When you’re writing a column for or about the South, you can’t go very long without writing about the foods we hold so dear.
Which brings me to the subject of road kill.
By and large, Southerners obtain their meat the conventional way, which means they buy it from Kroger, Publix or Bi-Lo. Occasionally they go out and shoot it. On special occasions, when times are hard and money is scarce, they may go out and harvest it from the roadside, where it has been deposited by Yankees headed for Daytona. We call that “shoulder meat.”
Sometimes our ancestral fare makes it into fancy restaurants Up North, but under a different name. I once knew a man in Virginia who made a fair living by selling muskrats to Yankees. The meat appeared on New Jersey menus as “swamp rabbit.”
I once spoke to a native of South Carolina who would trap a rabbit, kill it and dress it, then wrap it up in a package and mail it to relatives who had moved north to find jobs.
Even then, the Postal Service, which was a full-blooded department of the federal government, was not known for speedy deliveries. When I pointed that out, the man just looked at the ground and opined: “I s’pect they won’t mind if it’s a little spoiled.”
He was probably right. Road kill usually undergoes a little ripening before it hits the table. So I’m told.
The subject of road kill takes me back to a newspaper columnist named Casey, who left his home base in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and took a job in Pennsylvania.
While roaming the highways Up North, he saw a little gray squirrel run across his path. Incredible as it sounds, he braked for it. This suggests that Casey was born Up North, because real Southerners never brake for any animal dumb enough to run in front of them. A bluetick hound, maybe, but not a stupid little squirrel. After all, squirrels make good eating.
The car behind him was occupied by Yankees, who don’t brake for anything.
The Pennsylvania license plate read, “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania,” but road rage trumps friendship, even in the Keystone State.
The Yankees had been tailgating Casey long enough to see the “Smiling faces, beautiful places” on his South Carolina plate but, not being from South Carolina, they weren’t smiling.
Anyhow, the lady in the car called Casey an idiot, and the man beside her suggested that he go back to South Carolina while he still could.
Casey responded the way I would have responded. He wrote a column about it. (When you’re writing a column for a new paper in a new town, you’ll do almost anything for a topic, short of running over a squirrel.)
So Casey launched into a recitation of all the times he had hit animals while traveling the highways of this great nation. Casey had bagged deer, bear and turkey on the highways of Pennsylvania. You’d think the Pennsylvanians would have been grateful for his largesse.
“It’s gotten to the point where game animals run when they see me coming, generally directly into my path,” he wrote. “I’ve left enough carcasses along the highway to make the berms look like an Alabama buffet.”
That’s when I had to gag. I’ve lived in South Carolina and Alabama, and I know that folks in the Palmetto State lay road kill along the highways just as lavishly as Alabamians do. But we don’t serve road kill at buffets.
At least one Alabama native who had strayed northward wrote a letter to Casey’s newspaper testifying to that fact.
“I am formerly of Mobile,” she wrote, “and have been in several Alabama cities, and believe me they do not serve road kill at any buffet that I ever attended.”
I have to agree with her. I have never eaten road kill at any buffet in Mobile or anywhere else in Alabama or South Carolina. As good Southerners, we would not cheapen our road kill by serving it in such a wimpish setting.
Buffets are where we serve our dainty finger foods, such as hot wings, jalapeno poppers, crab claws and barbecued ribs. You have to balance a little plate, your silverware, your napkin and a glass of punch or sweet tea in one hand while you load the plate with the other.
Road kill is reserved for fancier occasions, like family reunions and welcome-home parties for Bubba when he gets paroled. Your Uncle Virgil piles it on your plate as you pass his barbecue grill – usually a converted Dumpster mounted on a load bed detached from a Ford F-150 and outfitted with a tongue for connecting to a trailer hitch.
Mama’n’em will ladle on the ‘tater salad, macaroni and cheese and sweet-potato pie as you walk past her table. The appetite enhancers come in fruit jars you can tuck under your arm.
Most of our road kill doesn’t land on the berms. We let ‘em get to the center line before we nail them. The meat cures better that way.
A few Yankees have caught on to the value of road kill. I once wrote a column about a guy Up North who was spotted on the side of the road trying to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a possum whose soul had departed far enough in the past to render him cured meat. I think the fellow had seen the bones protruding from the carcass and wanted to take him home to fatten him up. I also believe he failed the breathylizer test.
Anyhow, the fellow had the right idea.
Readers may email Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@AOL.com. For more of Gene’s writing, visit www.wadesdixieco.com.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.