When in Rome, eat squirrel
“Look, there’s an old shotgun shack over there,” I announce, pointing out the car window. I’m trying my best to distract my wife.
“Uh huh,” Christina says. “That’s neat.”
“Don’t you want to take a picture of it?”
“OK,” she says, then picks up our digital point-and-shoot and begins to gnaw on the faux leather case.
I pull the corner of the case from her mouth, remove the camera and hand it to her.
“No, picture,” I say, pantomiming the taking of a picture while still driving. “Picture. Click, click.”
She points the camera out the window and takes a picture of the sky, then drops the camera to her lap and continues to stare straight ahead.
It’s my fault that she’s in this condition. We’re driving through the Mississippi Delta, and have been for a couple of days now. I grew up here, so for me this is trip through the familiar sights, sounds and smells of my childhood. Christina has never been here before, and for her it’s the culinary equivalent of being shipwrecked.
“You’re gonna be OK,” I reassure her. “We’re about 20 minutes from Elrod’s Wings ‘n’ Things. You’re gonna love this place. It’s very authentic.”
“Will they have anything there that’s not deep fried or pork-based?”
“Ummm, well … Oh, look! Another shotgun shack!”
Christina has certain dietary needs, and I fear they’re not being met on this trip. For days now she’s kept herself alive by nibbling whatever cole slaw or baked beans accompanied the platters I’ve ordered at various “authentic” eateries. The look in her eye tells me that she’s currently dreaming of an organic salad with shredded carrots, mung bean sprouts and a light vinaigrette dressing. I, by sharp contrast, am dreaming that today may be the day I finally get to eat my weight in fried catfish and hushpuppies.
“Are you noticing all this plight?” I say, still trying to distract her from her hunger. I’m pretty sure her body has begun to auto-cannibalize. If Gandhi were in her current state, he’d demand to be taken through the Burger King drive-through at once, then punch the cashier for not putting enough grated cheese on his chili fries.
Personally, I feel great. Sure, there’s some guilt, but nothing a bit of fried okra won’t mask.
This is very surreal for me. I decided a long time ago that these two worlds would never meet – that my current highfalutin Aspen life with Christina and my Deep South past would forever remain on parallel paths, never crossing, never creating a disturbance in the Force. And I was fine with that. I could delight her with stories of my southern childhood and she could appreciate these yarns from the safe confines of the mountains, knowing that she’d never have to actually go there.
“Cotton fields as far as the eye could see,” I’d tell her, often. “And it was just so, well, authentic. And the mosquitoes. Have I told you about the mosquitoes?”
Yes, of course I had. And the snakes, and that I used to eat squirrel, and about Uncle Satch, and then about the cotton fields again. It was all part of the unspoken deal – I can talk about it all I want, just so long as I realize that she has no interest whatsoever in personally experiencing cotton, bugs or snakes, and certainly not a meal of fried squirrel.
I don’t know what shifted, or when, but suddenly here we are, in a rental car together, driving through Rosedale, Mississippi. So totally weird.
“No, you can’t eat the seat belt,” I say, supportive yet stern. “We’re almost there. Spit it out. Spit! They’ll most likely have chicken where we’re going. You’ll eat chicken, right?”
“Look, you just need to get your barbeque level up, then you’ll feel better. You know what they say, ‘When in Rome,’ and all that,” I offer.
“They only have that saying because the Romans didn’t eat squirrel.”
We drive in silence for a few minutes.
“Oh my God,” Christina suddenly screams. “Stop the car. Did you see that sign? It said ‘Organic Produce.’ I’m serious. We have to turn around. TURN THE CAR AROUND!”
Sure, she’s hallucinating a bit, but I think once we get back home and her IV has been removed and we look at all the pictures we took, she’ll realize that she had a good time.
Read more Mississippi adventures on Barry’s blog, barrysmith.wordpress.com.