Recently I went on social media requesting recipes for chicken pie from my friends. As fall comes around thoughts of baked things start to dance in my head. Growing up in the east end of Xenia I was surrounded by excellent cooks, many of them having honed their skills cooking for white people.
As a child I asked my mother why several of the women I knew from church cooked for white women. My mother’s explanation, no doubt based in trying to shield me from societal racism, was that white women could not cook and black women had to help them out. I held on to that idea for longer than I would like to admit since I did not know but one white woman who lived across the street from us and her culinary skills were, indeed, limited.
None of my white friends, made after the schools were integrated, invited me to a meal at their houses, so it took me a while to let go of that myth. When Mike got old enough to play baseball, the teams being integrated, of course, two women, other mothers of players, Sue Davis and Peggy Newell, knocked the socks off of the idea white women could not cook. They most certainly could.
Growing up two other women, Mama Thelma Robinson and Bess Davis, helped make me the zaftig chick I am today. Mama Thelma was the wife of one of the first black police officers in Xenia. Bess was the wife of George Davis, the head custodian of Lincoln Elementary School who took great pride in his appearance and his work. Those floors gleamed and there was not a speck of dirt anywhere. His overalls always were starched and creased. Bess was a large, light-skinned woman, who, as she got older eschewed a bra frequently, so sometimes if she wore sleeveless dresses in the summer you got a bit more than you bargained for while she was dishing up her delightful dishes. I thought it was hilarious but would never have mentioned it and risk cutting off my supply.
The Davises lived across the street from East High, which meant they were caddy-corner to our house next to East High. When I was a child she took a liking to me and would call me over when she baked a chicken pie. I have never had its match. Same with Mama Thelma’s fruit pies.
Bess’s chicken pies were thick with a yellow gravy, extra served on the side, of course, the kind you can only get from boiling the heck out of a chicken. Always served with a side of slaw and some candied sweet potatoes. I was a happy kid when she leaned out from her front porch and yelled “Coooookie, come get some chicken pie.”
She would later, when I was courting and sitting on the front porch with my then boyfriend, now husband, rock on her front porch taking an extra hard rock every now and then enabling her to peek over to make sure we were not doing anything we were not supposed to be doing.
Growing up in the east end you truly were raised by a village. If you did err your parents knew it before you got home. We were surrounded by community discipline, true every adult was your parent, or thought they were, but we were also surrounded by love, care, teaching — both educational and life lessons — and occasionally some chicken pie.
We were lucky.
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and columnist.