Billy Blackman

A Good Ole' Grease Bath

A church group across the river had a fish fry last Saturday. It tickled me to be invited, and I wasted no time getting there.

A picturesque drive connects our yard to the church yard. It’s a graveled county endeavor that sometimes meanders through a canopy of oaks and at other times winds through rolling pastures dotted with grazing cows.

A touch of autumn painted the county in yellows and reds, making the 20 minute journey as soothing as watching a bunch of biddies in a box.

From experience, I knew what the day held. My credentials come from spending my childhood in the south, where tradition dictates that you never pass up a chance to have an “all day to do.” I think the practice might have become a commandment if Moses hadn’t run out of rock to write on.

When I drove into the church yard, things were already underway—boys throwing footballs and chasing girls with anything scary they could find, while middle-size children threw pecans that had hitched a ride to the event in the hay-bale chairs

A few of the men, bantering over the peanut oil, were frying up fish and hush puppies in a good ole’ grease bath. The process fogged in the area with savory sniffs that acted as a binding agent of sorts, corralling everyone inside the boundaries of the yard, as if they were smitten by the smells and holding hands with a hush puppy

Two tables over, one of the ladies pulled tin foil off jagged mountains of fried chicken. Others were busy popping Tupperware lids off bowls of tater salad and baked beans, all tasty clichés of a southern fish fry. Each bowl had a name taped to the bottom so it could find its way home that night. I stood at one end of the table, eyeing a 12 layer chocolate cake. Lord, forgive me for my thoughts.

Then, like a bucket brigade, men started passing dishpans of fried fish and hush puppies, placing them atop strung out sawhorses with sheets of plywood laid on top. These makeshift tables had to be sturdy because asking a folding table to hold up that much goodness would be like asking a tricycle tire to hold up a loaded log truck.

Nearby, just in case someone got clumsy, a dog prayed, waited, and wagged.

I know a southern experience when I see one: bream fried so crispy that you can munch the tails; old whiskey bottles full of syrup just the right thickness for soppin’; cast-iron pots of peas with boiled okra pods laid out on top like spokes on a chuck wagon wheel; butter beans swimming in bacon drippings; and enough sweet tea to send some folks into a diabetic downturn.

And don’t forget that classic southern staple—nanner puddin’. Can I get an amen?

Will somebody please say the blessing?!

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