When in doubt, just add family, friends, and Creole seasoning. 

Sid Evans and His Mother, Marsha Evans
Credit: Sid Evans

Marsha Evans hasn't been shy about dishing out advice over the years, whether I'm seeking it or not. She has plenty to say about Southern Living, for example, and she often calls me the day her new issue arrives. "I just loved that column about manners," Mom told me recently. "You should do more of those." In general, her philosophy is that more is better, especially if she's talking about dogs, casseroles, mayonnaise, butter, salad dressing, or holiday decorating. There are so many family photographs hanging in her house that she's run out of wallspace.

When it comes to cooking, she has always believed in healthy doses of Creole seasoning, and she views anyone who doesn't agree with a certain amount of suspicion. Once, when my brother brought a girlfriend home for the holidays, the young lady made a comment that my mother's food was a little too spicy. The next day, Mom was spotted putting a few extra shakes of Tabasco on the poor girl's tuna sandwich, which she admitted to with a shrug. "I was just trying to make it taste better," she said.

But that story belies her hospitality. Mom firmly believes there are few things as important in life as making people feel comfortable and welcome. In her book, there's always room for one more, the door is always open, and there should always be a frozen lasagna at the ready. We joke that we never know who's going to show up at the house—distant cousins, old college friends, a musician passing through town—all of whom she treats like family. She recently had a crew of guys there doing landscape work, and when I called at lunchtime, she was serving them squash soup and lemonade on the porch. One of them said, "Ma'am, could I please see a wine list?"

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There are other pieces of advice she's known for in our family. On the future: "God doesn't let you see around corners." On marriage: "You can have the fairy tale, but then it takes work." On fashion: "Accessorize." (As the mother of two boys, she couldn't do much for us there.) But her best advice has been given by example. Like many moms, she wakes up every day thinking about others, starting with a call to her own mother, Heloise, who is 96. "What can I bring you for lunch?" she'll ask. "I have tons of stuff in the fridge." If that's not Southern hospitality, I don't know what is.