During the difficult weeks following Mama’s death, the one request that I heard most often was that I keep Mama’s web site online. I’ve decided to do so. But not as some stuffy old memorial page. That wouldn’t reflect the inspiring life and spirit of an amazing woman. She deserves better than that. Anyone who knew Peggy Chaney knew that in addition to that childlike joy which radiated about her, drawn from her close and personal relationship with God, you could not escape the fact that food played a central role in her life. One of the pastors at her memorial service talked about how at the family restaurant Mama prepared everything she cooked with the help of God, and that each meal was dedicated to God. If you’ve never known a woman like Mama Peggy, that might seem like so much claptrap. But if you knew her, you’ve already smiled and nodded. To Mama, the meals she prepared was an act of love, and she invited God to work through her, through her cooking. Following her death, the outpouring of love and admiration from people in the community who knew her only through her years at Peggy’s Restaurant stood as a testament to how successful she had been at expressing God’s love through the food she prepared, and how much it had meant to the community in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
With all this in mind, a lot of people asked me if I have Mama’s recipes. That’s a tricky question to answer. She never wrote down most of her most popular recipes. Much of her cooking was learned in the kitchen as a girl, cooking beside her mother and picking up tips along the way. There was something instinctual in her cooking that was hard to describe, but can best be summed up by the fact that even though Mama showed other people on occasion how to make some of her dishes, they’ve never managed to get it “quite right”. One cousin of mine took pains to learn how to make Mama’s biscuits and gravy, but admits that while he gets the gravy right sometimes, he’s never managed to recreate her biscuits. The only way I know to sum that up is to say that some things just can’t be taught.
With that said, however, there’s no shortage of recipes. Mama read recipe books the way some people read novels, and was just as captivated by them. Many people in the family have stories of talking to Mama on the phone and having her read a recipe she’d found to them as if reading some parable or story. She could read the ingredients and almost taste the finished dish, and she seemed to assume that everyone else could, as well.
I found a lot of things in Mama’s belongings. A lot of precious things. But there are three kinds which are applicable here. These are the items I’ll concentrate on as part of keeping Mama Peggy’s memory alive, and I want to mention them here so you’ll know what you can expect from this web site in the future.
The most important things, at least in regard to this web site, is, of course, Mama’s recipes. While many of her most famous dishes are lost, I have boxes full of hand-written recipes that she had collected over the years – many of them on the backs of envelopes or whatever scrap of paper she had on-hand. I’m going to keep posting these recipes to the web site. And you have my word that nothing will ever be posted here that was not written down in Mama’s own hand. Not all of them come from Peggy’s Restaurant, but they all meant something to Mama.
Another thing that I hope to start posting are little sayings and affirmations that I found in her belongings. I couldn’t count how many scraps of paper I found with little sayings written down. She wrote those passages down for no other reason than that they meant something to her. There is a lot of good advice, personal affirmation and strength in those words. Since we’re not going to be blessed with Mama Peggy’s warmth and love in the form of her own posts from here on out, it is my hope that perhaps some of these meaningful sayings will suffice. They meant something to Mama, and I hope they will mean something to you.
The final thing I hope to post more of on the web site in the future are family photographs. Mama was one of eleven children. You can imagine the wealth of images in her photo collection. Some of the photos were in picture albums, but, true to form, most of them were stashed in random containers over-flowing with memories of family and friends. But a lot of those photos are of people I don’t know, and are unlabeled. I plan to start posting photos of family and friends, along with the unlabeled images which I hope some family members might be able to identify. In short, I’m going to make better use of the gallery function on the web site and try to share Mama’s photographs. Hopefully you won’t mind.
In closing, I just want to say that I don’t want this web site to become some stuffy old memorial to a deceased loved one. Mama deserved better than that. Her life was vibrant and full of love. And while I won’t delude myself into believing that every day was a cakewalk for Mama – she walked hard roads just like the rest of us – I know that she brought joy into the world because of the person she was. If I can keep some small part of that alive by sharing Mama’s recipes, words of comfort and photographs, I am compelled to do so.
Mama would have been embarrassed by the amount of fuss that we all made upon her passing, and she would have obsessed about those poor folks who stood out in the cold at the graveside. But I have no doubt that she appreciated the love that was sent her way, and it would compel her to give back. If nothing else, in some small way I hope that this web site will continue Mama’s tradition of giving back.
~ Kevin Wicasta Lovelace (better known as “Peggy’s son”)