Harper Lee and the Cool Whip bowl

September 3, 2014


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

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