- 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal, the finer the better
- 1 cup powdered milk
- 3 1/3 cups boiling water
- 1 Tablespoon sea salt
- Slices of mozzarella cheese for garnish
When I was 14, my parents sent me on my first road trip. I was a member of the Sackets Harbor Sentinels Marching Band and we had been invited to play in the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC. So 85 students and 15 apprehensive chaperones boarded 2 large motor coaches in a frosty morning and began driving south. We stopped for a break in Rockland N.C. and cranked up kids filed into the Waffle House just off I 95. It was a truck stop full of grizzled long-haulers and tired waitresses. As I was looking at the menu, the grits sounded interesting. I had never had them before, and thought to myself "What is a trip to the south without some southern food?"
Our waitress wandered over, and I glanced at her name tag. I nearly choked on my sweet tea as I read "Syphilis Jones". Stealing a sideways look at my tablemates, I saw them giggling and snickering. "Welcome to Waffl Howsse, ma name is Sie-Phyllis, and I will beah your servah." she greeted us in that slow Southern cadence. We all placed our orders, and while the boys continued to jostle each other, I asked her where she had gotten her name. She replied that her mother had been illiterate at the time she was conceived, and had seen the word Syphilis on a poster in her doctor's office. When her mother had asked the nurse what the word meant, the nurse had chuckled and told her it was the price of glory. Her teenage mother had carefully copied the word down on her appointment card, and after her baby was born, printed it again onto the birth certificate. The waitress fingered her gold crucifix necklace, and freshened our drinks. "So, I make the best of my name because to God is the glory." She went onto serve her other tables, and the boys continued to snicker, but that story stayed with me all these years.
Our food arrived, steaming hot from the short order cook, and I looked at the bowl of cornmeal mash covered with American cheese and dripping in butter. The waitress saw me looking at it, and chuckled. "You just mix it all in child, and enjoy every bite. Get a little Southern on you." I did as she suggested, and fell instantly into comfort. The simple homey taste and textures exploded on my tongue, and I finished every bite. We boarded the bus and continued on to our final destination. The rest of the trip was an experience as well, but on mornings when the fall bite is in the air and I need a little down home comfort, I make up a pot of grits for my family, and think of that waitress at the interstate truckstop. I like to imagine her winning the lottery and getting to rest her tired feet and be served for a change. Because to face snickering boys and rowdy truckers doesn't just take grits, it takes glory too.