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Black-Eyed Peas, a .44, and the Dark-Haired Man With Bread

“Where did you put the beans?” Granny called up to me yesterday evening.

I went to the top of stairs to shout back because I know she can’t hear me very well.

“What beans?” I asked.

“The black-eyed peas.”

I knew where this was going.  It’s the pas-de-duex Granny and I perform every holiday season.  Just like The Nutcracker.  And she was about to bust my balls over the New Year’s black-eyed peas.

“I told you to get black-eyed peas at the store.  Did you get them?” she asked as if she was suffocating and black-eyed peas were air.

“Granny, you didn’t tell me to…, ” I started.  But I knew from the topic she was in no mood for fact.  “Nevermind.”

You see, the fact is not only did she not tell me to get black-eyed peas, but I don’t even like black-eyed peas.  I never have.  Yet, every year there’s a big discussion about it.

“I thought you liked black-eyed peas,” her suspicion raised at the thought that anyone could possibly not like them.

Frankly, in my opinion, if suspicion is to be raised, it should be at people who can shovel a spoonful of gritty, bland, eyeballs without question.

“We have to have black-eyed peas for New Year’s.  It’s just what you do,” she pressed on.  “Now go get a bag, so I can soak them overnight.”

I tried to tell her that it was a waste. She’d be the only one eating them and she couldn’t eat a half  can of beans, let alone a pot full.

“Don’t bring any of those canned black-eyed peas in here,” she screeched. “I won’t have any of that stuff in my kitchen.”

Her kitchen.  Her kitchen that she doesn’t cook in anymore except for something special.  Like New Year’s black-eyed peas that nobody is going to eat.

“I know you don’t care for them with the stewed tomatoes.  But I thought you like them with ketchup.”

‘No ma’am.  I don’t.  I never have.”

“Oh,” she pondered. “It must have been Shane.”

I honestly can’t remember if my brother liked black-eyed peas or not.  He probably did.  I was always the odd duck.

But, just to get out of the conversation and told her that stores were not open on New Year’s Eve and apologized for not remembering the beans.  Admittedly this was a little bit of a lie.  Stores were open…but they were closing early.

Later in the evening, I was talking with the Attorney on the phone.  He was going to a big event downtown in Knoxville.  He had wanted me to join him, but I didn’t want Granny to be alone as the New Year rolled in.  Even if she was pouting about the black-eyed peas.  Besides, two of my favorites, Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin, were hosting from Times Square on CNN.

So imagine my surprise when the Attorney shows up on our doorstep some time after eleven with his mile wide grin and bowl of black-eyed peas.  This thrilled Granny to no end.  I’m not sure if she was more excited about him or the beans, but she was a happy girl.

I had told him the black-eyed pea story on the phone.

“Everybody likes black-eyed peas,” he said incredulous that I didn’t.  “Put a lot of ketchup on them, then you will.”

How is it ketchup is the answer to all bad-tasting food?  It’s like a culinary “ketch”-all.  People would have you believe a homeless man’s old shoe would be tasty with a little ketchup.  I’m sorry, but if it has to be bathed in tomato sauce and sugar before being served, then it probably shouldn’t be eaten at all.

But, because he is a good guy (or because he wanted to make me look bad) the Attorney went out of his way to his mother’s house to get a portion black-eyed peas she had made and brough it  to Granny.  He had also decided to forego the event downtown.

As we sat around, he talked about how when he was a kid in the country at New Year’s he and his father and brother would fire pistols and shotguns at the stroke of midnight.  It was something my Grandaddy used to do, too. I never was one for guns.  So I’d just hang on  the porch and watch.

Surprise number two came when Granny came into the room with a .44 revolver wrapped in a scarf.  It was a surprise because I thought all the guns in the house, (of which there are several) were in the basement where she could no longer accidentally get to them.  The Attorney took the gun and lit up like it was Christmas morning and Santa had remember the Red Ryder BB-gun (“with acompass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.”)

“You’re not going to hang back on the porch tonight.  I’m going to make you shoot.”

I knew what he meant, but naturally my mind went to a whole other place.

When 2008 came down to the last 30 seconds,the Attorney  jumped up and headed for the back yard with me in tow.  It was cold out, in the 30’s, so Granny stayed just inside the door on the screen porch.  The Attorney had been counting backwards the whole time, and with a cry of “Happy New Year,” he fired two shots into the sky.  He was suddenly a ten-year old redneck boy again, instead of the starched white-collar man he had since become.

He handed me the gun, and threw one long arm around me.  “Let her rip,” he whispered close to my ear.

I was tentative with the trigger on the first round, but more sure on the second and third.  Granny was having the time of her life clapping and cackling like a hen on the porch. I don’t where the moment was taking her, but it was to a place she loved, too.

I gave the Attorney the gun back.  “There’s one left.  You take it.”

He fired it.  We both watched the sky as if we might actually see the bullet fall back to the ground somewhere out there in the woods.  And then we stood there in silence.  Listening to the new year arrive.  I doubt those of you in big cities know what I’m saying, but up here in the mountains, I really think you can hear time pass.

Granny had gone back in.  And suddenly I was aware again of the cold.  But the Attorney stopped me I turned to go back in.

“We forgot the New Year’s kiss,” he said, leaning into me.

It was long, and still, and complete.  And he told me that he loved me.

Afterward, on our way in Granny stopped the Attorney at the door with a biscuit. “Here.  Take this ’round front,” she said.

It’s an old tradition…I don’t know if it’s a mountain tradition, a Southern tradition, or what.  But, for good luck the first person to cross your threshold in the coming New Year should be a man.  (It can’t be a man who lives there.) And dark-haired men are supposed to be better luck.  If he comes in carrying bread or cake, it’s a sign of prosperity for the coming year.

And if he’s not only dark, but tall and handsome…well, that’s just gravy.

Happy 2009, everybody.  May your thresholds be crossed by handsome men who shoot (and their gravy).

{ fin }

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32 Comments

  1. Bob Bob

    What a lovely story. I can relate. I had the black eyed peas from a can and barely ate half the can. Ketchup would have helped. I’ll know now.
    The bread from a man at the front door is Scottish in heritage and how lucky you were the Attorney showed up to surprise you both. Made Granny’s night and I suppose he stayed over since it was so late.
    What a great night you must have had, and deserved.

  2. Bob/San Francisco Bob/San Francisco

    Tony, what a fantastic story. It is so nice to have you back. Thanks and Happy New Year to you and your dark haired handsome shooter.

  3. These are the kind of stories I love. Welcome back you handsome brown eyed man.

  4. Oh, and BTW, come visit us soon and you should know, we’re short on bread.

  5. Darrell Darrell

    Thank God you’re back…

  6. jeff jeff

    Welcome back……I knew 2009 was going to be a good year!!!

  7. Dorothy Dorothy

    I loved this story. Thank you so much for posting it. Wishing you (and Granny, and the Attorney) all the best in 2009 —

  8. Chris Chris

    So nice to read another wonderful story. I don’t know if you caught this blip with Kathy and Anderson, but it made it on air in some parts. Enjoy, it’s pure Kathy

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsR8DVGS9bM

  9. Silver Blue Silver Blue

    Just so you know, it’s a Scottish tradition called Hogmanay which includes the firing of guns at midnight and “After the stroke of midnight, neighbors visit each other, bearing traditional symbolic gifts such as shortbread or black bun, a kind of fruit cake. The visitor, in turn, is offered a small whisky. A friend of mine who remembers first footing, also remembers that if you had a lot of friends, you’d be offered a great deal of whisky.

    The first person to enter a house in the New Year, the first foot, could bring luck for the New Year. The luckiest was a tall, dark and handsome man. The unluckiest a red head and the unluckiest of all a red-headded woman.”

    Welcome back, Tony!

  10. Patrick Patrick

    This is all very close to the traditions I had growing up in East Tennessee. I almost went to the event that you mentioned the attorney was going to (first night?), but I decided to stay home with my partner and make cocoa to ring in the new year. I fell asleep before midnight..lol. Happy New Year to you.
    Black Eyed Peas are actually beans and are good for you!

  11. Paul from Q Paul from Q

    Thanks for coming back. I’m happy you cleared up the “final and last” issue.
    Simply,thanks. Great!! See how many of us are out here waiting for more? Thanks.

  12. rayrayj rayrayj

    I’m so happy to have you back. It’s great that Granny and the Attorney; and you, appear to be doing well. Hope the job is going well also. Best wishes to you all throughout the coming year.

  13. Doug Doug

    WELCOME BACK. What a wonderful albeit belated Christmas gift to all of us. It sounds like you had a great New Year’s Eve; a few simple traditions and a kiss from the one you love.
    Happy New Year!

  14. I’m only slightly bent out of shape that you didn’t personally tell me of your new site. I’ll get over it. I loved the story! Happy new year to you all. And, I can’t put your new site in my Google Reader….no RSS or Atom feeds.

  15. boy el roy boy el roy

    wow, so many traditions i knew once or tried once (or more times)…and so beautifully put. i wonder if there is any truth to the warnings we get to not fire straight up into the air…i will have to Snopes for that. But probably out in the country, not so many concerns. Happy new year and so glad Tony is back.

  16. Brian Brian

    I will echo the comments of others here: I am soooooo happy to see you back again. thank you thank you thank you – and happy new year!

  17. Man, two posts in and you’ve had me crying already! Welcome back!

  18. Jayson Jayson

    Finding your blog just made my day….
    I am so glad you are back….
    I missed reading your blog….
    Wishing you and the attorney all the best in 2009 and in life….
    When is he going to join you on here (maybe you guys could do a video blog together)….

  19. mystik mystik

    Thank you sooooooo much. I enjoyed reading your first blog and now you are back, WOOOOHOOOOO!

    Don’t feel bad, I don’t like Black eyed peas either and my mother cooks them with stewed tomatoes. It is the strangest thing I ever encountered.

    But, I digress. I look forward to what you have in store for this blog. Thanks so much for coming back.

  20. David David

    I loved Kathy G.’s out burst! Holy-no-censor!

    Tony, I so LOVE that you started a new blog. Your first post was so great (Or the first I read. Is this the second?). So full of life! I am thrilled!

    What a wonderful new years eve you had, black eyed peas and all!

    I’ll go read the other entry now. Thanks for sharing yourself and your thoughtful world (and as you know, you have other things to be writing.) – David

  21. awytch awytch

    I made sure that all the guns were locked up tight but I had some left over fireworks and the black-eyed peas (and ick on the ketch-up thing, much better with butter and salt) and my Daddy is a tall, handsome dark haired man and he isn’t livng with me right now and I swept the porch off from south to north and left a couple cobwebs in corners when I cleaned the house for Christmas and the black cat got shooed away from the paths to the house…

    Superstitious?? Who me?? Naw, just keeping up with tradition taught with love and repeated no matter where I am..

    Glad your New Year was memorable!

  22. irisgirl irisgirl

    Happy New Year, Tony, and to the Attorney and Granny. What a delightful treat to discover that you are blogging again!

    Your black-eyed peas story was funny and sweet, and gave me that old happy, special feeling I would get when reading your previous blog. Thank you for deciding to let us peek into your world again!

    BTW, Have you seen the flood of recent Jakey photos? He is looking so fine…..

  23. DJ DJ

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for continuing to write.
    Boy did I miss you! Happy new year to you and yours.

  24. Joe Joe

    With all that is going wrong in this world of ours, to see that you started a new blog for us gave me just a bit of hope that things will soon get better.
    Happy New Year my friend and welcome back

  25. Ray Ray

    Thanks for coming back.. Love your writing. I had LOTS of black eyed peas New Years day.. yummmm 🙂

  26. Sue Sue

    Welcome back! What a great surprise!

    I would have eaten those black-eyed peas; I love them! I have missed them since I left GA! I’d have even shot off the gun too! Glad you and your beau and Granny are still doing so well! Happy New Year Tony!

  27. Mark Mark

    Welcome back, TOny! You were missed! Happy 2009. – Mark

  28. John John

    Tony is back! Hoorayyyyyy! In my neck of the woods we have a different custom: the first person to enter a house they don’t live in after the New Year, has to cross the threshold with their RIGHT foot. This is for good luck and to make sure everything is RIGHT in the coming year. So I’m not sure which foot the attorney used to step into your house, but I’m hopin’ it was the RIGHT one!

  29. I’ve only been to eastern NC where Keyron’s family lives and I can use that as point of reference.

    Out there you could blast shit all into the sky and nobody would give a good damn about it.

    Up here in the frozen northeast however if you were to even use a little 9mm pop gun, you’d have cops all over your ass.

    Reminds me, a bud wants to take me to a new gun range. I only own two, a .22 and a 12 gauge pumper.

  30. Funny; my family always shoots a gun at midnight on New Years. That story took me back; thank you.

  31. Where do I start? Tony, I felt like I was standing there watching your entire New Year happen. That story was wonderful. Thank you for sharing and thank you for starting up your blog again. I “lost” your blog for awhile and now I’m reading it backwards. (Will it make sense like that?) I LOVE your writing and this story took me back to my Central Virginia origins. Every year, my mom would fix up a batch of greens, hog jowl, (Ironically, for health) and black-eyed peas. (I don’t like them much either but now that I’ve been on my own for almost 2 decades, nostalgia has almost coerced me into fixing up a pot of them. They’ll be from the can tho.) I remember the tall, dark man first through the front door thing. My great uncle would usually be that man. My Dad would sometimes go around the neighborhood also and they’d both cover it. Never heard about the biscuit. Heard about shooting the gun but my dad wasn’t a hunter or shooter although we had (still have) several guns mounted above doors in our house–primarily for scaring dogs off or shooting snakes.

    I’m glad you’re doing well and all the best in ’09 to you, your Granny and the Attorney. I hope your new job is going well. I hope I can keep up with you this time.

  32. RogernDC RogernDC

    TONY you’re back and blogging again! I’m a late comer, just finding your new blog, it’s soooo GOOD to read your wonderful, colorful, meaningful stories again. I read backwards from Feb to NYD to catch-up on it all.

    My being a ETN native I can relate to the reflections of your life there. I left TN almost 30 yrs ago with little regret.

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