SOUTHERN FRIED TERRITORY
It was 1996 and hot as bacon grease in an iron skillet . . . and it was the last time I ran my fingers through clover and knew the land was mine. Sperm Donor had left us nice and tightly wound in an economic tornado, I had a nursing baby and two shorties and was square stuck in a decision: I could spend a decade cleaning other folks toilets and blushing red while counting foot stamps or I could sell the little house (it had been a canning factory in the war) and the little acre of land for a shot at education four hours away. I reckon the decision had already made itself, but my heart hadn’t caught up to my head that last night. I had two yucca plants—flowering and fine—just behind the shed where blackberries wound so thick a fairy couldn’t stretch its wings proper, and I stood there wailing on all banshee like the day the moving truck came to take us away. Now, every time I’ve lost something/someone, I’ve asked the universe to mark the place in time where they return in another fashion. Those yuccas were my markers, y’all. Well, those and the fig tree that kept the air sweet by my baby’s window in the deep summer. I’ve been accused of being too territorial, too sentimental, and mayhap these things are the same in the end. Either way. That was 1996.
Over the passing of years, the one thing I knew to be true was that I had traded land for a Ph.D. and security for my children. Twasn’t fair—but I made the deal with the universe and my word is red-clay solid. And then . . .
The day we found this country house, I wandered about in the yard heartbroken over leaving town, leaving the backyard that I had crafted into a wonderland and variously acted a hillbilly fool about the whole shebang. That’s when I saw them: two yuccas, snuggled up all cozy-like by the dirt drive, and just beyond in the kudzu nestled three fig trees. Well, damn. Wasn’t but a few weeks later that dinner was served somewhere in between on a table. Momma didn’t raise no fool. It was time to unpack the iron skillet.
If cookin’ up sustenance is how we let our bones know that they are home, then serving it up is how we let our souls know that they can rest a spell. Something about forging through the boxes and the sweat to cut sweet corn from a cob, or the satisfying chop a knife makes as it works through parsley and chives, the green stain tracking the block like so much herbal blood, the sizzle of bacon in the oven all maple and smoke . . . something about that cookery magic winds itself through the worry and the alienation and grounds a body with a resounding thump.
This is how I thumped:
Gather yourself four or five ears of sweet corn. Strip off the husks, taking care to keep them whole. Soak said husks in sweet tea for at least one hour.
In a sizzling iron skillet seasoned with bacon grease (not slathered), drizzle olive oil (not virgin), add corn kernels, four or five chopped jalapenos (with or without seeds and ribs, your call depending on the toughness of your tongue), one sweet red chopped pepper, one Vidalia onion and minced garlic. Brown about 7 minutes. Remove from pan. Whisk together your favorite cornbread recipe (I like mine with a little sugar). Add skillet shenanigans. Chop a handful of cilantro and/or parsley and sling into the bowl.
What we have here, folks, is a nice Southern masa.
Let sit for thirty minutes. I have found that this here makes a good break for ice-cold beer, hollering at yor’ husband or smoking whatever cranks your tractor.
Now then. Find that LONG glass (or metal) casserole dish you hate to scrub. Yes, just do it. Lightly butter said dish with a paper towel. Drain cornhusks and begin to put back together in the shape of a cradle. We are gonna do these open-faced for effect and ease. (As per usual, you should be accompanied by your music and alcohol of choice at this time as this is a frustrating activity. I chose Marshall Tucker Band and Samuel Adams, but I’m pretty sure you could do Eric Clapton and a nice port wine.) Hokay.
In yor’ layered cornhusk cradle (that you should hold in one hand) ladle our cornbread mixture from stem to stern. You can tie of the ends before or after: I chose after on account of I had three Sam Adams at this juncture and it worked just fine.
Place, all butt-ass up against each other, in buttered dish. The more squished together they are the better, as they will hold each other up. Pour about an inch of water in the bottom of the pan (taking care not to splash the corn mix) and back until golden.
Remove. Place on your grandma’s favorite serving platter. Slather with butter. Amen.
Now. Don’t you feel all home?
Me too. Which brings me around to the nature of this post: territoriality. (Alright, it was a jump. I’m Southern. Bite me.)
Earlier this year, I studied a bit on the ethics of MINE and when and where such a concept is a healthy and fine one, indeed. Now, I have this “magic” student who just rocks my socks. Whenever I get a little MINE, Raksha is the first one to holler on all “Damn skippy!” on account of we understand each other. Let’s kick this ball around in the yard a spell, shall we?
Territory: my land, my house, my husband, my children, my besties. My panty drawer, my grandma’s things, my wedding ring, my “book.” My blog, my ideas, my garden, my football team (WAR DAMN EAGLE) and my animals. Now then.
My legacy is both Celt and Cherokee. We understood this “mine,” aka territory, as something that we share-iffin we get the option. I’ve never understood folks demanding the share-sies moment,. Why, that’s just rotten home training and doesn’t set folks in the mind of being warm and generous. Naw, I’m more of the: don’t holler gimme, be gracious when I do give ya and nod to the fact that it’s been shared—not given. I figure this notion covers everything from my car to my students—and goddess help you if you dent either one.
Because I am firm in this “territoriality,” I honor others in the same vein. You have a student? Why then. I will watch my magic p’s and q’s, only give advice when I’ve been given free reign and tattle on your little ass if you step out of line. But wait: I have an underage student? Well, then. Said student is borrowed from his/her momma—and that line will never be traversed or disrespected while I’m breathing. (The public school system could take a lesson from this Southernism.) Let’s get all Salt and Peppa and push this real good: you have a dream? Shared it with me over wine, leaned in and whispered its hope in my ear, drawn down the moon in front of me and laid it out—in all of its vulnerable possibility—in a moment of perfect trust? Well. Unless my home is a pit and my name is “Snake,” I best caress its head and hide its name. You see: territory, in its pure and sacred form, is always open to invasion, assimilation and colonization. (Some of us, however, have acquired a handful of shotguns and some damn fine dogs. Up to you.) The nature of “territory” is that it is inherently, metamorphically Divine. Does that mean it cannot be raped, stolen or co-opted? Hell, naw. It just means you shouldn’t participate in those heinous activities—and that I shouldn’t serve you Alabama Tamales iffin you do.
Now, I’ve had my fill of responses to my territoriality that spin a little: “well, if it was truly yours, it couldn’t be taken.” And I suppose there’s some fatback on that. Yet, at the end of a 100 degree day, if you stuck your hand in my chicken coop to test their take-ability, should I just Gandhi up and bite my bottom lip while you haul off with my best layer?
Seems to me, that chicken ain’t the only one that should hightail it off my property. (See “Black Kur Dogs.”)
Let’s review territory a might closer to the bone, shall we?
I seem to remember an incident, quite a few hundred years back, in which the Cherokee Nation were skedaddled off of their land after sharing everything from their women to their sacred knowledge of herbology—chaps my ass that they call that the Trail of Tears. How about: Trail of Betrayal, Blood and Bullshit?
Makes me wanna get my athama.
Let’s define this a bit better:
Mine and Sacred: handed down from my ancestors, birthed from my loins, oathed under the stars or paid in full by the sweat of my back or the blood of my body. May or may not be subject to sharing.
Shared: All of the above, when and where I choose to place it/them into someone’s hand, allow for occupation or pull back a curtain for a viewing . . . for a time. Said “shared” subject or item retains original ownership, rights and responsibilities and is subject to sudden (whether legally sanctioned or not) reclaiming at any Earthly or otherwise moment. Owner of this option is usually within a mule mile of said shared subject/item at the time of its communal dissemination.
Stolen: Where’s my gun, you sum’ bitch.
Given: Well. Then that’s yorn. Try to give it respect, remember its ontology and say thank you.
Which brings me back around to the subject of this post: territory. I reckon Raksha is right. Apologizing for territoriality is opening myself up to a potential Trail of Tears. And I never got groovy with waterproof mascara. So . . .
I am proudly. Audaciously. Sanctimoniously. Territorial. I figure, let’s you know how rock hard serious I am about you as a friend, or a piece of land, or a recipe. Gives territory a slice of pride pie, if you ask me. Seba land. Seba’s friend. Seba’s recipe. Why are we so politically correct about this? What have we lost when we stop saying “mine?” Where is the legacy in subjugated submission?
I reckon I am a bit territorial about my magic, as well. Keeps it all tight and whole . . . and free of mule flies. My bad. It’s true: you can’t take it with you.
Or can you?
Y’all enjoy that recipe. That one was given. (I sooooo want to do a Children of the Corn reference here . . .)