I stayed close by when she cooked, because I loved the smells and loved the little chores she would assign to me—and because it was a time when my mother was most creative, most absorbed. I'd help mash the sweet potatoes with brown sugar, orange juice, and Myers's rum. I'd lend a hand in making the turkey stuffing, the way her distant relatives did in Mississippi—with corn bread, bacon drippings, and lots of herbs. Aunt Eda, an Italian pianist who lived downstairs—not a relative, but our grandmother's friend—would bring up a plate of pickled pig's feet, much to the amusement of my brother and me (they were far too odd and adventurous for our young palates). She'd usually stick around for a tiny glass of sherry and to chop parsley for my mother's marinated olives. Our Uncle Dudley would inevitably come over a little early to visit his antique guitar and banjo collection, which was stashed in our basement—his hidden assets, he called the instruments, obscured from the accounting eye of his estranged wife. He'd ask my mother if she'd like him to serenade her while she cooked—his favorite tune was "Miss Otis Regrets". But she'd always say, "I have to concentrate, Dud. Maybe a little something classical would be soothing."