by Pettus Read
I hope your New Year's celebration was truly a site to behold. At my house it was sort of peaceful. No, Dick Clark's crowd wasn't there and it sure was not a Rockin' or Jamming New Year's Eve celebration as you saw in New York City. But, there was some rockin' going on if you count that which was done in the rocking chairs located around the fireplace and TV waiting for the ball to fall up in the "Big Apple." I did wake up in time to see that.
With Tennessee involved in the Civil War Sesquicentennial, or in other words taking a 150-year look back at some of the major battles that occurred here, it reminded me of the traditional New Year's celebration at Uncle Sid and Aunt Sadie's. Black-eyed peas and hog jowls for "good luck" are a must at their house on New Year's. Being one who still holds a grudge over the "War of Northern Aggression" as he calls it, Uncle Sid makes sure a good portion is eaten to start the year off right.
One year during this tradition, I questioned why black-eyed peas and hog jowl. I found out real quick that I had crossed the proverbial Mason-Dixon line of ancestral belonging. That is something you should not and will not do on that Tennessee farm.
I am not one who really enjoys the dish and have often wished for a substitute of maybe creamed corn and country ham. I have always considered it my good luck to get those two food groups on my plate. And, yes, I do consider country ham a food group as well as corn when it comes to some really good eating. Ham, pork chops, bacon and tenderloin are more on the line of the parts of the hog I enjoy consuming. The head portion just doesn't work for me. Call me a country wimp, but my palate is more in tune with more pricey cuts of pork.
The year I refused the "good luck" portion of black-eyed peas was the year Uncle Sid gave me the history lesson on my southern roots. I'll never forget how he led me to the rockers in front of the fireplace and turned them so we would look each other eye to eye as he explained the family tradition of respecting the past.
As the cedar logs popped and crackled in the fireplace Uncle Sid looked at me and said, "Boy, (he still calls me boy) your great-great grandfather's family is the reason we eat those black-eyed peas and hog jowl each New Year's day. That good luck tradition started with our family soon after the Civil War and we have not missed a New Year's Day since partaking of that real simple food."
As I sat there and listened you could tell that this story was really important to Uncle Sid. He wasn't laughing and his words were graveyard serious.
"Just like any war, the folks left back home also suffer and have to endure hardships that during peace time they normally don't have," he went on to say. "Your family during the Civil War had the war and fighting right here on this farm. They knew what hardships were all about because Union troops stripped the countryside around here of all food, crops, and livestock, and destroyed whatever they couldn't carry away on horseback. Even our hardwood trees were cut for firewood, and with winter coming on it looked pretty grim for your great-great grandmother and her children."
Uncle Sid's farm is not that far away from where the battle of Stones River occurred and I knew all about how the battle had affected the family. In fact, come December 31 of this year will mark the 150th anniversary of that battle near Murfreesboro and our farm.
"The only thing they didn't take was the hog jowl left in the smokehouse because they considered it somewhat like you are now as not good eating," he said. "They also left the field peas because they thought that was only good for animal fodder. On that New Year's Day back then your ancestors had their first meal of the New Year of those simple foods. Those items kept them alive and gave them hope for years ahead.
"So that is why we still use those items as a good luck food for the coming year," Uncle Sid told me on that New Year's Eve many years ago. "We have plenty of other food, but those items remind us that times do get tough and with a little determination we can always survive the hard times."
This New Year's enjoy your black-eyed peas and hog jowl. As you make your good luck wishes, remember our troops in foreign lands who are protecting our freedom as well as others. We all could use a little "good luck" and just maybe those black-eyed peas will do the trick.