The middle of the night. I cannot sleep. I am lying awake, staring at my ceiling. Something is keeping me awake. But I won’t tell you what it is.
My wife is not snoring. It’s important that you understand this because women do not like to be told that they snore. It makes them very angry, and they will inflict physical pain upon those who accuse them of this vulgar thing. Which I am not doing. Nor would I ever.
As a boy, whenever I couldn’t sleep I would think about food. Some kids counted sheep, some added prime numbers, or recited their ABCs. I counted casseroles.
Before drifting off, I would visualize a grassy meadow filled with little church ladies, all carrying casserole dishes, taking turns leaping over livestock fences while the sheep watched them at a distance. And I would count.
“One chicken casserole, two chicken casserole…” And so on.
If that didn’t work, I would move on to counting pound cakes. When pound cakes didn’t work, I would count field peas.
Which is the point I am at now.
I should probably stop here for anyone who doesn’t know about field peas. I meet a lot of people who hear “field peas” and think of English peas. Which are green pellets often served in sketchy buffet-style restaurants with glass sneeze-guards that do not protect the vats of bacteria laden food from small children who are literally at nostril-level with the mashed potatoes.
No, field peas are different. There are billions of varieties of field peas. I’ll name a few:
Crowder peas, purple hulls, Big Red Rippers, whippoorwills, Stick Ups, turkey craws, Mama Slappers, Old Timers, cow peas, Mississippi Silvers, shanty peas, Iron Clays, Wash Days, Triple Es, Sermonizers, Butt Kickers, Polecats, pinkeyes, and zipper peas.
You haven’t lived until you’ve tried zipper peas with ham hocks and bacon grease.
Years ago, I visited a no-name cafe outside Atlanta. The menu featured only one meal. It was written on a chalkboard. Smoked pork, coleslaw, and zipper peas.
My waitress was an older woman in a white apron.
She said, “Whatchoo wanna drink, baby?”
I said, “What do you have?”
“Tea or tap.”
“You want the special?”
“You want any cornbread?”
“Did you make it?”
“Every day. By scratch.”
“How are the peas?”
She looked over her cat-eye glasses and smirked. “If they don’t light your fire, your wood’s wet.”
It was one of the best meals of my life. At the time, playing over the radio—I will never forget this—was classical music. It was strange music to hear while eating field peas. I would have expected gospel music, or perhaps Don Ho.
So I think about field peas a lot. I also think about creamed corn prepared the way my wife makes it. Which is the same way my father-in-law used to make it. Which was how his mother prepared it. Which was the same way Methuselah taught all his children to cook.
Creamed corn, when made properly, is eighty percent butter and twenty percent tennis elbow grease.
To make creamed corn the old-fashioned way, you must first own a medieval torture device commonly known as a “corn cutter,” or a “corn creamer,” or an “Arkansas Knuckle Buster.”
This apparatus works like a cheese grater, only it is far more lethal, with a lot more rust on the blade. For this reason, it is customarily the husband’s duty to grate corn for the preparation of creamed corn. And it is hard work.
In my lifetime, I have scrubbed oil stains off driveways with wire brushes and rock salt until my hands bled. Creaming corn is more difficult. I have friends who pay hundreds of dollars for yearly gym memberships when all they need is a corn cutter.
But I don’t mind grating corn. I’d rather cut corn until the Second Coming than eat canned corn. And the same goes for tubed biscuits from the supermarket.
There is something weird about biscuits from a tube. They leave a film on the roof of my mouth, similar to what you get when you eat Country Crock.
Needless to say, I hate Country Crock, too. I don’t know what’s in the stuff, or why anyone would buy yellow sludge in a bucket. But I will say this: Country Crock got the brand name right.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t like food so much, but you can’t help the way you’re made. I remember when I was a boy, my mother used to host church get-togethers at our house. All the ladies would arrive early to arrange the buffet table. And I would volunteer to help.
You should have seen the field peas. Everyone always went for the peas first. You had to be quick, or they’d disappear. Sometimes they were gone by the time you reached the dish.
But then, other times you got lucky. Not only would you find plenty of peas, but you also found a hunk of pork.
When this happened, it was like winning a door prize from above. Like one of those little life-moments that go largely unnoticed, but when you string a million life-moments like this together, they make life beautiful.
If you ask me, good food is evidence that no matter what things look like, and no matter what people say, life is good. At least that is what I believe. I’m getting sleepy now. I think I’ll go to bed.
Remember. My wife does not snore.