Widely published in academic and creative writing, former college president Dr. Lynn Veach Sadler has seven poetry chapbooks out and another and three full-length collections in press. One story appears in Del Sol’s Best of 2004 Butler Prize Anthology; a novel will soon join her novella and short-story collection. She won the 2009 overall award of the San Diego City College National Writer’s Contest and Wayne State’s 2008 Pearson Award fora play on the Iraq wars. She has traveled around the world five times, writing all the way, and works fulltime as a writer and an editor.
Unlike his only child, Daddy never Suffered Fools Gladly. Despite being a state senator for many years, he remained perverse and plainspoken. Mama wasn’t meek like me, just detached. She smiled toward everybody and kept strolling. Did she smile because Daddy “expected” a boy? She died in her sleep at age thirty.
I’ve worked to measure up: valedictorian, Phi Beta Kappa, company founder. (Daddy hated me giving it to my children.) Daddy always expected more.
My husband Ed finally said to cool it with the Daddy thing, so I deferred the paternal war and assailed the Views and Watcher. Once the state’s leading paper, it has fallen from high liberal grace (mine, not Daddy’s; he liked its backward turn). My first sally offered a panacea for the Pope’s declaring Heaven sexless. I urged those “taking alarm” to find their text in Paradise Lost:
When Adam queries Raphael about love in Heaven, the angel blushes and responds that they are happy, “and without love no happiness.” Moreover, angel love is better: total mixing with no membranes, joints, or limbs getting in the way . . . .
“The Editors” politely refused to publish: my letter “might offend their ‘Catholic readership.’”
I gently queried whether the “Look Again” editor had noticed the similarity of actress Ali MacGraw and Michigan Wolverine Chris Webber (especially around the eyes). “The Sports Editors” declined to print my letter because the “racial overtones” might “start a rumor.”
Ed and I square dance one night a week and line dance another. To get into the atmosphere, we tried the Lone Star, and Ed loves the “Steak Soup.” I wrote “Recipe Needed.” The very next column said the editor was on vacation for five weeks. Five months have passed, and I’m still being ignored.
The paper lamented local fourth graders’ poor performance on the state writing test. My “A Plea for ‘Big Writing’” stressed knowing the mode of writing being requested. It ended:
When we mingle all these threads, we are doing “big writing.” I think that students will like it. They can run around singing—I wish I may,/I wish I might, Do BIG WRITING/With all my might!
It boomeranged with “Too long to be included” scrawled across the top!
An obscure paragraph in the Wednesday Food Section announced that, through the next Monday at 8:30 A.M., the Views and Watcher would accept nominations for state food. Bingo! What Maya Angelou did for President Clinton, I could do for THE STATE FOOD. I would nominate barbecue—whole-hog, Daddy’s favorite kind. I would do so with a flourish worthy of Maya Angelou plus Julia Child plus Mama Dip plus Martha Stewart. I would cast my nomination in the graceful attire of poetry. Tasteful poetry. (I grinned to think what Daddy might think of that pun, not to mention the poem.) Ms. Angelou might even give me some performance tips . . . . The General Assembly would make the official proclamation, have me read the poem, recognize the poet’s father, the distinguished Former State Senator and major hog producer, in the audience . . . . I waited six whole weeks to read about the “lack of a groundswell [sic] of response to our plea for nominations of a state food.” AND THIS WAS BEFORE WHAT HAPPENED TO MS. STEWART HAPPENED.
Anyhow, I had THE BARBECUE POEM, which I titled “The Land of Porkahontas,” and had already sent copies to proper-palated friends and relatives, though not to Daddy. It speaks, in epic form, for Eastern-style North Carolina barbecue as measured against a whole catalogue of Southern foods. Epics are big on catalogues, of course. If I do say so myself, the poem also contains some redeeming social edification, as in this verse:
I’ve known many silly-
bubs in my time.
(My mother just said
it was all in my mind.)
Flour bread and “light bread”—
won’t Yankees be tickled?
For whole-hog barbecue,
they don’t give a plugged nickel.
But I feel honor-bound to admit that it can get somewhat . . . what we might call today “Viagraish,” to wit:
High me with Coke
and Mary Jane candy;
offer ginseng to those
who want to be randy.
But cutting the mustard
will have to suffice.
In the Land of Porkahontas,
whole-hog barbecue’s no vice.
It soars to this conclusion:
Then grease me with barbecue—
but only the eastern,
with vinegar sauce and
red pepper past reason.
No concord with Lexington
or the hams-only kind—
in the Land of Porkahontas,
whole-hog barbecue uses rind.
One of my double first cousins twice removed sent it to the county paper. Daddy read it, but I didn’t hear a bellow out of him until our semiannual family reunion.
It was at Ye Olde Tar Heelia Inn in Flora MacDonald (mid-state so the clans could gather more easily). I’d been working on a short story and was puzzling about it in the car. The narrator was God, and He wanted to refer to the person who’d climbed into the tree to see Jesus. I thought it was Nicodemus and a sycamore.
Ed was all logic. “Just ask your father. He’ll know.”
I groaned but acceded.
“Zacchaeus! You should know that. One time when you were half as long as a tobacco worm, the new preacher talked on ‘Zacchaeus the Rich Man Who Came to See Jesus and Stayed to See God’ or some such for over an hour. You finally stood up on the seat and said, loud enough for the whole church to hear, ‘Daddy, isn’t the preacher ever goin’ to preach Zacchaeus down out of that tree? I’m hungry,!’ Your mama wanted me to spank you, but I agreed with you.” Probably the last time we agreed on anything! And, no, I had no memory of the episode. At least I got the damn sycamore right!
Right then, my stepmother let the proverbial cat out of the Daddy. Daddy had been out of formal politics a good twenty years. He ought to have been out of everything, but he still ran the farm, saw mill, and grocery store. People came from everywhere for his cypress. But the biggest draw, still, was his “colorful” personality, which seemed to expand its palette with age.
My stepmother said, “This doctor’s wife from Jacksonville came to the mill and gave your daddy a hard time. She couldn’t make up her mind what she wanted, and she mistook him for a bumpkin she could have her way with.”
I grinned at Ed.
“Well, you know how your daddy is. I was waitin’ on customers but was gettin’ an earful and knew I better head off the explosion. Then he squalled for me to ‘bring the paper with that goddamned barbecue poem!’ You know how colorful he talks! And all the more so when under a perceived attack. When I got there, he grabbed it out of my hand and yelled at her, ‘Here. Read this!’ Well, she loved it and quieted right down and wanted a copy for her husband.” The call to move into the dining room forestalled my reacting. Ed, elbowing me and grinning, told me to close my mouth before something unsavory got in.
Daddy died two weeks after that family reunion. Since I realized I forgot to mention his favorite food, country style steak, I’ve not looked at the barbecue poem. I wish I’d annotated it for him. Did he notice its echoes of the Song of Solomon, its references to the Ramp Festival, syllabub . . . ? What did he think about “Porkahontas”? I bet that old rascal got more of it than anybody but me! He’d always called himself “a colorful reader,” always searching out the “hidden meanings of things, most especially those unintended.”
Well, what can I say? I sent that poem to old bean-clad Boston’s Tips from the Pit, which not only published it therein but named me “The Poet Laureate of Barbecue.” My husband Ed says he was standing in for Daddy when he opined that those Bostonians meant to call me “The Pork Laureate.” Ed can be right colorful of language, too.