When I was a little girl, about three or four, there was an old couple in the old neighborhood, named George and Roberta Hayes. Looking back, I imagine they were in their late sixties. Roberta was short and skinny; George was short and fat. Roberta had short thin hair; George was bald. Miss Roberta was soft-spoken and gingerly, while George, who looked as though he’d been born with the fat cigar that was always clenched between his teeth, was loud and energetic. In the summertime, he would sit on his porch with his portable radio blasting ball games or wrestling matches. From across the street, we could hear him yelling obscenities at the radio when the team or fighter he was rooting for fumbled a ball or took a hit.
Sometimes, after Daddy had gone to work, and George was at the skating rink (some years back, our local newspaper actually featured a story—with photos—of George ice skating in the park—I think he was ninety at the time) my mother and I would go across the street and sit with Miss Roberta. Mama was a young woman at the time, still learning how to be a wife; Miss Roberta, who was full of wise wife stories and managed boisterous George like a charm, was Mama’s inspiration. Mama could sit at Miss Roberta’s kitchen table for hours, exchanging recipes and gathering husband-management advice.
While our visits were enlightening and uplifting for my mother, they were miserable for a little girl my age. Miss Roberta was one of those women who always had something sweet and delicious-looking sitting out. Everywhere I looked, there was something tempting—a caramel pound cake, a peach cobbler, a pan of cinnamon rolls—cooling on the counter. Problem was, none of the treats could be disturbed because, according to Miss Roberta, “That’s for George‘s sweet tooth.” A few times, I was so overwhelmed while in the presence of such good-looking food, and not being able to taste even a crumb of it, I actually slid out of my chair and cried. I didn’t understand how Miss Roberta could be so merciless as to seat a little girl in a kitchen surrounded by tantalizing candied jewels, then claim they were for George’s sweet tooth; what about my sweet tooth?
To be fair, I did get a chance to sample some of Miss Roberta’s goodies from time to time. George, who was an avid sports man, would invite Daddy and a few of the other neighborhood men over for Super Bowl Sunday or The World Series or some other major televised sporting event, and when the event was over, Miss Roberta would send Daddy home with a covered plate. Miss Roberta went all out for George’s parties—replete with dishes like southern fried chicken wings, curried meatballs, baked ham, macaroni and cheese, and two or three desserts, like chocolate sheet cake, orange sugar cookies, and cherry cheese pie. Miss Roberta once told Mama, “If you want a man to honor your holidays—anniversaries, your birthday, Valentine’s Day—you have to honor his.”
This year on Super Bowl Sunday, I thought about what Miss Roberta said. And how most men actually see that day as a special day…a “holiday” if you will. I called all of the men in my life—my cousins, my uncles, and my platonic men friends—around town and out of state—and simply said, “I called to wish you a happy Super Bowl Day” I talked to each one for just a minute, asked what he had planned, and so forth. You should have heard their reactions to my acknowledgment of their special day. Every man I called, seemed touched; each one immediately started rattling off his menu and guest list.
At the last minute, my friend Harris (I’m not quite ready to call him “my boyfriend” just yet) who is a devoted football fan, asked if he could watch the game at my house. That surprised me; during our first phone conversation he informed me that football Sundays, “are my days with the fellows.” He said it with authority, as though someone from his past had had a problem with letting him go for an entire day. I just looked at the phone and smiled. “That’s wonderful,” I said. “Everybody needs a personal day.” [I’m an old cat, kitten. Don’t play that game with me;)].
Of course I gave him permission to come by. After that, I quickly threw together a little something…southern fried chicken wings, herbed potato wedges, buttered corn on the cob, and cherry cheese pie. I just wanted to add a little of my touch to his special occasion. Harris carried on like a fool over that simple little fare. Mama once told me, “You don’t have to cook gourmet to leave a good taste in a man’s mouth.”
Harris especially liked my cherry cheese pie. He kept saying, “Cheesecake is one of my all-time favorite desserts.” Of course I didn’t tell him that it took me all of twenty minutes (or less) to mix it up, or that it wasn’t baked in the oven. There are some things that a man doesn‘t need to know.
Cherry Cheese Pie
1 (9 ounce) ready-made graham cracker pie crust
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 (8 ounce) container frozen cool whip, thawed
1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling
In a large mixing bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer set on medium-high, carefully blend the cream cheese, sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Fold in the thawed cool whip. Again, gently blend until the mixture is smooth. Pour into the ready made pie crust. Use a butter knife to smooth out the top of the pie. Spread the cherry pie filling on top of the pie. Place the pie in the refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours. Note: Depending on the tartness of the cherries, I often add extra sugar—about a teaspoon at a time—to the pie filling to achieve the sweetness that I want.