Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ancient Southerners


My son-in-law, an associate pastor of a great and well-known body of believers in De Queen, Ark., said something interesting after supper last night. He had come to our house along with our daughter and granddaughter to help with some furniture issues. We finished our project and went out for barbecue at a local eatery. My son-in-law, we will call him Bobby, was sampling some fried pies after supper and, as is my practice, I tried to ruin his pleasure by saying, “Fried food isn’t good for you.”

Oh, man, did that statement touch a nerve! He said in his most persuasive ecclesiastical tone, “Where did you hear that nonsense? Southern people have been eating fried foods for thousands of years without negative consequences.” Even though his temporal view of Southern history is at odds with my own, and with everyone else’s I know, his point was very boldly and articulately made.

Since Bobby pluralized the millennia that Southerners have been chowing down on fried goodies, his word “thousands” must mean at least 2,000 years, right? So, 2,000 years ago would be about the time of Christ. I envisioned Southerners over here on this continent gorging on fried catfish whilst the disciples were having fish roasted on an open fire at the Sea of Galilee, you know, the big catch cookout. Southerners were frying okra whilst Peter was dreaming of eating unclean stuff on the rooftop in Joppa. Southerners were feasting on fried chicken whilst the disciples were twirling wheat heads between their unwashed hands, to the chagrin of the goody two-shoes Pharisees.

But, what if Bobby meant more than 2,000 years—say 2,500 years. Southerners were making hot water cornbread whilst Daniel and his companions were eating stewed beans. Or, 3,000 years ago David was having bread, dried figs and raisins that Ziba brought him whilst Southerners were saying, “Pass them peach fried pies, y’all.”

I won’t go all the way back to Cain, who never fried pumpkin patties or Able, who never thought of frying a leg of lamb. Because, all kidding aside, there is a lot of truth in what Bobby implied, even though the vehicle for his point was historically flawed. I remember old man Swilley in El Dorado, who peddled groceries all over town in a cart till he was in his 90’s. He would stop by our house for, you guessed it, a hefty hunk of fried cornbread. Every Sunday at Mr. Swilley’s house, fried chicken was served in abundance. My mother’s favorite meal all the way to her death in her 80’s was fried chicken. And no one could fry it as well as she could.

Moderation is the answer. Serving sizes have gotten out of hand, haven’t they? Restaurants should follow the example of the historic restaurant in my town. They offer a regular plate and a small plate. The small plate is just about right in terms of serving size. You get two decent pieces of fried chicken tenders and a little dab of two sides along with bread.

One question for Bobby, did Southerners say “fixing to” in, say, the year 1066, as in, “Are you fixing to fry that squirrel, Betty Sue, or make mulligan?” (I know the answer to that one and so do you). I’d better acknowledge that Bobby knows history. He also knows hyperbole.

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