Laney Wise modestly says she doesn’t have a story. No matter that those who know her rave about her cooking, and at Christmas especially, her divinity. A visit to her kitchen reveals why, and more. It was redolent Monday morning with the aroma of holiday candy. The New Hope cook makes it from a recipe her mother used to follow. Not that Laney needs to refer to it any more; she hasn’t in years. The worn, yellowed pages from her late mother’s 1950s cookbook are now safely preserved in a ziplock bag.
“My mother used to make 15 to 20 different kinds of candy at Christmas,” Laney says, thinking back. She recalls her parent’s hint of nervousness when time came to begin spooning dollops on wax paper. Take too long, and the mixture starts hardening, changing texture. Divinity sometimes gets a bad rap for being tricky. Laney is a practiced hand, though, and says repetition helps make cooks confident.
“I do know not to make it when it’s damp,” she says, reinforcing common warnings about the effect of humidity or moisture on successful divinity.
Laney will give all the candy away. Sharing is in her nature. She’s always cooking for someone, it seems. On Sunday mornings, she’s up early making about 50 sausage biscuits — all-in-one delights, with sausage, cheese and sour cream mixed right in the dough — for the band and sound crew at her church, Mt. Vernon Baptist.
“Well, they’re there from about 7 a.m. to noon every Sunday,” Laney says, brushing off any accolade. Her husband, Al, says the preacher has joked, on rare occasions Laney’s had to forgo the biscuit run, to not tell the band in advance, “or they’re not going to show up.”
Laney’s reputation as a generous cook is well-known to not only her church family, but to a wider community as well.
“She’s probably one of the few people who has take-out boxes in the kitchen,” teases Al.
Ironically, Laney never taste-tests any dish while she’s making it; she’s very particular about double-dipping.
“That’ll get you run out of Laney’s kitchen, if you double-dip,” Al says.
The two met when Al was a student at Alabama, and Laney lived in Tuscaloosa. Married now for 47 years, they have three grown sons, but many more than that refer to them as “Mom” and “Dad.”
The Wise family’s bountiful table has been shared with more people than one could probably count. It began with inviting in exchange students from Germany, Sweden, Peru and other countries who attended New Hope High School, or Japanese students from Mississippi State. It has extended to families stationed at Columbus Air Force Base, several of which have lived temporarily with the Wises. And in the mid-1990s, they began opening their home and hearts as volunteers with Bethany Christian Services in Columbus.
“They were a shepherding home and would keep young women who were pregnant who didn’t have a place to live,” says Lynn Mullins, Bethany’s Columbus director. “They were also interim care parents, which means they would keep a baby that is not ready to be placed yet; it might be for less than 24 hours, or might be for a few weeks.”
In October, Bethany honored Laney and Al with a Volunteers of the Year Award.
“They have been such amazing support for expectant moms who were trying to make a decision, and also with children waiting to either go back with their birth mom, or to be placed,” Mullins says.
The Wises have offered nurturing shelter to numerous young women and more than 50 babies over the years. They have loved each of them. Each child, each mom, each Air Base family, each exchange student had their own unique story. Many have stayed in touch for years. And all were welcome at the table.
“God put it on both our hearts,” Laney says. “I would say we have had the best job in the world — we babysit for God.”
Laney Wise does have a story after all. Turns out, it’s a pretty remarkable one.
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup white Karo syrup
1/2 cup cold water
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup nuts (pecans or walnuts, chopped)
2 egg whites (beaten stiff with a pinch of cream of tartar)
(Source: Laney Wise, from her late mother’s 1950s recipe)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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