What Southern Folks Eat: From the mouths of babes
My Dad and I were sitting on the front porch the other day, talking about the old days in his hometown in South Carolina. It seems like the older we get, the more we like to retell the stories of our past. I think we do it because it brings us some warmth and a feeling of connection to reminisce about the families we love.
Dad was born in 1930, the baby of a family of nine children, only seven of whom survived. His papa’s name was James, and his mama was Rose. Dad told me a family story while we were “porch sittin'” that I’d never heard before, and I wanted to share it with you here, because it was almost like an inspirational episode of The Andy Griffith Show which we all know and love.
Picture it: a small textile mill town in South Carolina called McColl, about 160 miles from Mount Airy, North Carolina, which the fictional town of Mayberry was based upon. My dad was a little boy, living at home with his parents and six siblings. His mama was flitting around the kitchen, wiping mouths and correcting manners while the children ate breakfast.
Alberta, who cooked for the large family, had just served breakfast on this particular morning, so the noisy chatter among the children had quietened as they enjoyed the morning meal. (I like to imagine that it was buttermilk biscuits with apple butter and some sausage from my great-grandfather’s grocery store there in town.)
Suddenly, someone knocked on the back door.
Papa got up to see who was there, though he probably already had a hunch. It was a police officer. Papa stepped outside to speak with him quietly.
“James, it’s your brother Lowman. He had too much to drink last night and got into another fight. He’s in the jail,” the officer told him.
Daddy said his mother, Rose, was livid. She knew that her husband would have to leave the family table and head down to the jail to bail his brother out. It wasn’t the first time he had done it, as Lowman had a bad habit of drinking too much and losing his temper, dad said. He ended up in trouble numerous times for injuring people he fought. His destructive behavior damaged the relationship between Lowman and the oldest of the three brothers, Garnette, who ran the textile mill, so he always turned to James for help.
Dad doesn’t know where or when it happened, but Lowman fell in love and got married to a young woman named Mittie. It didn’t slow down his drinking and fighting, sadly. He said that his Aunt Mittie was a churchgoing woman, and she took their two daughters and son to church every Sunday. Lowman never went, as he was usually at home recovering from Saturday night, or was occasionally, as in the above story, drying out in a jail cell waiting for his brother James to come bail him out.
One day, though, something miraculous happened.
Lowman and Mittie’s little son Garland was feeling sad that his friends were able to go to church with their dads and he couldn’t. He approached Lowman one early Sunday morning, put his little hand in his dad’s big one, and said, “Daddy, won’t you please come on and go to church with me?”
Something in Garland’s little face, in his voice, or in that little chubby hand, reached Lowman’s heart. He got up, got dressed, and walked hand-in-hand with his little boy to church that Sunday morning.
When they arrived at the church, Mittie and the girls sat down in a pew, but Garland and his daddy Lowman walked straight up the aisle to the front of the church to speak to the pastor.
No one knows now what was said between Lowman, the pastor, and the Lord, but he was a changed man. He went home that afternoon, dad said, and got his hidden bottle of liquor from inside the house. He walked out into the back yard and threw the bottle across the yard, as hard as he could, shattering it into pieces when it hit the hard ground.
Dad said Lowman never took another drink, and never got in trouble with the law again. He became active in the church, continued working at the textile mill his brother Garnette managed, and lived to be 82 years old. He died in 1984, when his son Garland was 44 years old. I can only imagine that the two of them had an especially close relationship for all those years after that life-changing event.
I was so glad dad told me this family story. It’s so easy for any of us to drift away from our families or from our faith, and fall into destructive habits, but something as simple as the light in a child’s eyes can lead us to the peace and love we really crave. I loved that reminder to get back to the things that really count in life, things that don’t involve money or politics or any of the things we get so caught up in.
I also am glad to be reminded of the sweetness of the family table. I like to picture my dad and his siblings all around it with their parents, having a meal that included vegetables straight from the garden that dad said was right outside the back door – tomatoes, peas, okra and the other good things we Southerners love to grow and eat.
Here is a recipe I think you might like that includes some of that summer garden goodness. I hope you will enjoy it while sitting at a table with someone you love.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three sons who are substantially taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com.