I made my first gumbo last week. Bobby gave all of us these spiral bound cookbooks with Barousse family recipes for Christmas so I pulled mine out and was going to make Pa Whitey’s recipe but I ran out of time to get all the things I needed--plus they don’t sell half the things I needed up here in DC at my neighborhood Safeway--so I had to keep it simple: roux, shrimp, an onion, a bell pepper, some celery. I had to make my own roux and now I have too much leftover celery but it turned out good. Mom says it would’ve been better if I’d made it earlier in the day, or even the night before, but I’m proud of it nonetheless.
When I was flying home from Texas, right before we took off in Texas, I read this article about how people’s circle of friends shrink the older they get because they stop showing up. Because life gets busy and there are always at least a dozen very valid excuses on hand for why you can't make it.
I thought about the friends I started out with here in DC. How, they’re still very much around, but every year, we get a little further and further away from the kids we were when we all first moved here in 2015 and didn’t know many people and for ten months or so my entire social circle consisted mostly of book club. We still show up for things--for Alice’s wedding in Texas, for brunch whenever Abby is in town, for the Judah and the Lion concerts and the annual crawfish boil--but those big things worth showing up for are slowly getting further and further apart. I wanted to give us a reason to show up on an innocuous Friday night in January so I made a gumbo. The response was instantaneous and affirmative; after all, who can resist a gumbo?
The timing of it wasn’t the best. I was so busy from October through December and, when I came back, I resolved to be better at taking my time and not being so busy. I had already hosted book club on Tuesday and I had to make a second trip to the grocery store for the things I needed. Life is busy and I thought a dozen times about bailing even though it was at my house.
I like the weight of the words, the heft of the consonants: I’m making a gumbo. When I was a kid, I used to beg Mom to make gumbo and she’d always tell me it was too warm, or it was too much work, or it took too long. A gumbo became a mystical thing for me, like potato soup or a miracle: only when it got cold enough which, in south Texas, wasn’t often. And when I served it, I felt like I’d done something significant. I had, after all, made a gumbo.
I often wonder if you’d be proud of me. I’ve got a lot of tattoos and I’m not married and you probably don’t like the way I vote or that I don’t go to church on a regular basis.
There are a lot of things you probably wouldn’t be proud of me for but I tell myself that, as long as I can make you proud of me for the things that matter, that’s enough. I know how to make a gumbo now. And I try to keep showing up.