Warm nights and Church jambalaya

Published 1:54 pm Friday, May 13, 2011

I was having lunch at Betsy’s Coffee Shop with a fellow writer last week, and he was laughing at some of the small-town stories we were telling together. Buster has worked in big towns as well as small, whereas I am a country boy for life, though I did live in a small town for just a few years. His point was that some of the stories we were regaling each other with would not have happened (at least for publication!) in a city.

The conversation spurred some memories that I’ve never written about, one story in particular that most of the grown-up participants in would have taken a belt to my juvenile tee-heinie for revealing, but time has taken its toll of those family and friends, so I reckon it is safe to relate this nowadays.

Big Robert was a Presbyterian when I was coming along, so that’s where my early church-going was. But Miz Janice was an Episcopalian, and when I was an early teenager, she got together with other residents of that denomination, and they founded a mission church, then grew to the point of being a sho’nuff church, with a building and a preacher, although their preachers ain’t called preachers, far as I can remember. Rectors, I think; not that rectors didn’t preach occasionally, of course.

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But the focus of a couple of my teenage years was on the particulars of raising funds to build and equip a church, which involves eating — in that department, Episcopalians aren’t that different from Baptists — which Betsy and I evolved to after we married: her parents were Methodist and Catholic. At any rate, I’ve learned through my denominational travels that while Baptists feed on fried chicken (one Baptist preacher confided that he knew he’d been called into The Ministry when he developed this unquenchable craving for fried chicken), those Episcopalians back then fed on and sold for funds to build with, such delicacies as hot tamales, shrimp Creole, and jambalaya.

Having written that, one wonders if the difference in diet is theological?

One of Big Robert’s best hunting buddies at the time was Colonel Rembert Dubose, who I think commanded the then-Greenville air base, and used a lot of his flying time to locate duck concentrations on the Mississippi River. We were so successful at duck hunting during his tenure – both men hunting with their sons – that the Colonel’s son’s nickname was Duck Dubose.

Miz Grace Dubose and Miz Janice pooled their talents, and no doubt drafted an Air Force flight to New Orleans for the ingredients, for a jambalaya supper as a gala fund-raiser for the church building. They worked for a couple of days doing all the stuff women do to seafood and the accoutrements in huge (no doubt KP) pots at the Dubose kitchen, and when we menfolks came back that evening to clean ducks, that was one fine-smelling kitchen! But despite all our sincere compliments and our not-so-subtle offers to serve as tasters, the ladies were firm: this entire meal was for the church. If we wanted jambalaya, we’d have to pay for it or go five hours south. It was supposed to be a cool night, so they drafted us menfolks — after our PBJs — to tote the pots out onto the screen porch for the night, since no one had a refrigerator big enough for them.

It turned warm that night!

Weather reports then were not as readily available as nowadays, nor as accurate. When the ladies realized that their delicious concoction could possibly have gotten warm enough to turn the seafood poisonous, there was panic in spite of frantic prayer in at least one church that next morning. The meal was set for lunch that day, and they’d sold tickets for weeks. What to do?

I know they loved their husbands, but the life insurance was paid up. Momma and Miz Dubose drafted Big Robert and the Colonel as food tasters, a position they had actually begged for the evening before. For breakfast that morning of the Great Jambalaya Sale, my sire and Duck’s daddy ate large bowls of jambalaya under the watchful eyes of their loving wives. Then for five hours they sat there under medical observation for the least little twitch or growling belly. They did not die.

The Great Jambalaya Sale was a complete success. They built the church!