Real Soul Food: 30 Years of Marriage, and the Best Damn Fried Chicken in the Country

On September 6, the Mate and I celebrate 30 years of marriage. I don’t know what we’ll have for dinner. All I know is, it won’t be fried chicken.

Not because we don’t love it…but because we do. Specifically, we love Mama Dip’s fried chicken from Chapel Hill, North Carolina (where we met in 1977 and were married ten years later). We loved Mama Dip’s chicken so much we got her restaurant to cater our wedding. So now we’re spoiled; no one else’s fried chicken comes close.

Mildred Council, a.k.a. “Mama Dip” (courtesy WRAL)

***Sigh…might as well have spaghetti…***

Of course with fantastic fried chicken come all the fixins: fried okra, stewed greens and tomatoes, black-eyed peas, cornbread, biscuits, corn on the cob…Some folks would add mac ‘n’ cheese to this list, or Brunswick Stew, or pulled pork, but to me those are meals in themselves, demanding their own sides: cheese grits, home fries, slaw…OK, I’ll stop.

“Care for dessert?” Are you kidding? I’ll just start over with another meal. (courtesy Black Hair Media Forum)

The Mate and I are very health-conscious people. We’re lifelong athletes–in fact, distance running is how we met. But we LOVE our soul food. In fact, I love even the IDEA of soul food.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines it:

Soul food is a variety of cuisine originating in the Southeastern United States. It is common in areas with a history of slave-based plantations and has maintained popularity among the Black American and American Deep-South “cotton state” communities for centuries; it is now the most common regional cuisine in southern cities such as New Orleans, LouisianaCharlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia. Soul food influences can be commonly found as far north as Richmond, Virginia, as far east as Jacksonville, Florida, and as far west as Houston, Texas. The expression “soul food” may have originated in the mid-1960s, when soul was a common word used to describe Black American culture (for example, soul music).

Home, sweet home. (courtesy TripAdvisor)

I TOTALLY dig the idea of food feeding one’s soul. Soul food is culture, family, love. Yearning. Nostalgia. Gratitude. Nourishment of your deepest parts.

The Mate and I might not be southern by heritage; we might have abandoned the south to live all the way across the country. But Mama Dip’s chicken and okra and cornbread fed us and our 250 guests on a day of torrential September rain back in 1987, and that food and those memories continue to nourish us daily in this hard-work miracle known as marriage.

Since we can’t be in North Carolina on September 6, I’ve asked my parents, who still live there, to go out to Dip’s for us. Their own marriage is in its 63rd year. Guess they must have found some soul food of their own.

 

Road Trip VII, Days 17-21, Durham, NC to Shaftsbury, VT: Marching Madly Back Into Winter

What kind of idiots drive north into a named winter storm…when they don’t have to?

Allow us to introduce ourselves: Wing & Mate.

We did make a few prudent choices. We delayed leaving NC for a day to let the worst of Stella pass. And we stayed as far east as possible, away from the storm’s edge, even though that meant sticking with ugly ol’ I-95 instead of taking the prettier inland route. We may be idiots, but we’re not STUPID.

We also opted to take it slow, leaving late in the morning and spending the night halfway to Vermont, in a motel in Wilmington…where we got a good lesson in reality.

Reality can thin out a bit on road trips. In our little car-bubble, whatever we’re used to becomes whatever IS. So I got heartily sticker-shocked at that motel. But since it was the last room available I swallowed hard and paid–I’m embarrassed to say how much–to avoid the losing proposition of racing around the internet just before rush hour trying to find a better deal.

The motel was full of families. In summertime or over Christmas this is expected, but we could tell these weren’t folks on Spring Break. Sure enough, we learned that a major power outage had forced them from their homes. And here we are, on a purely discretionary trip! Talk about perspective. I chatted with a couple of ladies over breakfast, and when they wished me “safe travels,” I wished there were a way to say, “safe stay-at-home!”

The New Jersey Turnpike took all my attention as navigator, as other freeways snaked in and out, trying to lure us into NYC. Nothing looked attractive, even under snow, which tells you something. (Sorry, NJ…maybe someday I’ll discover the “Garden” part of your statehood.) But once safely in the Hudson Valley, headed for Albany, we both relaxed, enjoying real mountains for the first time since Asheville. 

Snowy mountains. You gotta love any scenery that calls to mind words like “serene” or “majestic.” 

Majestic, shmajestic–I wanna make footprints!

“Whose woods these are I think I know…” (snowshoeing along a section of the Appalachian Trail)

Snow angel! (We coastal Northwesterners can’t get enough of this.)

OK, snow is cool. But the REAL draw of this adventure? Cute little cousins.

…and cheese-eating dinosaurs

And their adorable sheep-herding donkey Ben:

March is a terrible time for lambing in VT. Cousin Jesse had to bring the flock into the barn.

Ben being modest. He has work to do.

So: March Madness in basketball, yes. And in the lives of good ol’ Wilmingtonites just trying to make it through winter. But the northeastern roadways? Piece o’ cake. Shame on us for doubting the Yankee ability to deal with snow.

Road Trip VII, Days 10-16: Tobacco Road (a.k.a.Durham and Chapel Hill, NC) During March Madness

Spending a week in the house you grew up in will, when you’re my age, make you think. A LOT. First of all, I’m one of the VERY few people I know in their mid-50s whose parents both still live in the house they raised me in. Which means I can, in fact, go home again–with apologies to fellow Tarheel Thomas Wolfe.

That’s a pretty rarified privilege right there.

So I’ve been spending the week thinking about privilege. Not just white privilege, which has been much on people’s minds since, say, Trayvon Martin, with the 2016 election as a nice little underline that this shit is real. No, I’m talking about about a more generalized idea of privilege. The kind you breathe growing up, to the point where you’re not aware of it. Like air, it’s just THERE.

That’s how it feels to be a Duke or a Carolina basketball fan.

Yes, the two programs, at either end of Tobacco Road, are  bitter rivals. One’s private, one’s public. But like their colors, both share only slightly different shades of the same blue-bloodedness. While some universities would give their eyeteeth to be able to join the NCAA Big Dance even as a lowly 16-seed, Duke and Carolina people are shaken to the core at the mere possibility of coming in anywhere lower than a 6. (Yes, it has happened, and no, I don’t wanna talk about it.)

Full disclosure: I’m a Carolina fan who was practically raised on the Duke campus. So I know what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about walls–visible and invisible. I’m talking about that sense of safety and well-being that comes with belonging to an exclusive club. I’m talking about walking onto a park-like campus of huge trees and gracious architecture thinking nothing more than, “Hmm, a chicken biscuit sounds good right now” or “That’s a cool shirt, maybe I’ll get one of those.”

Order yours today.

[Note: a major component of club-belonging is in-jokes. Case in point: the above T-shirt, which would take so long for me to explain to you that I’ll just mention the hashtag and move on: #theceilingistheroof ]

The other day I took a break between watching ACC basketball games with my fellow Carolina Tarheel fanatics*** and went for a run along Bolin Creek in Chapel Hill. There I saw a young woman lying in a hammock strung between two trees, on a tiny island in the middle of the creek. She was working on her laptop, in the hammock. (I don’t generally carry a camera when I run, so you’ll just have to imagine it.)

[***since, for those of you new to Wing’s World, watching ACC games with our Tarheel Tribe, from our former NC lives, is the reason the Mate and I started road tripping to begin with]

That girl was, I decided, the perfect symbol for this feeling I was trying to capture: confident in her ability to creek-hammock without asking anyone’s permission, in her safety to do so without getting bothered, in her artless joy in the beauty of her surroundings. Laptop in hammock in creek? Can’t get more privileged than that.

The wall surrounding Duke’s East Campus doesn’t keep anyone out. It just sends a message.

That was my whole childhood: supported, surrounded, embraced. I had Duke Forest practically in my backyard to run and ramble in, the Duke track to train on, Duke coaches to consult with (during my high school years) and hone my athletic talent and (I suspect) help me get into the college of my choice.

One of the Duke Forest entrances. Anyone can enter…but does everyone feel, as I did, that it was really mine?

Of course I’m not saying that everyone who walks onto the Duke or Carolina campuses comes from circumstances as lucky as mine. I know most of them must face, or have faced, adversity of some kind–financial, emotional, physical, all three. But once members of those Duke or Carolina tribes, we are somehow blessed for life, whether we choose to think about it or not. We belong. We expect our team to win.

So what?

I’m still thinking about the “so what” part. I suspect it has to do with empathy. What, I wonder, do you think?

PS: Go Heels!

Road Trip VII, Days 5-9, Dallas to Asheville: Graffiti and Growth

A study in contrasts: that’s what these past few road days have meant. Not the red desert west vs. leafy green east contrast; we left that behind in Palo Duro. Dallas, a few hours to the east, is firmly in the “east” quadrant, climatically speaking: they have humidity. Kudzu. Oaks and maples.

And tacos. OMG, the tacos! Sorry. Sorry. Not food-blogging today.

No, the contrasts we’ve been exposed to are cultural. Our Dallas friend David is a developer who focuses on turning blighted sections of his city into vibrant small-business centers. Most of his lessees are folks whom banks give short shrift: minorities, women, ex-cons. So when David gives us a bicycle tour through Dallas, we see it through his eyes–a fascinating lesson in demographic history.

Elvis played here once…

The most fascinating section of Dallas, to me, was what David called the “free-range graffiti place”–a blighted area whose owners apparently allow graffiti artists to roam freely and practice their skills.

Some definitely more talented than others…but the combined effect is breathtaking.

It does kinda bug me when the punk taggers have to mess up the good stuff.

I got to watch this one young artist beginning an ambitious project. His girlfriend must have a lot of patience.

 

He’s got his work cut out for him.

Leaving Texas, we drove rapidly through Arkansas and Tennessee, trying to stay ahead of a winter storm. So no pictures from those states, sorry. But on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, we stopped for a hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and that’s where the contrast came in.

The Mate thinks the winter woods look desolate, but I love the way they let me see the mountain’s bone structure!

That hike was a testament to what happens when you take a piece of land and put it out of the reach of human shaping. Authorized in 1926, Great Smoky is the first national park in the east, and by far the largest.

Rhodie thickets: what the word “impenetrable” was designed for

When I walk in those mountains, I feel a sense of ageless resilience. They’ve been inhabited for centuries, and–at least in the park–they don’t give a shit about demographic history.

Why, hello, Spring!

Seems to me, when the legally-protected woods are “bare-ass nekkid” and the mountain’s showing off its bones, Nature is its own graffiti artist, free to roam.

So nice to see the mountainside just plain dripping instead of dripping with icicles. 🙂

We’re headed now to my hometown, Durham, to watch a little basketball and eat a little BBQ. So this blog might suddenly veer from philosophy to fanaticism (GO Tarheels!!!). But never fear–all it’ll take to bring me back to myself is a walk in those bare-nekkid woods.

Why Road Trip? A Top Five List

“You drove here?”

The Mate and I have become used to that question over our decades together–especially the last six years since we’ve added an annual Washington-to-North-Carolina sojourn to our regular Bay Area jaunts.

Why drive? I’ve been musing on this topic for the past several hundred I-5 miles. Thought I’d share the results.

1. Falling back in love with America. When you love someone, you notice tiny details, like the wrinkles at the corner of your sweetie’s smile. On road trips, I like to notice transitions between my beautiful country’s beautiful sectors. “Look–first redwood! We’re officially in coastal California!” “Aha–sagebrush! We’re in the Mountain West.”

Can't do this from an airplane!

Can’t do this from an airplane!

2. Discovering special unknowns. Like the sign on Oregon’s Rt. 199 that advertises “Sweet Cron.”  Or, for that matter, the jaw-dropping Smith River that Rt. 199 is honored to shadow.

3. Strengthening that marriage glue. The Mate does 80% of the driving. I do 100% of the Spanish studying, music listening, blogging, navigating and sandwich-making. Both of us are in our happy place–2 feet apart, but in two separate worlds from which we blow kisses and share smiles when we see a sign for “Sweet Cron.”

4. Bike paths. Hiking trails. (Not many of those in an airport.)

5. Old friends along the way–really a combination of #s 1-3. They remind us who we are, why we love each other, why we love them, why we love this country. Because we can just drive up to their door…and hear them say, “You drove here?”

North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill: Listen to Loretta

I don’t have too much to say about House Bill 2 of my home state, North Carolina–a.k.a. the “Bathroom Bill”. Because Attorney General and North Carolina native Loretta Lynch already said it for me:

“It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restrooms, water fountains and on public accommodations keeping people out based upon a distinction without a difference.” — Loretta Lynch

(image courtesy wect.com)

(image courtesy wect.com)

So what do I say? I say go, Tarheels. Keep fighting this stupid, mean law as you’ve been doing. Make me proud of my home state again.

 

 

How Sweet (and Shameful) It Is To Be a Tarheel: The NCAA Finals And The Bathroom Law

We Southerners who leave the South are a conflicted bunch. I recently tried to capture my mixed feelings about my “sweet sunny South” homeland in a song. Here’s the chorus:

Yeah, it’s another song about the South, y’all–

Tryin’ to sort my feelings out once and for all.

How can someone feel so in and out of place?

That sweet, sunny South where I first saw the light,

If she’s my ol’ mama, I’m a teenager in flight.

Do I want to hug her neck…or slap her face?

That conflict has been raging stronger than ever this past couple of weeks, as these two feelings battle within me:

  1. I am SO DADGUM PROUD (as Coach Williams would say) of my Carolina Tarheels, playing their way into the National Championship game!
  2. I am so ashamed of the North Carolinian voters, who elected the representatives who passed HB2, a.k.a. the “Bathroom Law,” which requires people to use the bathroom assigned to whichever gender they were born with.
(courtesy cnn.com)

(courtesy cnn.com)

Luckily, the law is encountering an enormous backlash. I doubt something so discriminatory will stand for long. But just the fact that my fellow Tarheels thought it was a good idea to pass a law so mean-spirited and divisive makes me sad. So much for the “New South.”

(courtesy pinterest)

(courtesy pinterest)

I’m wearing my Carolina Blue as I write this–earrings and all. I’ll be cheering my head off tonight, and I’ll be almost as proud if our guys lose than if they win. But what would make me the proudest? If my former fellow citizens reject this law with all their physical might. I want to get back to feeling like hugging their necks instead of slapping their faces.

The Final Four and the Sickness That “Heels”: Carolina Fever

Here’s why I know I’m not a COMPLETELY un-redeemable Carolina men’s basketball fan:

  1. I have a sense of humor about how much it means to me (sort of)
  2. I refuse to defend Tarheel Coach Roy Williams from charges that he knew about the fake classes his players were given credit for “attending” these past few years. He probably did, or if he didn’t, he should have.

But here’s why I know I’m pretty far gone: this year, right now, I DON’T CARE. The Heels are in the Final Four for the first time in seven years. Back in 2009, they won it all, under the leadership one of my all-time favorite players, Tyler Hansbrough, who stayed all four years to get the job done. This year, that favorite player is Marcus Paige, another senior (and Academic All-American). The Heels are one game from the finals, two from the championship. And I don’t just want that championship for me, I want it for Marcus.

This guy.

This guy.

But I want it even more for someone else. A whole family, actually. Last month, back in my home state of North Carolina to watch the ACC tournament with our Tarheel Tribe, The Mate and I learned some terrible news. The day before the tournament began, the 48 year-old son of some of our Tribe members was diagnosed with leukemia. His parents and his brother were in shock. And they all spent the next three days in someone’s living room cheering for the Tarheels.

The Tribe (partial), doing what we do.

The Tribe (partial), doing what we do.

Wait, you say–what? What is wrong with these people? Their son is going through chemo in the hospital and they’re watching basketball? Where’s their sense of perspective?

My answer: these folks were doing exactly what they needed to be doing. They were seeking solace with their Tribe. And of course their son–who’s SUCH a fanatic he doesn’t even join the annual group because he gets too nervous–was watching all the games at the same time, from his hospital bed. It was a beautiful kind of group witness…crazy, yes, but loving.

Son Two joined the Tarheel Tribe at an arly age.

Son Two joined the Tarheel Tribe at an arly age.

Didn’t hurt that the Heels won the tournament.

And now? Our friend’s son is almost done with his first round of chemo. Being the fan that he is, he’s already joking that he’s going to have to go back into the hospital NEXT year in order for the Heels to win again.

And that tells me something. College sports may be corrupt in all sorts of ways…but it’s also pure in one special way. It brings the Tribe together. And maybe, just maybe, the Heels, through their athletic efforts, will have the power to heal.

Go Tarheels.

Road Trip VI, Final Installment: One Day None Of This Will Be Yours

This will be the final post of Road Trip VI; after this, Wing’s World stops being a travel blog and morphs back into its un-pigeon-holeable self. Unlike past years, when I’d now be accompanying The Mate on the drive back across country, vowing never again to eat that much fried chicken and BBQ (until next year), I am actually home already, courtesy of Delta Airlines. Red Rover and The Mate are still faithfully road-tripping back to me, but my bakery is opening early this year under new management, and I opted to fly home early.

But I’m still gone to Carolina in my mind. Because the weather was so sweetly springy last week (for once), I spent a lot of time wandering around the grubby little farm I grew up on. In between cuddling Stevie, the World’s Cutest Donkey, I took some time to meditate on this fact: my family’s farm is slipping away…but not the way you might think. 

Even cuter in real life!

Even cuter in real life!

My parents jump-started Carolina Friends School by donating land. That’s why I grew up next to CFS, and why I refer to it as “My Sister the School.” And since my real sisters and I have moved away and feel no desire to return to the South, our parents have decided that CFS will inherit all the rest–the pastures, the barn, the garden, the pond, and the house I grew up in. And, being wise people, they have already begun the bequest.

Tierreich Pond: Now With Extra Turtles!

Tierreich Pond: Now With Extra Turtles!

Slowly but surely, my sister the school is taking over the farm. Where dense piney woods once separated the pastures from the school buildings on the other side of the creek, now the construction of new athletic fields and a road to a future performing arts building have left only a handful of trees to delineate the old from the new.

Follow the red clay road!

Follow the red clay road!

It’s changed my whole mental geography. There’s no longer a “here” and a “there.” Now it’s “old” and “new,” but new gets newer every year I visit. My little sister is moving in.

I hear the horses are learning to appreciate baseball.

I hear the horses are learning to appreciate baseball.

Don’t get me wrong–I think this is great. It’s just weird. I know I’m lucky to have hung onto my childhood geography for over five decades. So few people get to do that! And now, I’m even luckier: rather than watch the Old Home Place fall into disrepair, I get to see it transformed, into classrooms or Quaker conference facilities, or whatever the CFS Board decides.

Dormitory? Hmm...

Dormitory? Hmm…

Come to think of it, those new roads are a good idea. Future Quaker educators might have a little trouble with my parents’ driveway.

My folks insist this is safe to drive across. Hey, it's only a 20-foot drop on the other side!

My folks insist this is safe to drive across. Hey, it’s only a 20-foot drop on the other side!

So rather than singing “What Have They Done To the Old Home Place”, I’m looking forward to next year’s visit. Hey there, lil’ sis–my, how you’ve grown!

 

Road Trip VI, Days 28-32, in my hometown, Durham, NC: My German Grandmother’s Take on Civil Rights Martyrs

Everyone who enjoys the privilege of time spent with aging parents knows this pattern: touch an object, hear a story. It could be an oil painting or a plate with cows on it; if it’s been held onto for decades, it has something to tell.

This week I’ve been roaming through my parents’ house in North Carolina, touching things and letting them talk to me. I’m especially lucky here, since my paternal grandma, my German Oma, was a sculptor. This house is bursting with her work. Today I’m going to let one of her pieces tell its story.

June 21, 1964. Philadelphia, Mississippi. The bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were discovered buried in an earthen dam.

Chaney, Goodman and Shwerner (courtesy Mississippi Civil Rights and Delta Blues Bookstore)

Chaney, Goodman and Shwerner (courtesy Mississippi Civil Rights and Delta Blues Bookstore)

Actually that’s incorrect. Civil Rights activists Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner disappeared that Freedom Summer, having left their base in Meridian, Mississippi to investigate some church burnings in the eastern part of the state. According to Curtis J. Austin in The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, “The Ku Klux Klan had burned Mount Zion Church because the minister had allowed it to be used as a meeting place for civil rights activists. After the three young men had gone into Neshoba County to investigate, they were subsequently stopped and arrested by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price. After several hours, Price finally released them only to arrest them again shortly after 10 p.m. He then turned the civil rights workers over to his fellow Klansmen. The group took the activists to a remote area, beat them, and then shot them to death.” It took several weeks for their bodies to be found.

My grandmother, Edith Brauer Klopfer, moved from California to North Carolina in 1965, to help take care of baby me. Thirty years before, she had moved with her husband and young sons from Germany to Philadelphia–temporarily, she thought, to give that pesky Herr Hitler a wide berth. The Klopfers were Jewish.

My parents have not been able to tell me exactly what my grandmother thought of the Civil Rights movement she walked into when she moved to the South. But they don’t need to. This sculpture says it all. She called it Three Martyrs. It’s Chaney, Goodman and Schwermer.

Three Martyrs

Three Martyrs

Most historians agree that, because Schwerner and Goodman were White, the federal government’s response left earlier responses to murders of Black activists in the dust. If you’ve seen Mississippi Burning, you know they established an FBI office in Jackson and called out the state’s National Guard and U. S. Navy to help search for the three men. Freedom Summer organizers weren’t dumb–they had hoped for exactly this kind of attention when they asked for White volunteers.

Austin continues,

After several weeks of searching and recovering more than a dozen other bodies, the authorities finally found the civil rights workers buried under an earthen dam. Seven Klansmen, including Price, were arrested and tried for the brutal killings. A jury of sympathizers found them all not guilty. Some time later, the federal government charged the murderers with violating the civil rights of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. This time the Klansmen were convicted and served sentences ranging from two to ten years.

This is as moving to me as it probably is to you. What moves me even more, though, is thinking of my German Jewish Oma, wielding her chisel to coax these figures out of the wood…figures which still testify, 50 years later, to the darkness from which our country is still hauling itself. Did she think of her homeland and its six million martyrs? Was it a work of despair or hope, sorrow or rage, or honor?

I think it was all of those. I run my fingers over the grooves her chisel made, thinking of her strong arms, and I pay homage to the three, to all they represent, and to her–and all she represents.