Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Robert St. John: Mom

 Check out this week's recipe.

The more time I spend as a parent the more I appreciate my mother and the job she did raising my brother and me. I’ve had it easy. Her road was much tougher. She married at 21 and was widowed at 33. She was left with two boys, a house under construction, and an art degree. She scaled back the house plans, went back to school, got her Masters degree, taught private art lessons, and sold her art to friends, at art festivals, and in gift shops to keep us afloat in the first few years after his death.


My brother was ten years old when our father died, I was six. He became the man of the house. I became a constant challenge. Our mother played the dual role of mother and father and never remarried. There were a couple of boyfriends along the way, but nothing ever materialized as she dedicated her life to the raising of her two children, so that’s what she did, and did well.

When she was widowed and faced with the prospect of having to raise two boys, she knew that she couldn't play football, and she didn't know how to hunt, but she figured she could learn how to fish. So, she purchased a small plot of land up the Pascagoula River on Johns Bayou in Vancleave, Mississippi. There had been several generations of Hattiesburg families who had fish camps in that area. We were the latecomers with the mobile home two blocks off the water. It was the smartest move a widowed mother of two young boys could make. We spent our summers down there and it was in those waters that my love for seafood was born. We had a blast.

The fish camp also served as a place that probably kept me from getting into even more trouble earlier than I would have had I been at home on weekends. We lived on an art teacher's salary, so my brother and I started working at early ages. He had a paper route, and I mowed lawns. When he turned 15, he went to work for a wrecker service and the newspaper. When I turned 15, I began working as a radio station disc jockey. If we were going to have any spending money or a vehicle to take us to work, we were going to have to pay for it. The three of us were a working, happy family.

We were also blessed with loving grandparents who stepped up to the plate and helped out, often. My paternal grandmother and uncle helped pay school tuition early on and my maternal grandmother and grandfather were there to help my mother with the child rearing aspects. My grandfather was the primary male influence in my life.

I was no cakewalk. I was a wild teenager and created many challenges and stressful nights for my mother until I got clean and sober at the age of 21. At that time, I already knew I wanted to open a restaurant but had no clue as to how to do such a thing. So, as she had done before me, I went back to school and got a degree in hospitality management.

When I was 26, I opened my first restaurant. My mom begged me not to do it. “You'll ruin the family name,” she said. I told her, “I don't think the family name was that good to begin with.” and pressed on. In his will, my paternal grandfather left a small plot of land in Perry County that I sold for $25,000. That was my stake in opening that first restaurant. Despite my mother’s hesitancy early on she became a quick fan and has told me on many occasions over the last 33 years that she is proud of me and that my father would be proud of me, as well.

She taught art for 50 years and retired when she was 80-years old. Fifteen years ago, she came to us and told us she wanted to move from our childhood home into something more manageable. After 10 years there, she came to my brother and me and told us that she needed to be moved into an independent living facility. And just two years ago, she told us it was time to move into assisted living.

The move into assisted living didn't happen until last fall and was done in the middle of a global pandemic which was not easy on several levels. Change is not easy for anyone especially someone moving into assisted living.

The lockdown was underway, and the lockdown was brutal, especially on elderly people in independent an assisted living facilities. They were on almost complete lockdown for 10 months. Solitude is not good at that stage of life. We were able to see our mother on occasion but mostly through safely spaced outside visits with an appointment. And even those appointments were limited.

On Christmas Eve we brought her over to my house for a very small dinner and then on Mother's Day we were able to take her to a quick lunch. For the last several months she's been asking to go back to church. This past weekend she got that wish.

I picked her up early in the morning and we had breakfast together at my breakfast joint. She ate well. With 45 minutes to spare before the church service started, I figured we could ride around through our old neighborhoods and see what she could remember. Her memory was keen and sharp that day. We drove by our old house and talked about the neighbors who were still there and the neighbors who were gone.

It was a great neighborhood to grow up in. My father and many of his childhood contemporaries bought lots together within blocks of each other and built homes and had children all around the same time. It's unfortunate that he never lived to see the house built and how great the neighborhood turned out. But I hope he somehow, somewhere, takes solace that we had a very wonderful childhood and feel blessed to have grown up in that place.

Then we rode by the house we lived in before that, and then by my grandmother's house where my father grew up. It was better than any medicine a doctor could prescribe. She lit up as she remembered detail after detail. Her memory is not what it used to be. But who's is? My brother and I are co-chairs of the Alzheimer's Association of Mississippi it's a cause that is near and dear to our hearts.

She was ecstatic about being back in the church that she’s been a member of for 67 years. A decade ago, she painted a series of crosses and donated them to the church. After renovations that were undertaken during Covid, the church brought them all together, displayed them on one wall, and placed a plaque next to them in her honor. It was a great surprise for her, and she was happier than I seen her in months.

As we sat down just before the service started, she leaned over and whispered, “I feel like I'm home.” I whispered back, “You are.”

Life moves forward.




1 lb.            Lentils
½ gallon     Chicken stock
1 TB + 1 tsp        Kosher salt
¼ cup                  Extra virgin olive oil
1 TB           Fresh garlic, minced
1 cup          Carrot, finely diced

Place dry lentils in a mesh strainer. Rinse under cold water for 2 minutes.

In a 3-quart stock pot over very low heat, combine rinsed lentils, stock and salt. Continue cooking over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, but not mushy, about 30-45 minutes. Drain and spread out on a baking pan at room temperature. Discard any excess liquid.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over low heat. Add garlic and carrots and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the cooked lentils and stir frequently just until they are hot, about 3-5 minutes. Serve immediately. Finish each portion with extra virgin olive oil as desired.

Yield: 6-8 servings


Anonymous said...


Thomas Gentry said...


Your great-uncle "Squint" St. John
was the Principal at Brooksville High School in the 1950s when I attend there.He had this "tic" of standing at the doorway of school bus entry door with his coin-gingling-hands stuffed deep down in his pocket of his khaki pants..never saying a word.But he could swing a bois d'arcy paddle with the best..until he met up with "Cotton" King... circa 1956.

Anonymous said...

Robert, your mom is a beautiful person.

Anonymous said...

Oh Robert, This is as good an article as you have written, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Loved that RSJ !

While I always enjoy your columns ... IMO, that was your best (to date).

Anonymous said...

Oh man I needed that read. My 62 year old mother has been in assisted living for almost 6 months fighting a terrible, nightmarish disease called Lewy Body Dementia. The few days where I am able to get her to "light up" are few and far between but those rare moments are so special. Reading about your mother's determination to provide a good life for her family and finding a way to make do no matter the circumstances reminds me of many of my mom's amazing attributes. I really enjoy reading your articles.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS