When I was a junior in high school, I became the cook and cleaner of our house. My mom was in care for depression at a private facility. My oldest sister was married and my next oldest was away at college. So it was me, my Dad and my 9-year-old brother.

I wasn’t a bad cook—more gifted at baking than actual meals, but I was sure I could make this work. One night, having watched Mom fry chicken and make gravy from the “scritchins” (as my brother labeled them), I was sure I could pull it off.

I put potatoes on to boil, took a can of “Le Seur” peas from the shelf, coated the chicken pieces and set out the frying pan. I had already made a salad and set the table. Daddy was not yet home from work and I have no memory of where my brother was. In those years we mostly ignored each other. He saw me as too bossy and I saw him as having taken my place as the youngest (and favorite) in the family. The fact that he’d had the audacity to be born a male (after three girls) was even more irritating.

So, water was bubbling and potatoes were ripening for mashing; the skillet was hot with Wesson oil and I had dumped the can of peas into a smaller saucepan. Three eyes of the stove in operation while in the oven the biscuits waiting to be baked and then covered in the gravy that would be the last step in the prep process.

All went well. Chicken pieces were golden and piled onto a platter covered in tin foil to keep them hot. Daddy came home and made himself a “highball” then mashed the potatoes. Peas were simmering and biscuits were brown without being burnt. Last step? The gravy.

I had watched Mom make this dozens of times—scrape the skillet, add a little flour, then a little milk, stir. But the proportions kept getting off kilter—too much flour followed by too much milk followed by….well, you get the idea.

The bowl of gravy I set on the table was about half of what had ended up in the skillet and as soon as it was removed from the heat it began to congeal. Daddy was kind. My brother was not. He pronounced the conglomeration wallpaper paste and declared he would never again eat any meal I prepared. After nearly forty years, he still occasionally reminds me of the gravy disaster.

I like him a lot better now so I let him get away with it.