21 November, 2008



Over at the KisP Institute (http://www.sondrak.com/) the Headmistress posted an esoteric news snippet :

"South Korean housewives make 140 tons of kimchi, a traditional Korean dish of spicy fermented cabbage and radish. The food is to be distributed to more than 13,000 poor households."

Which immediately prompted a discussion thread of personal experiences with kimchi and other utterly oddball cultural culinary delights. Which, in turn, started me thinking of regional oddities I have experienced.

From Southwest TEX-MEX menudo and rattlesnake, to Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple to southern delights like pickled eggs and "trotters" (pickled pig's feet), the ranchers delight, "Prairie" oysters or "Rocky Mountain" oysters...and my own ongoing search for the best plate of the ubiquitous, belly-busting, All-American, road hounds delight: Biscuits and Gravy (http://theprairiemelts.blogspot.com/2007/03/biscuits-and-gravy-at-searchlight-cafe.html) I have eaten some things which others find patently offensive and inedible.

However, there is an deeply ingrained southern tradition which involves two recognized regional foods: Moon Pies and RC Cola.

DW (Dammit Womann) added to the KisP thread that when her travels take to Baton Rouge, she purchases a case of fresh Moon Pies. Which started me thinking of the springtime I spent in Florida.
The recollection of working in the Florida citrus groves in the Spring of 1967 came rolling back into mind. My college roomate and I were drinking salutations to St. Patrick and talking about his impending trip to Florida for a semester's worth of work. He asked if I would like to join him. Never being one to miss an opportunity to travel, I hollered: "Hell Yeah!"....and ordered another pitcher of beer.
Three days later, we flew into Tampa. His crusty ol' cracker grandfather met us, packed us into his ancient Ford station wagon and we headed off to Winter Haven. The experience of living with Bob's grandparents is worthy of a post all its own. Suffice it to say that I learned to jig for freshwater crab and enjoy crayfish, how to make spicy, grapefruit wine and how to "court" soft, doe-eyed southern gals.

I also learned about the southern class and caste system. How, in Florida at least, it had less to do with race than with perceived social status, education and language.

Bob and I applied for work at the Gypsum/Drywall manufacturing plants. They took one look at our skinny white college aged selves and laughed. They wanted big ass southern men not pansy assed boys. Bob's grandfather had a friend who ran an irrigation service for the citrus farmers.

He needed help and he didn't care who or how big or how educated. He just wanted bodies to set and change out irrigation pipe for ten to twelve hours a day. It wasn't rocket science and it wasn't extremely physically demanding.

We showed up for work at the crack of dawn the next day, signed our legal papers and were told where to meet the bus to take us out to the groves. Five minutes or so later, five of us, three old black men and we two young white boys, crawled into a beater of a Volkswagon bus. It was driven by the biggest, blackest person I had ever seen. His skin was purple black. He must have weighed 280 and stood 6'10". Buck was his name. From the peppering of grey in his hair, I figured him to be in his late 40's.

He gently smiled so broad and warm it would have melted February snow...and introduced himself and the other workers. They were elderly and skinny men, quiet and unsure of these "whitey collitch bow'ies" in their midst. Buck started the bus and we headed down the sandy road. About five minutes later we pulled up in front of a weathered clapboard corner market with a broken screen door and rusty tin signs which held the building together.

The crew silently piled out of the bus and into the store. Buck looked back and motioned with that engaging smile and a nod of his head that we should join them. Inside it was dark and damp, lit only by three or four bare, yellowed bulbs. It smelled of over-ripe produce, stale sweat and tobbacco. All the men headed for the cooler, pulled out a iced bottles of Royal Crown and each took a Moon Pie. At the check out, some asked for plugs or ropes of dark tobacco. One asked for a bag of "Red Man" chaw.

Bob and I followed suit, taking the iced down RC Colas and moon pies to the counter where a young black woman with dark, brooding eyes, watched our every move. We smiled...She didn't. Bob and I both smoked Pall Mall straights. These we asked for and paid out our pittance in coin.

Buck then came up and spoke to the gal. He assured her that we were OK...."jes' young'un's a-workin' fer a spell." There was that smile again! The gal's stern countenance softened.

Back in the bus, twenty minutes later and a million miles from anything I had known before, Buck pulled into a drive deep in the middle of citrus groves. There loomed a huge rusty electric well pump and head-pipe and an old tractor with a trailer loaded with 8 inch diameter, 10 foot lengths of aluminum irrigation pipe. Each length had holes drilled every 6 inches or so on opposite sides. Buck taught us the slow dance of off loading, laying pipe and turning on the pumps, taking just long enough that when we returned to the pump, we had five minutes of "settin'time" before we began moving the next line of pipe. Except for the whine of the electric motor, the deep throb of the pump and the shlosh of the water as it ran...we lived those days in relative silence. The only time we spoke was at lunch. And lunch was "learnin'time."
Once, during one of the "settin' time" breaks, the old feller who had shelled out two bits for a bag of Red Man politely asked me if I would like a taste. Hell, I didn't know anything about chew, except that Dad Anthony and Uncle Bob always had a packet of Beechnut in the logging truck up at the cabins up in the Rockies.

That day, Bob and I learned about Moon Pies and RC Cola and tobacco you didn't smoke. We learned to set and break down irrigation pipe. And we got a taste of what it meant to be a minority.

What we learned later about Buck and the crew he lead is another tale for another day.


  1. Great story - glad you remembered it and shared it.

  2. Ya'll keep 'em comin' Sven. Good readin' makes for a good day....uh huh.

  3. Thanks.

    Remember Cuchieddie and Steppes as they travel to be with Cuchi's Mom.

    Looks like she will pass the veil and head for the fine soft sunrise where there is no pain or suffering and the gentle winds rise.

  4. Yes, Sven..........they are all in our prayers.

  5. Did you write the other posts? Can you send me the links so I can follow the story? I want to know about Buck and the rest of those guys!

  6. Bou,
    More follows...a little at a time.

    I'm not a sequential thinker by nature. I have learned to work through a project, design, implement, hire and......then,
    Ohhhh, LOOK a full moon, time to go fishin!

    BTW, you have mail.