“I remember she used to stand me on the big meal can in the kitchen and she taught me how to make a caramel cake and things like that,” said Finley of New Albany. “I was about 8 years old then.”
One of Finley’s older sisters, Mary, taught her how to fry chicken and cook vegetables when she was about 10.
“By the time I was 15, I was really cooking,” said Finley, who shares four children and 10 grandchildren with her husband, Clarence.
And Finley had a big family to cook for.
“There were six boys and five girls and I was number 10,” she said. “They called me the knee baby.”
(According to The Dictionary of American Regional English, the term knee baby is an idiom that refers to the next-to-the-last child born into a family with several children. The term alludes to the child that was standing at the mother’s knee when the youngest child was in the mother’s lap or arms.)
Today, Finley cooks just about every day for her husband as well as her great-niece and great-nephew, who live with them.
“Cooking relaxes me,” she said. “It calms my nerves. I’ll cook something and give it to somebody just to be doing something. It’s like a comfort thing for me. It gives me something to do – makes me feel useful.”
In 2002, Finley left her job at Walmart in Tupelo because of a medical disability. And she had to change her lifestyle.
“After I was diagnosed with diabetes, it was hard to learn to cook the right way, but I did it because I don’t want any of my grandchildren to be diagnosed with it,” she said. “We have to change our lifestyles sometimes. I make wise decisions now. When I first started cooking, I used lard. My mom made it when we killed hogs, and we used it to fry. Now, I use olive oil.”
But Finley, who was called Nezzie when she was growing up, but now is known as Mrs. I., hasn’t let her health problems get in the way of a good meal.
“I have back problems, and sometimes I’ll get in my computer chair because it rolls, and I’ll roll up to the stove to cook,” she said. “That just tickles my grandchildren to death. It takes me a while to cook sometimes, but I get it done.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to email@example.com.