My grandfather, William (who was called Roger), sat on the edge of the bed running his hand through his graying hair. Between the fingers of his other hand rested the ever-present Camel cigarette, a fine wisp of smoke curling upward, his fingers stained yellow from years of smoking. When he stood, he pulled the suspenders that held up his gray trousers over his white tee shirt. His pants were always gray. Every pair of pants he owned was gray, I thought. Then he pulled on his blue shirt.
“Grandfather,” I asked, “why do you wear suspenders under your shirt?”
“Because, boy, showin’ people that you use suspenders to hold up your britches would be indecent. Remember that.”
Grandfather was the person who introduced me to Southern food delicacies, foods that every real, Southern boy was supposed to enjoy. Sardines, pickled pigs’ feet, pickled eggs, buttermilk, hoop cheese, and souse. I never could drink the buttermilk, and anything called “souse” seemed inedible to me. Every country and culture, well, not Israel, but almost every other one had its own version. Whether it was called headcheese, brawn, scrapple, or souse, it was made from the leftover parts of a pig that no one wanted to see. These parts were chopped, cooked, and held together in a loaf with a glue-like gelatin—also made from the unseen parts of the pig.
“How ‘bout some lunch, Ricky.”
I swallowed hard, because I was afraid he was going to ask me to eat something that was inedible. I went to the kitchen, watched him take slices of bread, pile on them slabs of hoop cheddar cheese, and then top it off with a thick slice of souse. I looked at my sandwich, and in the middle of my hunk of souse was a large particle that looked like it was looking back at me. Finally, Grandfather slathered the sandwiches with heavy splashes of Louisiana hot sauce, and topped them off with a final slice of bread.
“Dig in, boy.”
Cautiously, I picked up the sandwich, held my breath, closed my eyes, and took a small bite. As I chewed, I was amazed. It wasn’t bad at all, in fact, though it was thoroughly disgusting, it was also delicious.
Seeing my expression, Grandfather, who had not yet put in his dentures for the day, smiled, revealing his bright, pink gums. I thought that was more ick-producing than the souse. Then he said, “Pretty good, huh, boy?”
I smiled and nodded affirmatively as I chewed another big bite of my sandwich.
“You know boy, souse is kinda’ like life. It’s filled with pretty parts and ugly parts. If you can trust yourself enough to take a bite, you’ll find out that when things are all mixed together it’s a pretty good deal and easy to swallow.”
I dismissed Grandfather’s exhortation about how to wear suspenders, but I never forgot his soliloquy on souse.
P.O. Box 38555
Germantown, TN 38183-0555
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