IT’S ANOTHER CHOCOLATE GRAVY HOLIDAY.
I cannot begin to tell you how many wonderful and satisfying memories surround this recipe and the sharing of it. Served over hot, homemade biscuits slathered with real butter, this was the ultimate treat for breakfast on holidays, and in many of our family’s homes today, it’s a Sunday morning ritual.
My grandmother’s visits were anticipated with great expectations as she collected recipes all the way from Texas to Iowa on the bus, refusing to fly. (It was considered too fast and limiting for conversation and exchanging recipes.). More than that, she made the best ones for us during her stay. I’ll never forget the year of the “Millionare Chocolate Fudge Cake” and the “Death by Chocolate cake.”. But this one, above all others is the one that we think of when we think of her.
I remember when we were having men from the church here in Iowa one summer come to transport a swimming pool’s wooden deck to the church for a project. We had six men at our home, plus my family of five. It was early and we were all sitting at the table waiting for Grandma Rhoda’s homemade bisquits to come out of the oven. Before we knew it, she was feeding all the men, and us. The bisquits were flying and the men were having seconds and thirds. She was in her glory. She loved feeding people.
My grandparents, Rhoda and ArthurMarrs had a small cafe in the Oklahoma town of Morris with about 300 population when I was growing up. However, it was “famous” for being open on Sundays and would draw people from the area and county surrounding the small town. I can remember as an elementary age grandchild pulling my weight helping wait and set up the silverware on the tables. It was the forties and I can verify that for only sixty five cents, you got three pieces of chicken, a yellow vegetable, a green vegetable, salad, potatoes and gravy and a small wedge of pie. Drinks were included if they were coffee or milk. Of course, bread and butter were a given.
Many holidays through the years, we spent there as a family. Grandma and Grandpa lived in a small apartment above the cafe. First we would deliver food plates to shut-ins and old folks, as on Christmas and Thanksgiving, we closed. The cafe was depended on by many who could no longer cook for themselves. Without it, they would not have had a hot meal until after the holidays. Christmas and Thanksgiving were the only times we closed.
I learned firsthand about “giving back” and meeting the needs of the less fortunate and the dependent. It was a memory that would carry me through life and set my sister and I on a path of holiday meal sharing with the homeless and less fortunate in our adult lives. She as a pioneer policewoman serving holiday meals through inner city bars to the homeless, street people and inner city residents. I worked through the network of churches to feed the homeless and street people .
I also remember the important lesson on dignity I learned there at the Morris Cafe. My grandfather would see to it that if you were hungry, you were fed. I recall the couple who came in and sat at the counter dilegently counting their change between them while waiting for a bus. Not having enough for a meal, they ordered coffee and toast. My grandfather came back with two platters full of breakfast foods.
There was also the fact we lived in the segregated south of the forties and when a black family came to town and had to wait for the bus in town, no one would serve them, or even let them in their business to take carry out. We were one of only two cafes. They came to my grandparents, and Grandpa took them to the special room used by the Lions club weekly. He fed them well and treated them very special, like visiting dignitaries. He heard about it later from some townspeople, but it didn’t change his practices. The townspeople didn’t boycott either, as they weren’t about to give up Grandma’s good cooking. Not even for their prejudices.
There are so many lessons learned from my grandparents about life, dignity, right and wrong. But, the chocolate gravy encompasses all of that. It is something that always made us feel rich as other families didn’t have it. It also filled a gap when there was little food available to the family. It was my grandmothers way of showing love; feeding people. It was her way of giving love in her own special way to her family.
I thank Grandma Rhoda for the legacy of love through food. It was a tradition that I could find in common when I married into my husband’s family as his parents were also famous for the good food in their little town of Billings, in another Oklahoma area. Their practices were equally generous and even the Governor of Oklahoma used to have my mother in law make pies on special occasions.
And as for my Grandpa Arthur, known affectionately as “Little Grandpa,” he would die during the holdiays in an unexpected death when struck by a car on a Texas highway on a foggy night. But his impact on many of us would be great and lasting. A small man in stature, he lived a “large man’s life” in his deeds and in his principles. He taught me a lesson of ethics: living what you believe and letting your character speak for itself.
The holidays bring them close to me as they are all inter-twined with issues of food and good feelings. That is a legacy that can sustain a family beyond each generation to the next.
EACH OF MY COUSINS/AUNTS AND FAMILY HAVE VARIATIONS AS TO HOW THEY MAKE THE RECIPE. IT IS A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN RECIPE AND IF YOU GOOGLE CHOCOLATE GRAVY YOU WILL GET MANY VARIATIONS FROM MANY FAMILIES.