Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins
February brings two things to my mind: love and collards.
Love because of the customary celebration of St. Valentine’s Day and all things mushy, gushy, sweet and sentimental. Collards because February is the peak season for this mighty green, my personal favorite of all the greens in the green family. As I have contemplated love and collards, and believe me there has been some serious cogitation on the matter, I have come to find that the two have much in common.
Collards, like love, can sometimes be sweet and sometimes be salty. The key is to find the perfect balance. If you bring constant contention to the marital table (or the living-in-sin table or the mr.-right-right-now-table), you will create a completely unpalatable situation for your beloved. This is not to say, however, that you should be completely milquetoast and mooney. A dash of salt here and a pinch of sugar there will lead to equilibrium, harmony, happiness.
Collards take a lot of work to get them just right — wash, wash, wash, rinse, rinse, rinse, cut out the stems, check for bad spots, stack the leaves , roll them up, slice, slice, slice. So too does love and marriage. Once you get that ring on your finger, you can’t expect to just lie back, eat bonbons, and let the chips of bliss fall where they may. It is a lot of effort to maintain a happy home, and don’t let anybody tell you different. But just like a mess of greens, if you are willing to put in the time, effort, and a heaping spoonful of patience, oh, what a sweet reward in the end.
Collards are a tough green, but they can be easily bruised and damaged. You have to treat your collards gently, tenderly, compassionately. Even the biggest, toughest outside leaf is in danger of being broken if treated carelessly. Do thoughtless, irreparable damage to your collards, and you will wind up with not so much as a spoonful of potlikker. And then where will you be? Staring at a plate of dry cornbread all by yourself.
Collards ain’t nothing but collards no matter how much you try to church them up. You can call them “braised winter greens,” you can cut them into a chiffonade, you can even try to put them in a gratin or some other such nonsense, but they will always be just plain collards. Likewise, if your honey pie was a threat to go to the store in a wife-beater and sweatpants, leave his drawers on the bathroom floor, and drink milk straight from the carton before you were married, chances are he will continue to do all those same things once you jump the broomstick. No matter how you try to dress him in Brooks Brothers and Cole Haan, no matter if you douse him in Old Spice and pomade, he’ll always be the collard you fell in love with underneath. Don’t try to turn him into swiss chard.
Collards are good for you. Collards make you healthy, they provide comfort, make you feel all warm inside, and give you strength to carry on from day to day. Collards should bring nothing but happiness. If your collards make you miserable, if your collards make you sad, if your collards are in someone else’s pot, well, you might want to consider swiss chard.
So come this Valentine’s Day, think of love. Think of collards. I’ll have a heaping helping of both, please.
Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog audreyatkinswriter.com.