With affection for Mick and Laura, who graciously allowed me to bring a stinking jar of eggs into their home.
I absolutely LOVE pickled eggs. Not a good thing for an Alabama boy displaced in Maryland.
In Alabama, they are sold everywhere in both the chicken and quail varieties.
In Maryland, at least as far as I can tell, there are approximately 14 pickled eggs in the whole state. At least I think that is how many are left in the jar my grandmother made for me after she heard me lament the lack of the tasty treats during my recent trip home.
The huge jar of eggs, vinegar and peppers brought sheer joy to my kitchen counter. I did the math on how long I could make them last if I paced myself and if I didn’t share them with anyone. I quickly realized that I was six months from another trip home, with only a month’s supply of pickled eggs.
I decided I should introduce them to the local population in hopes of creating some demand. With that demand, if the economics teacher was correct, would come supply.
Opportunity found itself in the form of a dinner party at the home of one of my closest Navy pals. At the cost of a mere five or six eggs, the word of mouth alone would have people all over town asking their grocer to order pickled eggs for the shelves. It was worth the investment.
I arrived at the dinner party giddy, teeming with anticipation of the moment I would unveil my jar, and start the wheels of my plan in motion. I should be able to buy my first local jar before I run out, with any luck, I kept thinking.
After an hour of adult beverages, I decided to spring my trap, and create some egg addicts.
To say they looked shocked would be an understatement. I might as well have had a jar full of baby feet.
After a raucous round of laughter, a few people decided to sample. More on dare than desire, three or four eggs were timidly taken from my serving spoon and studied carefully.
I quickly realized from the guffaws and the mocking Foghorn Leghorn voices that I had made a critical error in judgment. I had started an anti-pickled egg campaign, and in the process reduced my supply by three or four days. (I am particularly sensitive about folks mocking my accent, as you can read about here. )
Trying to escape the embarrassment, I decided to make a quick and early exit from the party. I screwed the lid back on the half-gallon jar and darted from the backyard, through the house and out to my car. I left a faint odor of vinegar, jalapenos and sulfur in my wake.
When I got home, I formed a new plan. If I wanted people to like pickled eggs, I needed to put them in context. Surely when they find out that pickled eggs are one of the less-crazy things happening in Alabama, they will give them a second look.
So here it is – the top-10 list of things in Northeast Alabama crazier than a boiled egg in a jar of vinegar. Each is rated on the pickled-egg scale of nuttiness.
10. Pepper Sauce – Ah yes, a little jar full of peppers and vinegar. When it runs out of vinegar, just boil more and pour it in the jar. The vinegar goes on everything you eat, especially cole slaw, and as far as I can tell, is not sold anywhere in the state of Maryland. Such a shame considering all the crab meat. The stuff is great on crab meat. About like a pickled egg on the crazy scale, earning it One Pickled Egg.
9. Boiled Okra – If you kept all of your sneezes in a pot on the stove and heated them to a near boil, it would look about like boiled okra. I don’t like it, but that puts me in a huge minority in Alabama. It is the only food in the whole state that is preferred boiled to fried. That alone makes it crazy to me and earns it Three Pickled Eggs on the scale.
8. Tractors on Highways – Not everything on my list is a food, but without tractors on highways, there might not be much food. You won’t see this on the beltway, but you will see it on almost any paved road in Alabama. Their top speed is usually 15 mph. They don’t usually run top speed. A law of physics says you will see this more often on two lane roads when you are headed home from somewhere, after you have eaten too many pickled eggs. In a no-passing zone. Crazy enough to earn it Six Pickled Eggs.
7. Pet Pigs – That’s right. Like a dog, but it oinks. It would be delicious in a skillet, but for some reason the owner decided to keep this one, put a “Roll Tide” tee-shirt on it, and tie it to the bumper of his truck like a Dachshund at the weekly town barbeque. No friends, “Charlotte’s Web” was not entirely based in fiction. Crazy for sure. Crazier than 10 Pickled Eggs.
6. No vehicle inspections – Inspection sticker? $30 dollars a year for someone to tell me my car is drivable? That sounded crazy to me. Then I went back home to Alabama for the first time after about a year away. It is certainly crazy that half the cars on the road would not be allowed on the road in Maryland. Quick self-test – if your car smokes more than the neighborhood mosquito truck, you are crazier than 15 Pickled Eggs.
5. Laying Houses – It’s where eggs come from. If you thought anything else, this is not that kind of blog. On a hot September day in Alabama, the smell from a laying house will literally take your breath. For as much as a two-mile radius, property values are half of the norm, due to the smell. It is roughly the same odor as the men’s room at any professional baseball stadium in the eighth inning, but ten times more intense. Crazy. Crazy enough for 18 Pickled Eggs.
4. Dirt Roads – I can’t find one in Maryland. Where is a fellow supposed to take his Sunday drive? In Alabama, whole communities exist within dirt road highway systems. For the car-washing fanatics in Maryland, it must seem crazier than 22 Pickled Eggs.
3. Pickled Pigs Feet – I had a bite once. Once. Not bad, not good. Every grocery store sells them. The jar looks completely awful. The idea sounds completely awful. The taste? Vinegar and pork. Crazy though. Crazier than 30 Pickled Eggs.
2. Trade Day – Flea markets can be found all over. But “Trade Day” is a flea market on steroids. It is 200 dirt-covered acres of pick-up trucks, tables and booths. An occasional metal building houses the “premium” vendors. For a $20 fee, one can turn every item in his junk room into a beautiful display of antiques, mounted on a piece of plywood stretched across two saw horses. If you take $100 cash, and have some time, you can come home with two live chickens, an eight-track player, an Atari 2600 with four games, a pair of hemostats, a free puppy, a 1972 Chevy truck grill, a 1981 Ford truck tailgate, a bag of Cajun-boiled peanuts and a severe sunburn. You can even buy pickled eggs. Trade day earns 34 Pickled Eggs on our scale.
1. College Football Fanatics – Off all the craziness in Alabama, this one takes the cake, I mean, eggs. College football is king in Alabama. The official Alabama birth certificate has a place to mark whether a child is born into the fandom of “Alabama” or “Auburn”. This field is located between “gender” and “race”. If the parents are of mixed affiliation, two birth certificates are issued, and the family is sent to see a chaplain and an attorney. Every year, when the “Game” happens, some unfortunate soul is shot dead by a close relative over the outcome. A few years ago, some nut “murdered” a couple of trees that were more or less considered celebrities on the campus of one of the schools. I don’t know which is crazier, murdering a tree, or treating one like a celebrity. But what’s crazier than that? Although the rate of college degrees in Alabama is higher than the national average (38% versus 37%), less than 25% of Alabamians attended either of the schools they are getting tattooed on their shoulders and shooting people over. That is crazy. Crazier than 50 Pickled Eggs.
Some of you may someday have to drive through, or maybe even live in, Alabama. Who knows, you might fall in love with an Alabamian and suddenly find yourself with a whole family of craziness. You should always be prepared.
I suggest you head to your local grocery store right now, put your dignity in your pocket, and make a simple request of the manager:
“Can you start selling pickled pigs feet? No? Well then, I’ll settle for pickled eggs. When can you have some here?”
“Where you from?” – This is a pretty friendly question. People from Alabama ask it.
“Where are you FROM?” – This is not so friendly. People from everywhere else ask this one. (It has a close cousin – “Where in the Hell are you FROM?”)
I have lived 600-700 miles, on average, from where I grew up for most of the last five years, thus I get the second question 10 times more often than the first one. It is a very subtle difference.
The first question comes about when you meet someone and you are casually exchanging information and getting to know each other. I like to call it “striking up kin”.
The second question happens when someone really wants to make sure you know that it is obvious you are from somewhere far, far away from wherever the conversation is taking place. Either because you have “that accent” or you have some ideal that seems odd to the person asking the question. To say that I get asked that question every single day would not be an exaggeration.
“Where are you FROM?”
Translation: There is no way you are from anywhere around here because you talk funny, you have stupid ideas, and therefore must be some right-wing idiot from the dirty south.
I used to answer the question honestly, out of ignorance I suppose. It took me a couple of years to realize the question was an insult.
“Northeast Alabama, in the mountains,” I would usually say, beaming with pride. After all, being from Alabama is something that I am extremely proud of, blue laws notwithstanding.
“Oh, I knew that accent had to come from somewhere like that,” was roughly what I would hear next.
Being in the military, it was just normal for me to be as honest and respectful as possible when answering the question, and to make no assumptions of the person asking it. Ironically, it is my military service that has most often subjected me to this rather irritating insult.
Some of it is my fault, I suppose. I use euphemisms and colloquialisms early and often in conversation, usually without even thinking about it.
“How are you doing,” they ask.
“Awesome, if I was any better I’d be twins,” I reply.
Or, “Fair to partly cloudy I guess.”
Or, “I feel rougher than two Saturday nights in Georgia back to back.”
“Where are you FROM?” – It always follows my answer.
Now, I’m not a dummy. I was on a state-championship math team in high school. I have never scored below the 90th percentile on a standardized test in 30 years of testing, often scoring 98th or higher. I was the only student in my graduating class to be offered a four-year, full academic scholarship to an accredited four-year university. (Sometimes when I’m bitter I like to toot my own horn a little)
That means the person asking me the question, and assuming my ignorance, stands a better than 90 percent chance of being the actual dummy (assuming they think people like me, or less intelligent than me, are dummies), while calling me one.
But where AM I from? I live in Maryland. I spent three years in Virginia. I lived in Alabama more than 30 years. I have spent time in Chicago, San Diego, Baltimore, Washington DC, Charlotte, Asheville, Myrtle Beach, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Indiana, Scotland, England, France, Bahrain, Dubai, and Greece. I even spent a day in New Jersey, not that I learned anything other than hot-dog vendors in airports aren’t very friendly.
Each place I have been has made an impression on me and helped form parts of my personality. I am from all of those places. I am from USS Harry S. Truman as well. She is a place, after all. She has her own zip code and post office. She certainly helped form the current version of me.
Yes, I am from all of those places. And tomorrow, after they ask me that insulting question, I will be from wherever we were standing when I gave the answer. I will forever be FROM where I have BEEN.
But to keep it simple, and to test their wits, while also letting them know I’m not the dummy in the conversation, I have a new answer that is sure to change the subject.
“I’m from Brooklyn.”
All photos in this blog post were taken by the author using a variety of camera equipment. Mostly Nikon D-series cameras and a little iPhone in there as well.