Harper Lee and the Cool Whip bowl

September 3, 2014

16  comments

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Dwight Garner wrote a book review for “The Mockingbird Next Door” by Marja Mills for The New York Times. The book relays the story of a brief time when Mills moved next door to famed “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee, and recalls their conversations that ensued over a period of months.


Say what you will about Mill’s book, it was the review that I took exception with because it abandoned its focus on the book to offer a personal commentary on our dear Alabama author, Miss Harper Lee.

As if it were a bad thing, Dwight Garner said the description of how our beloved author spends her days “conjured mostly sad images in (his) mind” because, in addition to other things, “Lee feeds the town ducks seed corn from a plastic Cool-Whip Free container.” Garner said knowing this fact about Harper Lee is worse than if he “found out she stole money from the local orphanage.”

Harper Lee and the Cool Whip Bowl - Leslie Anne Tarabella

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why this made Mr. New York Times sad. I had to go back and reread what he said, and finally figured out he thought that saving and reusing plastic containers meant someone was low-class or indigent.

Harper Lee and the Cool Whip BowlWell, Mr. NYT, I’ll have you know that Southerners, like our beloved Miss Lee, come from a sensible, hard-working class of people who are all just a stone’s throw away from some ancestor who was raised on a farm and didn’t have much to work with.

These grandparents and great – grandparents of ours, taught their children how to squeeze the toothpaste tube until it was bone dry, darn socks and create high fashion from a flour sack.

Because of that practical mentality, Cool — Whip bowls are now a cherished item in the finest of Southern kitchens, not for the sweet fluffy topping they once held, but for the goodness that is yet to come. We are generous people who love to share what we have, and often, a disposable container is the perfect device for parceling out the bounty.

Harper Lee and the Cool Whip Bowl

While we may pull out the heavy cut glass platter for the church dinner on the grounds, or a hand painted team — themed bowl for a tailgate party, when it comes to running some homemade beef stew over to the elderly neighbor or some sausage balls to your best friend who happens to love them, the Cool- Whip bowl is the perfect container.

A sterling silver tray says, “elegant,” and grandmother’s china says, “tradition.” But a Cool — Whip bowl says, “I love you enough to show my practical, common-sense side.” And the other great message it sends is,  “You don’t have to think twice about washing or returning a thing. Just enjoy.” And it’s not like brides down here go out and register for a set of Cool-Whip bowls, it’s honestly just a casual sort of thing we automatically do, like flinging the watermelon rinds over the pasture fence for the cows.

Harper Lee and the Cool Whip Bowl It’s a kind person who takes time to feed little ducks, and my guess is Mr. Garner has never fed an animal, nor saved the earth’s landfill from a harmful plastic bowl. If he stopped making fun of Southern ladies, he would realize that recycling is once again in style, and has been renamed, “eco-friendly.”

One of the most formal dinners I ever attended, was held in an impressive Atlanta mansion. The dinner ended with the Georgia born hostess offering to send us all home with a “little something” because she and her husband couldn’t possibly finish it all themselves. At the end of the evening, her kitchen help brought the guests little plastic containers of canapés, and later, in the light of my own kitchen, I saw the side of the container said, “Athenos Feta Cheese.”  I knew then, that my hostess was a practical, non-pretentious, down-home type of Southern woman whom I adored.

Just like Harper Lee.

Harper Lee quote

Leave a Reply

  1. Kind, gracious, well mannered Southern ladies, like Miss Harper Lee, would never make snotty, condescending comments about anyone. Not even a snotty, condescending moron like Mr. New York Times.

  2. Has Mr. NYT heard, “willful waste causes woeful want?”

    If he’d grown up in the South, he’d know that we were the original “recyclers,” decades before it was cool, starting with tossing slops (leftovers) to the pigs and empty corn cobs to the chickens. Nothing in the South was ever wasted when I was growing up. My grandma was cheaper than Clark Howard!

    I laughed out loud at the toothpaste tube — showed my Yankee-born hubby how to flatten it with the back of the hair comb. He was amazed that we could squeeze out another week’s worth of toothpaste! Believe me, there’s no shame in being thrifty and I have even greater admiration for Miss Harper Lee!

    1. Great saying!

      In all fairness, I’ve heard from several Northern born friends who said their families were also very thrifty and reused kitchen items, but I think the Depression really hit the rural areas of the South harder than in larger Northern cities, — well, maybe not harder, but in a different way — which makes those families a little more “cost conscience.”

  3. I just finished, “fixin’,” a meal for a friend who had surgery, and guess what I put my chopped onions and peppers in until I was ready to saute them??? Yep! Cool Whip containers. Mr. NYT would really freak at the very thought of those being used for people food seeing as how he was totally undone by using them for the ducks.

    LOVE all your articles and forward them to my very Southern Belle daughter in CO who is bringing my grandaughter up to be a proper southern lady. Every time she hears that song on the radio about, “Southern Belles,” she says, “Turn that up, Mom. I love this song ’cause I’m a Southern Belle, right?” You betcha, Abigail!

  4. My father-in-law had a saying, “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. I have found a lot of uses for empty Cool-Whip containers.

  5. Oh no he didn’t!!!!!

    I wouldn’t even want to begin to hear what he would say about my mama who takes stale bread in the original BREAD SACK to feed the ducks! And it’s cheap, store-brand bread, too! I imagine he would question whether we Nebraskans had any electricity to go with our lack of civility! Ha!

    I loved your article! You are as witty and amusing as ever.

  6. I am a grandmother who lived on the farm, until last decade. I sent family and friends home with “leftovers” many times, in cool whip containers, etc. As a child of parents born and raised during the depression, we learned many cost cutting ways. We remain a happy bargain hunting, container saving bunch.

    I am a tad put out by Mr Garner’s words. Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird are on my all time favorites list!

  7. Leslie Anne,
    Excellent article and rebuttal!
    I love this quote from your article:
    “A sterling silver tray says “elegant,” and grandmother’s china says “tradition.” But a Cool-Whip bowl says “I love you enough to show my practical, common-sense side.” ”
    Well done.

  8. Hello!
    Just read this article, and I can not help myself, the tears are flowing, I am such a fool to think this story would affect me this way , but it has.
    To know Ms . Lee lived her life as she did , true to herself to the very end, I only admire her more then ever !

    1. Thank you so much Arlene. I wrote this before Harper Lee died, and now that she’s gone, everyone seems to be thinking about her more and how she lived her life just like you said, true to herself.

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