By Cappy Hall Rearick
Ever wonder how the New Year’s tradition of eating peas and rice got the name Hoppin’ John?Well, wonder no more.
Some say it originated with a game similar to musical chairs where kids hop up and down at the table. Duh. The Grandkids from Hell jump up and down at the table as if they’ve swallowed a Slinky. Up North, people eat pork and sauerkraut to clean them out in preparation for the coming year. Yuk. Homemade colonoscopies might be Yankee logic, but I'd sooner have kids jumping up and down at the table like Jack on Crack in the Box.
Thinking it will ward off bad luck, most Southerners adhere to the tradition of eating pork, collard greens and Hoppin’ John on the first of the new year. I am a true Southerner but I have not always been a true believer.
On New Year's Day many years ago me and my big mouth declared, “No Hoppin’ John and collard greens for me.” Big mistake.
Mama had roasted a Boston Butt to within an smidgen of cremation. Her collards were swimming like Esther Williams in ham grease. I didn’t believe that a year of good luck depended on which veggies I ate on January first. That said, I never met a pig I didn’t want to take home to Mama. So, after downing three pork sandwiches— my one nod to tradition— I developed the bellyache from hell, the first indication of more to come.
The next day my dog blitzed an entire can of Alpo, looked up at me and promptly dropped dead. Yeah, she was old, but I was just a kid and that dog had been begging for table scraps all of my life. Her high-speed exit made me think she should have eaten my share of collards.
Daddy buried Susie Q in our back yard while Mama and I cried and passed each other one Kleenex after another. He wore a dark suit and tie and stood at the gravesite with his hands clasped in front of him. When I said, “Daddy looks like a preacher,” Mama and I laughed and cried all at the same time.
On January third, I went to the kitchen, poured lard in a frying pan and then realized we were slap out of potatoes. Totally forgetting that I’d turned on the burner under the grease, I walked to the Piggly Wiggly and bought a five-pound bag of potatoes. I dilly-dallied back home much like Prissy did in Gone With the Wind, when I was stopped by loud sirens. Not one large red fire truck, but three of those bad boys were parked end-to-end in front of our house. Smoke billowed from the kitchen door while neighbors lined up on the sidewalk and gawked.
Within minutes Mama’s kitchen was toast. All of the cabinets had to be repainted and her new wallpaper smelled like a Boy Scout Jamboree. She stayed mad at me for the next twelve months.
Fearing the next day might bring even more bad luck, I didn’t want to wake up. What if the calamities over the past three days were only teasers? Hello ... I should have stayed in bed because that year was the longest one of my life. One piece of bad luck pounced on me every single day.
Bottom line? I learned more than I ever wanted to know about traditions, why they were established in the first place and why it is necessary to honor them. I’ve been known to eat myself into belly bloat since becoming the poster child for New Year’s Day cuisine.
I promise you this: until my jaws no longer go up and down in chew mode, I will cover my sassy southern you-know-what by hogging down pork, Hoppin’ John and collard greens on January One. I’ll even eat some of that boring Yankee delight sauerkraut. Who am I to mess with tradition, even when it originates north of the Mason Dixon Line?