Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in LaRochelle, France, to parents who were serving in the US Army. My dad was from Alabama, and my mom was from Columbus, Mississippi, where we settled when my dad retired from the military. Columbus — if you didn’t already know it — was the birthplace of Tennessee Williams.
My parents were “kitchen dancers,” preparing some of the best food in the South. Their meals were orchestrated affairs. I sat at the table and watched and listened, and sometime helped. My mother was a dredger, pulling fresh-cut fryers through seasoned flour, dropping it piece by piece into angry oil.
My dad made unforgettable breakfast fare. She with her biscuits and him with his country ham and his gravies –sausage, milk, tomato, and red-eye, my personal favorite. We used a lot of ice, even in the winter.
When I moved to the Mid-west, I couldn’t believe how little they used. One or two cubes of ice does NOT constitute iced anything!
I am tied to the South through blood and food, through words and stories, through love.
We make a lot of ice in the South because we are a hot people. The summer makes us crazy so we drink. Then we eat a lot, and then drink more cold drinks with the ice that we make at home. Sometimes we buy it in big clear plastic bags at 7/11 or from those little white self-serve ice machines that dot the landscape. They are our igloos. They can be seen from the air, always painted white with red, blue, and black letters with the obligatory penguin, saying, “Brrrrr!” The newer machines dispense both 10 and 20-pound bags – mainly cubed – and take credit cards.
We gulp ice-cold drinks with our favorite foods. Like lemon ice-box pie, which reminds me of family fishing days after school in the spring, and the fish fries that we had every other Saturday in the summer at Bill Drane’s camp house on the Luxapalila River. He had a pier which served as a boat dock and a platform for diving and swimming.
At his kitchen table there were paper towel-lined platters of fried fillets of crappie, bass, and catfish, jalapeno hush puppies with beer in the batter, and homemade tartar sauce. There were home-cut French fries and Heinz ketchup, tangy slaw with sweetened tea. The adults had bourbon and whiskey. We kids had Cokes and tea and lemonade.
Once I got a fish bone lodged in my throat. I motioned for my father to help me. He grabbed the back of my head, went into my mouth and throat with his fingers which were covered with a piece of white bread, and he pulled out that bone. I spat up blood, and my dad announced to everyone, “He’ll be just fine.” My mother handed me a cube of ice. “Here, son. Cool your throat with this.” It always worked.