Make food that brings good health, wealth, and luck. That’s tradition. That’s the happy new year I grew up on— the one starring Mama and her pot of peas with the dime dropped in for luck. This time last year, I was lucky to have two living parents. This time around, I am a daughter who has been left bereft. And honestly, all I kept thinking shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day 2022 was “damn em, damn these black-eyed peas!”
Nonetheless, the onus of getting this New Year pot of luck just right for my family was on me. The stakes seem so high when you have to summon your Mama’s cooking mojo. I went into my kitchen and opened a one-pound bag of “good fortune” black-eyed peas. The Camellia brand. Mama was meticulous when it came to picking over her peas. When all the bad ones were removed, she committed the good peas to water, soaking them overnight until they became swollen with love.
The New Year meal-for-good-luck is an assignment I understand. I’ve been cooking my own pot for years. But this year, standing at the kitchen counter was like standing at that threshold of grief all over again. I sifted through dry peas the way I sift through memories of her— one by one.
There must be a thousand of them…
There’s something paralyzing about the tone frequency of peas dropping one by one into a vacant glass bowl. It sounds like emptiness singing a song. Like 283 days passing by only to find that the modality of mourning hasn’t changed at all. The only thing that’s different and new, is the year. A whole new year.
I imagined starting anew, and kept wondering how. I tried to depart the year of her demise with the belief that God makes no mistakes. Which is true. We make the mistakes— like not being fully present with those we love… I looked at the peas in my palm.
Pea sifting wasn’t the only thing she was meticulous about. Mama created a blueprint for her daughters, to help us build stronger bonds with our children and spouses— to help us be cognizant of our unique design as women. While I still don’t quite understand death, I totally get her blueprint for life— her process for perfect peas.
I fall apart at the counter. The dry legumes in my hands seem to understand. It’s as if their black eyes stare back with compassion. Like me, they seem fine according to their packaging, until you open the bag up and get to sifting… until you sort through and find all the God-confusion, displaced anger, and flight responses…
But I am becoming more than the event that rocked my entire world…
I cooked the peas. And this time, they were not lucky at all. They were heavenly! I allowed them to simmer and thicken to perfection until they tasted like glory. I did not drop a dime in my pea pot this year. A bereaved family is not at all interested in luck. Bereaved families want peace. Bereaved families want to rewind time. Bereaved families want do-overs and fresh starts, too.
Clinnesha is a wife, mom, daughter/sister/auntie, literary artist, humanities scholar, and social entrepreneur. Her advocacy work is at the intersection of black/feminist thought, arts, culture, and community. She is currently promoting her book of personal narratives, Serenity Everyday, a passion project adapted from this blog.