A flea market, on the side of the road. We stopped to look. The parking lot was gravel. The pot holes were full of muddy water.
I like to talk to the old men who gather there. They’re past their prime. They sit and wait for people like me. They drink their coffee out of old Thermos bottles. They sit on a pile of yesterday’s newspapers. They’re outdated themselves, trying to sell a pair of pliers, old hammers or some 50 year old wrenches and garden tools.
Sometimes you can find a real monkey wrench with Illinois Central or B&O Railroad stamped on the side.
They don’t like stuff unless it says “Made in the USA.”
Most of the time, they are just guarding a pile of junk that no one wants to take home.
Today, I’m looking at a black, cast iron skillet. It’s ten inches across. Made in the USA on the bottom. A hard black crust on the outside edge. It’s got a hundred years of cooking experience. The inside is smooth as a baby’s new skin. Heavy in my hand. I can hear it talking to me.
Cornbread. Eggs. Bacon. Chicken. Ham slices. Fried bologna. Pork chops. Fried okra, squash, and potatoes. Hamburgers and Sloppy Joes.
The skillet can tell more stories than the old men know.
My Grandmother had a skillet like the one I pick up. Hers has been gone for forty years. My Mom had a nice one. I don’t know what happened to it. It just disappeared after the funeral. My Mother-in-law had one too.
My wife has two. She won’t even let me wash them. There’s something about soapy water and cast iron skillets that I don’t know.
Grilled cheese sandwiches. Gravy for the rice. Biscuits in the oven. Fried bream from the pond, or a mess of catfish.
Today the kids like the non-stick, or stainless. Crock pots and microwaves. Lightweight and disposable. I swear, some of it is plastic. Most of the time, what they eat comes in a paper bag, painted with a corporate logo on the side.
They just don’t know.
My Grandmother’s skillet hung on a nail, just to the right of her stove. She cooked with it every day. She grabbed it to start breakfast. She hung it back on the nail after supper. She talked while she cooked. The skillet heard it all. She even threatened my Grandfather a time or two, holding the skillet in one hand, pointing at him with the other. She was mad. I left the room.
My mother also used her skillet every day. We had a home cooked supper nearly every night. My brother and I still laugh at the number of fried and scrambled eggs she fed us. We had a lot of egg sandwiches.
My Mom cleaned her skillet with hot water, then wiped it dry with towel. She kept it in the drawer under the stove. She never used soapy water either.
Maybe I’m past my prime also.
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