02 December, 2008

Southern Memories, II


Winter Haven, Florida ~ Spring, 1967

Bob and I rolled out of bed each mornin'before sunrise. Work called us, or mayhaps it was the call of "learnin' time".

Actually, Bob's grandmother shook our heels or shoulders, whatever it took to cause a couple of boys-wantin'ta'be men to rise and work. We learned to rise no matter what pain or desire to sleep kept us a-bed.

We learned to rise after six hours sleep and a night of eating and drinking and tellin' lies. We learned to pace our slow selves to the thick air and insects, knowing that 12 hours is a long stretch in any man's book.

We learned to shut-the-fuck-up.....

We began to listen.

Buck and his soft and powerful smile began to translate into a soft and powerful voice. He spoke and the rest of us listened. It didn't matter that we were "naw'there'ren white boyiz".

It didn't matter that the rest of the crew were Southern blacks. We all listened to Buck during the "learnin time"..........Or, as I recall the dialect...."lar'nin' time.

After two weeks of 12 hours on - 12 hours off and one day of rest....Bob and I hurt. The old black men kept working while we wanted to take a day off and rest. Buck smiled and we learned. We learned that men worked, not just for themselves, but for their families, for their community, for their nation.

Let me repeat that:
We learned that men...TRUE MEN... worked, not just for themselves, but for their families, for their community, for their nation!
It wasn't about race or creed or color. These old men were far past that. It was about making their way, making a living in an unjust and wicked world.

One chilly, misty morning, Buck stopped at one of the nameless little stores where we all piled out of the bus to buy our RC cola and Moon Pies and tobacco. Something seemed different.

Buck was wary, his smile, hesitant. The normal silence was draped in expectancy....in darkness.

When we arrived at the work site....which, to Bob and I, was just another nameless block of citrus groves in the midst of a fathomless sea of citrus, we were met by the County Sheriff and the Florida State Patrol.

Buck unfolded his huge body and stood....waiting. A grey uniformed hulk of a State Patrol Sargent came over with a folder. He shook hands like he and Buck were old friends. Then he spoke quietly, pointed to the grove as more police and the coroner's wagon arrived. Buck nodded. Then he shook his head, his shoulders slumped and his massive head fell forward. Sadness......grief......That is what I remember.

Buck shuffled back to the bus, shoulders hunched, his black cheeks glistened with tears.

"Thar's'a bin a killin." His deep voice broke. " Sum'un's kilt a young gal'n' her lover. Dey drug'um out'cheer and dump'um in'a citra'grove....all bloody like. Y'all, we cain' werk he'yah t'aday. They want's a preecher and I be the one de' law knows. I gots'ta stay and woik wif the sher'riff. Y'all go'wan back t'da ya'ward. Jack, y'all take da bus."

Buck was a Christian pastor!

Jack, the man who had proffered me the chewing tobac, hopped out and crawled into the driver's seat. He drove us back to the yard in utter silence.

I was still dumbstruck....Buck was a pastor!
Later in the week, I spoke with Buck during our lunch..our "lar'nin time." I asked him about his education, how he came to be a preacher and why he was working the citrus groves.

He stared at me, his eyes glowed like black coals.......silent. Buck sighed. He took a long drink from his jug of sweet tea. Then Buck leaned back against the orange tree and began his tale.

He told me that he was damn near 80 years old, born sometime in the 1880's. There was no record, no certificate. He remembered his grandparents who were house slaves, freed by "Massa'Lincoln". They stayed on the plantation to serve their own patron, their Christian master. They both taught Buck to memorize the bible. Every night they would sit and recite chapter and verse. Every night, month after month, year after year....they would sit in the firelight and recite God's word as their own preacher had taught them.

Not one of them could read or write, not Buck, not his parents, not his grandparents. But they knew every word and phrase in the Holy Bible. It was their hope and their gift from God and their earthly master. It was the promise of a better life. He memorized the whole book and learned to preach.

Buck, then in his twenties, took over preaching when his mentor died . He worked with the Baptist Church. His Strong, deep voice and massive stature gained him a large following. Big gals, small gals.....some with heavy breasts, some with sweet fannies, some with kitchen skills.....some with other skills....all of them smiled and wooed him. Clever men taught him about drink and smoke. He fell and rose and fell again.
He married one strong, no-nonsense gal who had waited, watching him from the shadows. Then the war came and Buck went to serve his country. He learned to sign his name and read and write enough to make his way. And he learned about hate and murder. And he learned that his "churchin' " was Christ working to keep him safe.

Buck came home and raised his family. They were all gone now, his wife dead, his children gone north to work in factories. He knew the law and the politicians around Winter Haven. And they all knew and respected himHe worked because he had to. There was no Social Security for Buck...or for many of the elderly blacks. They were "non-persons" as far as the Federal Government was concerned. They simply, and conveniently, did not exist.

Buck told me that God wanted him to stay in Florida. God wanted him to reach out. He told me that he "knew" when Bob and I showed up, that he was "s'posed'ta teech us'bout Gawd."

And that, beloved, is just what that old man did.

30 November, 2008

*Buttermilk Skies*



I have not been at peace with the postings of The Monkeybutt Chronicles here.
Therefore, as of today, I moved all of the previous posts over to:


For those of you who have read and commented, or have simply read and moved on, thanks for visiting!

I hope you will visit the new site and comment if you feel so compelled. Whether you are pissed with what I say, or agree with me, please respond. All I ask is that you DO NOT remain anonymous. Your comment will be removed.


Forward, into the Fog

The whole idea behind Elegant Dust was to create a quiet haven from the incessant, tumultuous and frantic noise and growing barbarism of the post-modern world. With that in mind, I want to make this post a return to the folksy, comfortable tenor of earlier writes.

Yesterday, we awoke to the first protracted snow storm of the season. It remained cold and steel grey all day, with snow flurries off and on. We were gifted with the remnants of a spiral sliced ham last week...the leftovers from the little feast held after the ceremony honoring my late half-sister Carrie Lundquist and the spreading of her ashes.

That ham shank and hock were begging to be cooked up with a traditional Southern set of recipes.

~ Butterbean Soup
~ Buttermilk Cornbread
~ The "final" Salad
- 1 pound of large, dried Lima beans
- 1 full ham shank and hock ( the honey cured and spiral sliced kind, if possible)
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 2 medium, dried sweet Anaheim (Hatch, NM) Chiles. (I use them fresh off the ristras.)
- Kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper....and a dash of Mexican Oregano.

Sort, wash and soak the beans in cold water overnight, at least 8 hours. Place in a large dutch oven.

Trim the meat from the shank and split the hock at the knuckle, remove tendons and connective tissue, add to the beans. Add the the chicken stock and enough water to cover well. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and heavy simmer for 45 minutes.

Place the chiles in a shallow bowl, cover with boiling water and let sit for 20 minutes.

Coarse chop the onion and celery. Split the chiles, remove the ribs and seed, chop fine.

Remove the shank and hock from the beans. Set aside and let cool. Add the veges, oregano and chile. Stir and add salt and pepper to taste.

Remove meat pockets from the shank, chop coarse, and add to the soup. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a high simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
Cover and place on low simmer till ready to serve.

- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cup of yellow cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (adjusted for high altitude)
- 1 cup of fresh buttermilk
- 1 large (or 2 medium) eggs....the fresher, the better!
- 1 half stick of unsalted buddah
- 1/8 to 1/4 cup of sugar....(I like less)
- Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Melt the buddah in a high sided 12 inch cast iron skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat. When the butter begins to brown, Whisk the egg(s), the buttermilk and most of the buddah into the dry ingredients. Return the cast iron to the stove top. Pour the batter into the smoking cast iron and let it sizzle for a second or two and then put it into the oven for 25 to 35 minutes....Check for top browning at 20 minutes. Remove when the top begins to brown. Run a knife around the perimeter and turn onto a plate or platter. You will be rewarded with a toasted, crunchy crust... a sweet and light bread with a little "bite" from the buttermilk... YUMMMM!

The salad is the last of the tomatoes and cukes from the garden, along with fresh greens from the last of the local harvests sold at the Farmer's markets. From now until late March....the 'maters and lettuce will taste more like cardboard than fresh veges.
All of these recipes come down from Dad Anthony, my step-dad in name only. He raised me as though I were his own child, and taught me the ways of a Southern Conservative. I sure do miss that ol' gentleman.
He loved Buttermilk and spent a few seasons trying out different recipes for cornbread that would match the buttermilk cornbread he had as a child. Once he found the recipe above....he used to make it at least once a month until the strokes whittled away at his ability to cook, or do much of anything.