Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Nowhere is God’s grace more evident than when a Hospice Angel walks through the door.
Friday, June 24, 2011
Thursday, June 23, 2011
By Cappy Hall Rearick
I can hear my mother’s voice. “Cappy, go out there and pick those figs before the birds get ‘em.” Mama never knew my St. Simons Island neighbor, Ed Cheshire, aka the Fig Filcher. I once saw him out there picking only a fig leaf. Knowing Ed, he probably had plans to wear it. If Mama had known Ed, she'd have amended her warning so as to include the Fig Filcher.
When I was growing up, we always had a fig tree in the back yard. It was the first thing Mama planted whenever we moved. Now, as I look at our neighborhood tree, I am reminded of when back yards were playable, trees were climbable, hopscotch was hoppable, and if any cement could be found, it provided a perfect surface on which to play Jacks.
We ran so hard. Ran till we were out of breath and had to stop and hold our aching sides. “Time Out!” we yelled if we were being chased in a wild game of tag. We drank sugared, thirst-quenching Kool-Ade in frosty aluminum tumblers, ate Cracker Jacks for only one reason: the prize in the bottom of the box, usually a plastic monkey with its tail curled into the shape of an “O.”
“Oh, shoot! I got a gnat in my eye,” I so often said. We grew up with gnats, mosquitoes and houseflies. We didn't use “Off” to keep them away. Insects coexisted (with an occasional swat) alongside children tumbling onto stretches of dirt at the bottom of a sliding board, or kids looking for the elusive four-leaf clover in patches of green not yet planted with St. Augustine.
We skinned the cat on tree limbs big enough to hold us, and small enough on which to wrap our skinny legs. We even climbed fig trees, once the birds had come and gone.
The birds! I totally forgot about them! I need to take a detour off Memory Lane and get cracking before they pick that tree clean.
I park my car, unload groceries and think all the while about the bulging fig-laden tree just outside my door. In less than twenty minutes, I am there, scanning up and down Butler Avenue for either Ed the Fig Filcher or the swarm of expected black birds. Neither, they are anywhere in sight. My window of opportunity appears to have been extended beyond the fifteen minutes, which makes my heart pound in expectation.
I continue to gaze at the sky and down the street while moving stealthily with plastic grocery bags in both hands. As soon as I reach the tree, I am thunderstruck. There is but one fig left. One! And it’s hiding underneath a fat leaf way in the back.
Damn those thieving black birds! Not only did they strip the fig tree bare, but they stole my fifteen-minute window right out from under me.
I shake my fist and yell Just wait till next year at the few remaining birds hovering over the roof of my recently washed car.
“And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves.”
We hold these truths to be self evident: every mother’s spaghetti tastes better than anybody else’s, and every hometown has a hot dog dive serving up the best hot dogs on the planet.
No argument on the spaghetti issue, although honestly? MY mama's spaghetti can beat YOUR mama's spaghetti. Also, the Dairy O hot dogs in Orangeburg, South Carolina, really ARE the best anywhere.
It’s only natural for folks to claim their hometown eatery to be better than anybody else’s because being loyal to hot dogs, apple pie and barbeque is the American way. Nowhere is that more true than south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
In Orangeburg back in the day, there were two hot dog dives, one with curb service and one without. The place on Broughton Street was truly famous for hot dogs served to you in your car. They were ugly dogs, but who cared? A Julius’s hot dog, even today, can resurrect saliva glands in a corpse.
In Babe’s Pennsylvania hometown, folks show up at Bailey’s when they crave a taste of yesterday. Nailed to the walls are hundreds of football, basketball and wrestling team pictures, some going back as far as the Forties. Bailey’s sells all manner of fast food, but their made-to-order hot dogs topped with their secret sauce, is what keeps people coming back for more.
Bailey’s puts out a pretty good dog, but … not as good as the ones served up at Orangeburg’s second most famous place: the Dairy O. It’s impossible for me to pass through the burg without stopping for one or two.
In Hendersonville it’s Hot Dog World, touted as one of the best restaurants in North Carolina. I know a fellow who, when on vacation in the mountains, heads for Hot Dog World before he unpacks his suitcase. There was even a couple that hosted their wedding reception at Hot Dog World. (I didn’t make that up.)
Close to Duke University in Durham, Pauly’s Dogs rule. Each one, created by Pauly himself, is named appropriately. The Southern Belle is the standard h.d. with mustard, catsup, onions and Pauly’s special sauce. Aunt Jamima is a breakfast hot dog topped with maple syrup, and Cap’t Crunch is topped with … you guessed it. I doubt he’s ever offered one named Fido.
St. Simons Island’s hot dog claim to fame is Hot Dog Alley. The owner set up his business on a corner fifteen years ago, a cart on wheels usually seen at flea markets. I call them Roach Coaches, but that’s just me. He eventually bought the building on that same corner next to an alley and voila! Hot Dog Alley was re-born. A pretty good dog, but not great. My opinion is obviously jaded due to past eating experiences at the good Dairy O in Orangeburg, SC.
Walterboro South Carolina has Dairyland and my kids, raised in that small lowcountry town, claim it to be the very best. Ehhh …
When I was a student at USC in Columbia, South Carolina, we used to go to the old Sears store in Five Points to gobble up the best slaw dog ever made. Sadly, the little annex hot dog joint hooked onto the big Sears building has been gone for more years than I want to count. Only the memory of that special taste is left. But oh, what a fine memory it is.
I am on a quest to find where the best hot dogs can be found. Next week, I am going to Hendersonville to chow down on a recommended dog from an appropriately named place: Piggies. I am told it is so good you won’t want to stop with just one. We’ll see.
In any case, as we approach the Fourth of July, America’s official National Hot Dog Day, I hope you’ll stop for a moment and think about that special dive you knew as a kid, the one that floods you with memories of days gone by. By all means, stick to the July 4th menu by cooking up a bunch of dogs. Serve them to your kids and grandkids while telling them about that special place in your old hometown that served the best hot dogs on the planet.
I dare you to name one of them FIDO.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
It was a run-down house that stood abandoned in the corner of a fallow field of has-been cotton. The road leading to it was dirty, dry and empty but for a cloud of dust left dangling in the air, trapped. Our kitchen was the largest room in the house but it sat catawampus like it was fixing to fall off from the rest.
The misery we would be forced to endure for the next four years began when Daddy moved us from town out to the country. Not only our friends but also everything that had been “our life” immediately became “our used to be.” Unable to find carpentry work in town, Daddy didn’t have two nickels to rub together, so he figured he might as well become a no-count sharecropper. Which he did.
While Mama and my brothers unloaded our few things from Daddy’s truck, my sister Pearl and I, feeling dirt poor and ashamed, stood in the road looking at and hating our next home.
“It’s so shabby.” I muttered the words because talking was just about impossible while tears were stinging the back of my throat. “Looks like a colored house.”
It was the summer of 1930 and we were unlucky enough to be living in the state of Mississippi. I guess having a roof over our heads, whether it was a piece of shit or not, was better than nothing. But we were kids, and didn’t think like that. Even if we did, it wouldn’t have mattered. Once we started crying we didn’t stop for five hours, or maybe ten even.
I swore out loud again and wiped my runny nose with the back of my hand. The tears I’d tried to hold back busted out like a broken levee and ran down my dirty face.
“Damn dust. This is the dirtiest piece of road in the entire state, if you could even call it a road.” I could feel the grit on my teeth. I could even taste it — a mud pie without water.
The day was hot and sticky. There was not another place on earth as hot as the Delta in mid-summer. Maybe hell was, but not by much.
I was only six-years-old the first time I said the word hell out loud and Daddy tried to beat the hell out of me for saying it. “Ain’t no daughter of mine gonna go ‘round cussing like a goddamn slut,” he yelled.
I told him I heard Preacher talking about hell in the pulpit on Sunday and that Preacher said it was in the Bible. I should have kept my mouth shut because his lip curled back and his eyes looked mean as a gator and the next minute I was flying across the room. The last thing I heard was, “You better learn to shut your goddamn sassy mouth, Nora Kathleen, or I’ll keep on shutting it for you.”
So there we stood, my sister Pearl and me, in the middle of the road crying hard on the hottest, stickiest day I had ever known in my twelve years of walking this earth. Pearl was a year older than I was, so all things being equal, she should have been a year smarter. I thought she should say something about us being dragged out to the middle of nowhere and plunked down like a bale of cotton. Something smart. But she was staring at the field like I wasn’t even there, every now and then sucking in a deep breath of air and letting it out slow and jagged-like.
I sat down in the road and waited. Sooner or later something besides tear breath would have to come out of her mouth.
My own tears had started up again, so I licked them as far as my tongue would reach. When I wiggled my toes around in the dry dirt, it made my feet look like dirty windowpanes that hadn’t seen a speck of rain all summer.
When Pearl finally stopped gawking at the stone dead cotton field, she mumbled, “You know what, Nora?”
“What?” I figured she had come up with a happy thought, something to break the gloomy spell sticking to us both. That’s what I hoped anyway. But then I saw the new tears filling up her bottom eyelids so I quit hoping.
“Ain’t nobody ever gonna come down this road. And even if they did, it would be because they were lost.” She sighed. “Ain’t nobody gonna come. I just know it.”
“You don’t know anything,” I argued.
She turned to look me in the eye. “Yes I do. We might as well call this place Seldom Seen.”
Her words came out tired as if her heavy sighs had used up every piece of breath left in her scrawny body.
“You want to name what Seldom Seen? The road?”
Things were bad enough without her carrying on like we were fixing to die out there with nobody else around.
“No, not the road. The house. Look at that awful house, Nora.”
“What makes you say such fool things, Pearl? I swear, you’re getting too miserable for me to be around.” I paused long enough for my words to sink in, and then I blessed her out some more. “We ain’t gonna name this place anything.” I was getting madder by the minute. “It’s a nothing house and it don’t deserve a name. And Pearl, you got to quit staring off at nothing like you do and naming everything you see, like houses. Sane people don’t do stuff like that. You want everybody to think you’re crazy? Just stop doing it.”
She pretended not to hear me. “The house’s name will be Seldom Seen whether you like it or not.” She eked out the words right in the middle of another heavy sigh. “Ain’t nobody ever going to come out here to see us, Nora, and I hope to God they don’t. I’d rather be dead and buried than have people see us living out here like trash.”
I turned away from my sister to look at the old house again, to study it for a minute and maybe see it through her eyes so I could understand why she would bother to give it a name.
Right away, a raw feeling of grief and sorrow and filled with misery began to ooze out of that house. It swept right through me, chilling my bones with a deep, cold ache such as I had never felt before. Every hair on my body stood up straight and rattled.
I turned away fast as I dared, but by then, the nightmare rooted inside that house Pearl named Seldom Seen, had attached itself to my soul, sticky as coal smoke and thick with years of ugliness and doom.
After reading about the food poll, I began to ponder the pinder and the reason why it is so beloved in the South. Why, I questioned, do we place it on a pedestal up there right next to Robert E. Lee?