yall. i had a set back in my quest for my southern identity... and i may need to do more than read "all the king's men" to counter this.
it all started on the monday night i first got to baton rouge, but at the time, i didn't see it just yet. the hadnots had me and my dad over for supper. they served a tasty meal: chicken and dumplings, black-eyed peas, green beans with pork fat... it was real good. well, i was dipping outa second helping of dumplings in my bowl when our host cautioned me, "make sure you save some room for some dessert! we got mincemeat pie in the kitchen!"
(ok. taking a break from the narrative, let me list the problems with this scenario: #1- as yall probably know, i don't eat dessert. #2- my dad doesn't eat dessert. #3- it aint good southern form for a guest to turn down dessert- especially both of the guests. #4- do you know what mincemeat pie tastes like? i like eating everything. but this aint anyhow part of the everything that i like to eat. my mom used to make it when i was little, and i hated it then too. in fact... when our host said the words, "mincemeat," that taste came back to me - and it was weird, cause i'd forgotten that mincemeat pie existed- for serious)
check out the picture... now check out this recipe- http://www.cdkitchen.com/recipes/recs/38/MincemeatPieII63207.shtml
i am not even sure what it is up in there that makes it taste so bizarre. i need to lay out all the ingredients side by side in a row and taste em all separately. they put so much gunk up in the dang pie you'd need to do a chemical analysis probably. and its so sugary and syrupy sweet combined with this earthy biting taste to it, like a pecan pie run amok - right off the road and into the ditch. for the life of me i can't describe this thing... but it's only with keeping on eating it that it really gets to you - real water-torture-like.
well, i had to bite the bullet. i sacrificed my sugar ban for the common good (for my dad and for our southern heritage, or mine at least. my dad's people are from the quaker oat (and corn) fields of the midwest); but here's the kicker, this sacrifice of my 8-year-old sugar ban wasn't even for something i like! (why couldn't it've been cheesecake?)
and i was served a full quarter of that pie tin. i swear. it was bigger than the moon. after i reached my saturation level, i finally resorted to eating only the crust, (i like pie crust), and i left a small pile of the gooey interior in a corner of my plate. left me down-right demoralized. that's what it did to me.
well... if that had been all... but this story continues, see, and pieces fit together that makes a picture of something about myself i wasn't wanting to see.
well... baton rouge is different than seattle- and you can be up in the ihop eating, and a nice old lady two tables behind you- off to the right-hand side, eating some pancakes with strawberries and a dog poo clump of whip cream, can join your conversating with nobody saying or thinking nothing out of the ordinary. and so it was. me and my sister were in the ihop, and we were discussing the sad case of wilbert rideau, who life magazine once called the most reformed man in prison. its a case of a 19 yr-old black man killing a white woman in 1961 and getting sent to death row by an all-white jury, although the murder was not premeditated. (see his website here - and the story of his eventual release. wikipedia also has an interesting summary.)
well, my dear sister was in a moment of corn-fusion and could not remember wilbert's name- so our table neighbor interjected, "his name is rideau!" my sister didn't seem at all surprised by the intrusion into our personal conversation; (we coulda been talking about something private!) she just answered, "yeah! that's his name," and the conversation continued... and this kinda thing happens everywhere - especially the grocery line at the wal-mart. people just talk to each other and say hello and comment on the weather, the upcoming election, your purchases, how the lsu football team knocked the socks off fresno state, and how nice your fake diamond fluer-di-lis ring looks on your pinky finger. if you tried all that in seattle you might get hit upside the head with a can of postum.
well our table neighbor was no different, and we chatted for a while, and eventually the topic came round to the mincemeat pie from monday night previous. she confirmed that mincemeat was indeed a southern dish and used to be made with real meat - and how good it tasted poured over hot italian meatballs. well, after talking on the subject for a while and feeling real friendly with her (i never knew my grandmothers) i decided to confide in her that i hated the stuff. she responded with a disconcerting stare - kinda poker-faced, as if she was thinking something she didn't wanna say.
but finally she did speak, deciding on a semi-neutral comment, "you just used to all that bland food you eat out there." (i'd told her i live in seattle now).
well, this shoulda been clear enough warning for me to change the topic, but instead it got me a little on the defensive side of things, and i explained that i liked spicy foods, asian food, thai food, lao food, crawfish, tony chachere's, jalepenos in a jar, tabasco; i mean, its all part of who i am - you are what you eat kinda thing- but she continued to give me a rather blank stare.
so i took it a step further. and this is true for so many of us,--so don't you, mr. and ms. blog reader, sit back in your chair (all 3 of you that will actually read this far in this entry) and think that its just me that don't know when or how to shut up, cause sometimes - when you're trying to defend yourself, and i mean all of us, you say just the wrong thing and it gets you deeper and deeper in that swamp of a mess you already got yourself into by opening your big trap in the begin with and that's what happened to my sorry self right there in the ihop on college drive in baton rouge louisiana usa.
so here's what i said: "well, i don't like bland food, i just don't like sweet things. mincemeat - it's just too rich for me." (and if i'd just left it there... why did i have to say more??)
"like pralines..." i continued, (and you gotta say it with the right pronunciation if you're from the south; it's not 'praw-lines' but 'pray-lines')
" ... i don't like pralines. they're just too sweet!" i said.
well, her face just dropped and i could see the pancake still in her mouth- and immediately i recoiled into my stupidity - but i had nothing left to say to get me back on firm southern dirt. and i can't express to you the magnitude of my comment. (but i'll try) i mean, pralines are a louisianian's birthright. it's their heart and soul, their joie de vivre, their memories of hearth and home, the good days and the bad, its their hand-carved pirogue under the moon and the stars, their bon ami and their chere - their mother and father...it's their blood.
after a second of pause she finally replied,
and still i had nothing i could say. as we strolled out the ihop, i said goodbye, wished her a good day, thinking the whole time that i knew what she thought of me, and left with a sinking realization that i've been away too long. the whole thing brings my credibility as a southerner into question. yep. i'm bout as southern as a crawdad. i still say yall, and i like red beans and rice. i say pin like pen, and i caught aint cot. so what does that make me? i mean, i will always call baton rouge my home, but will baton rouge always claim me as hers?
yall gotta check out the pralines on this page. make some and send them to the fourth row, second table by the end at the ihop in baton rouge on college drive- cause my little old table neighbor is sittin there waiting for em; her mouth's still hanging open in shock.