My momma and my Aunt Wanda both worked at Lenox Bar-B-Q in Houston, Texas at one time. I did too. In fact, it was my first job at the ripe old age of 12. I worked setting up the catering parties and got $35.00 each time I did. I learned how to fold a napkin into a Bishop’s hat, a Standing Fan, a Swirl, a Lily, and a Crown. I also learned the proper way to set a table. I would help with the serving of coffee, tea, or water and even at catering parties, people tipped me. Thought I was the cutest thing they ever saw, dressed up in my white shirt, black bow tie, and black skirt, trying to be all grown up like. Skinny as a twig young girl wrestling with pitchers of water and such. I accepted their tips with a wide eyed thank you each time.
At the time, I thought $35.00 was a fortune. I was rich! I helped my momma buy my sister’s and my school clothes with what I made. We didn’t have a telephone at home and momma told me we could get one if I saved for it. I saved for what felt like forever, she lived up to her word and had a phone line put in. Momma was big on teaching me you have to work hard for whatever you want in this life. I guess growing up during the depression will do that to you.
I didn’t mind working. Still don’t. She instilled a strong work ethic in me that has carried me all my eventful life. I will always be grateful to her for teaching me how to work. Not only did she teach me how, but she taught me to be proud of my accomplishments. The day I told her I made Vice President of Sales was the most rewarding day ever. To see her smile made everything worthwhile. She told me, I am so proud of you. That was a shining moment I will never, ever forget.
Momma did waitress work most of her life. If any of you ever have, you’ll know it’s one of the toughest jobs around. On your feet for 10,12,14,hell 16 hours a day sometimes. People aren’t always nice to servers, but having done it myself I know what their job is like.
I would sometimes go to work with momma because the owners were nice people. I would watch her work with the customers. She was friends with everyone who walked through that door. She treated everyone equally- big tippers, small tippers, no tippers. Black, white, brown- didn’t matter.
One of the cooks in the kitchen was to the best of my recollection, named Big Joe. Big Joe was always making food for the staff, and because I worked there sometimes, I could eat too. One time he made this dish of pork pieces swimming in a gravy with rice and green peppers. Before he served it up, he topped it off with chopped green onions. A glorious concoction of flavors. That dish stuck in my memory. Years later momma and I tried our best to recreate it, but we never recaptured that wonderful taste.
Big Joe would sit out back by the pits on his break in a lawn chair and smoke Camels. He was one of the first black folks I met. He was a good man with a good heart and always kept everybody fed. You never left Lenox hungry, whether you worked there or was a customer. Some of the best Bar-B-Q ever. Still there too- since 1946. Nowadays, I hear there is no dining room. What’s left is the catering business. So if you have a hankering for some of the finest barbecue ever, check out Lenox Bar-B-Que on Harrisburg Blvd. in Houston, Texas. There’s a link at the bottom here of a great article about Lenox from the Houston Chronicle.
One of mom’s friends at Lenox was another server named Audrey. She haled from Oklahoma. She was a large woman, not like momma who was so skinny if she turned sideways you couldn’t see her. They would get to laughing about stories and carrying on with the customers. Their shift would be over lightning fast.
Audrey shared a family recipe with mom for buttermilk cornbread. Mom in turn passed it on to me. This recipe is easily over 50 years years old. It’s the best cornbread I have ever had. I make it often, because the world is always a nicer place with a hot piece of cornbread in your hands.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. You will use a 13X9X2 pan.
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon honey, optional (although it adds a subtle flavor I highly recommend)
Mix with buttermilk to a thick consistency- A little less thick than pudding ( never measured it and this is how I got the recipe)
Add 2 eggs and mix in.
Melt some butter in the 13X9X2 pan and pour the cornbread mix into the pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a golden brown on top. ENJOY!
Linda Lee Lyberg