and pound cake appeared. (Decades later, that remains one of my favorite comfort food combinations.) Napkins were arranged into placemats for our laps. Then we carefully removed the aluminum foil and wax paper from the fragrantly seasoned chicken and heavy moist cake. I was just starting to read Huckleberry Finn and as the train traversed the Mississippi River I looked out at the muddy, brown-green, meandering water highway, with willow trees hanging heavy over the river banks, convinced that at any moment Huck would appear on his raft just around the bend.
Arriving in Pine Bluff, it was obvious our impending visit had been widely publicized. Mama Lizzie was revered and a number of unrelated people had come with her to meet the train. Secretly loving all the attention, something told me this adulation was unlikely to follow me back home where my mother’s mission was making sure I didn’t get too full of myself.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it was as if the whole universe of unconditional love came spiraling down around me.
The first morning in my great-grandmother’s house, it was just me and her and Grandma. Grandma and I were sitting at the kitchen table when Mama Lizzie, standing at her stove, turned to me and asked “How many strips of bacon do you want, Honey?”
Now I don’t know how my mother’s imprinting failed at that instant, because she was a strong presence in my psyche no matter how near or far she was—but I didn’t skip a beat before replying “twelve.” Neither of my foremothers blinked an eye. And at every morning’s breakfast thereafter, for the whole two weeks of my stay, a plate was set before me heaped with twelve strips of thick country bacon, each strip bracketed by big curls of fat.
Not even Houdini could match the magic of two generations of matriarchs so intent on making a beloved heir happy.
What’s more, on our return home, when my mother complained about my weight gain, Grandma never said a word.
Renée Ozburn left a long legal career in Michigan to devote her time to creative writing. In addition to her flash nonfiction piece, Twelve Strips of Bacon, she recently completed a novel. Her essay, A Redbone’s Reality, won the 2019 Los Angeles Review’s Creative Nonfiction Literary Award. losangelesreview.org She has been a fellow of the Paris American Academy’s Creative Writing Program. As her blog To Paris and Beyond portrays, as often as possible, she spends time in various venues around France and the US connecting with other writers.
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