My Cafeteria Card

The Big Black Pot

I grew up in a small town of about 4,500 people. I went to school K-12 with the same ~90 people. In my hometown, everyone knew everyone. It was a fantastic way to grow up. Of course, I was bursting at the seams to get out. I always thought I would move to a big city in another state. It’s funny how things never work out like you think they will.  I now live an hour from my hometown in a moderately large town. My life is nothing like I imagined all those years ago. I have always been ambitious and in-turn discontent in my present setting. It’s the entrepreneur gene in me. I constantly look for things to grow or change because I thrive on the challenge. I defined success in the stereotypical ways – the size of my home, car type, brand names of clothes… Now I realize, those things don’t make me successful at all. They are good performance measures, but not true signs of success.  No one told me that after you achieve all of this, it takes a great deal of time, money and energy to maintain it. I’m tired of maintaining it. I find myself longing for the more simple life I had in my hometown. It’s amazing how things have come full circle.  The life I so wanted desperately to leave as a teenager is the life I want back. I don’t regret any of my life or career choices. I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished. I want to continue to thrive as a successful, professional. I just want to be able to go home at the end of the day to a more simple life. I refuse to believe those things cannot co-exist.

I’ve been trying to decide what I truly mean by the simple life. Looking back through memories of my childhood, I think I have figured out part of it. While I was growing up, my dad had a huge black cast iron pot. He used to cook in this pot in our back yard. He had a homemade steel propane burner. We had a really big yard and I can remember playing out back while he would fry up something for dinner. In those days, we fried everything. I think I could fry water if I had to! He used to cook fried chicken, okra, French fries, hush-puppies, and lots of fish. He used to love to entertain and cook for people. I’m quite sure I inherited my love of cooking and entertaining from him. He would host huge fish fries. He cooked for family quite a bit (and we had a HUGE extended family). What I most remember though is the big fish fry he used to host for what seemed like everyone in our town. My dad was the fire chief. At least once a year, he would move the firetrucks out of the building and would open it up to host a fish fry for the firemen, volunteer firemen, city employees, elected officials, their families, and many others in our community. We would set up tables and make lemonade. He would spend all day frying in that black pot, cranking out pounds and pounds of fish, fries, and hush-puppies. We would play, eat, fellowship, and have the best times. Those fish fries are some of my fondest memories growing up. It’s only recently that I have realized that the sense of family and community I felt at those fish fries is what I long for most as I strive for happiness. I still have my family and a great community, but it seems I am not taking the time to truly enjoy them. Life is busy. I live in a world of controlled chaos. My downsizing journey is about reducing chaos in whatever areas I can. I now know that part of the definition of simplicity for me is having time to fellowship in a meaningful way that celebrates friends and family.

Dad always left a good deal of grease in the pot and used it over and over. He would clean it out when the grease was old and add new grease. It was never empty. My dad died a little over 10 years ago. I brought his black pot home with me and put it away in the garage. I have walked past this pot numerous times over the last 10 years. I would look at it and sometimes have pleasant memories, other times I would really miss my dad. This pot has been sitting for 10 years with the same grease. You can imagine that it had gotten pretty nasty. A couple of months ago, I finally summoned the strength to try to clean and restore that pot. I have soaked, scraped, and worked for weeks hoping deep inside that I had not let it sit for too long to ruin. Last weekend, I finished! My husband helped me get the last bit of rust out of it and we have begun the process of seasoning it. Seeing that pot back in working order made me cry both tears of sadness and happiness.

This black cast iron pot symbolizes so much for me. After my dad died, something inside of me changed. I’m sure that happens to everyone as we lose a parent. Whatever changed caused me to shut down a part of myself. There is a part of me that I have let sit, the same way I let the pot sit. I restored the pot and now it’s time to restore me. That pot had collected a lot of dirt and rust that had to be scraped out. I feel as though I have collected the same sort of contaminating things in my life. Downsizing is my first step in restoring myself. My dad was my source of strength and encouragement. Who knew he would be able to speak to me again ten years later in the form of his old black pot? That pot was never empty and fed countless people as long as it was kept in working order. It was down and out for 10 years but is back and better than ever. I want to never be empty and to feed thousands as well. I have been out of commission in this area for the past 10 years, but I feel like I’m back and better than ever too. It’s going to take a bit to get the pot and myself seasoned just right, but oh what we will produce when it’s done!

Thanks, Dad, for the lesson and the big black pot!

5 thoughts on “The Big Black Pot”

  1. Oh Gina this brought tears to my eyes you do t know how many times I think about that pot and him sitting out in the back yard while we played or being at the fire station playing on the trucks I loved those times and Cherish the memories it was much more than just cooking a meal it was the best times of our childhood . I loved your dad very much and that pot holds a special place in my heart. Love you 💞

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  2. Gina … How I remember that black pot and all the fish fries ( and even all the camping trips). You’re so right about a small town. Nothing like having a J-Bird or a Waterman, 2 of the greatest men that ever graced this small town, and they will forever be missed. Thanks for the memories, and you can come home anytime if just for a visit. Love ya girl ❤️

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  3. Gina I am so proud of you that you have fought your way through and identified what you have been running from all these years. Some never do!! I love your strength that jumps out and screams in your writing so quietly, eloquently controlled. I can feel the emotions that you feel and/or have felt while you have stared at that pot. I’m glad the pot is cooking again, with clean oil. Love you. You are awesome.

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