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.


My Labor Day of Love: Sisyphus Meets Jacob

Pardon me for mixing and mangling myths and Bible stories, but this Labor Day has me thinking about the meaning of work when it’s done specifically and voluntarily for another person. See, Labor Day weekend generally includes my wedding anniversary (# 29 this year), and this particular Labor Day, I did not have to work at the bakery as I have for the past six years.

Wow, at home all day with my Mate! Except my Mate was sick.

So I decided to do some chores on his behalf. To be precise: I decided to load a ratty old tarp with branches and sticks and drag it from the portion of woods he’s been clearing for the past several years over to the site of his next burn pile.

Welcome to Wing Park! (Thanks, babe.)

Welcome to Wing Park! (Thanks, babe.)

Now, branch-dragging is something I’m on board with. I’ve been helping out on that front for a few years now, usually after windstorms. But lately, my Mate’s standards for “clearing” have gone from branches, to sticks, to TWIGS and CONES, people. Stuff you have to use a rake on.

Lately, this is how my inner monologue has gone when I’m helping out with this chore:

“Are you kidding me? Am we really doing this? Isn’t that tree just going to drop the same number of twigs and cones tomorrow?”

Herculean labor it is not. But Sisyphean? Absolutely. Humph. Grrr. Honestly!

But today, on my almost-anniversary, with my sweetie in bed sick? I raked the heck out of those twigs and cones. I even started pulling up blackberry vines–talk about a futile task! And it felt GREAT.

I love you THIS much!

I love you THIS much!

And I started thinking about that Bible story where Jacob works seven years for Rachel (after being tricked by his future father-in-law). I know, the situations are pretty different. But that labor-of-love thing? Yep. I was feeling it. Work done out of love is no longer work.

So Happy Labor Day, everyone. May you find the work that spreads love, whatever form it takes. And then, when you’re ready, may you celebrate with your version of this:

Worth every twig.

Worth every twig.


Best Love Poem For a Wedding? One That Tells the Truth

Best way to celebrate your wedding anniversary? Attend a wedding. Especially a wedding between two young people whose future seems so promising, their union seems like a gift to the rest of us.

So when The Mate and I witness these young folks saying “I do,” we’ll be holding hands and getting misty, thinking over our past 28 years together. (Actually, it’s 36 and a half ’cause we lived in sin for quite a while before marrying, but who’s counting?)

We don’t have a role in this wedding except to witness (and eat and drink), so I don’t know why poetry popped into my head. It’s not like we have to read anything out loud. Nevertheless, I found myself thinking, “What would be a great poem to read at a wedding?” and this one floated out of the memory banks.

Love Poem
by John Frederick Nims

My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
Whose palms are bulls in china, burrs in linen,
And have no cunning with any soft thing

Except all ill at ease fidgeting people:
The refugee uncertain at the door
You make at home; deftly you steady
The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.

Unpredictable dear, the taxi drivers’ terror,
Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
Yet leaping before red apoplectic streetcars-
Misfit in any space. And never on time.

A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
With words and people and love you move at ease.
In traffic of wit expertly manouver
And keep us, all devotion, at your knees.

Forgetting your coffee spreading on our flannel,
Your lipstick grinning on our coat,
So gayly in love’s unbreakable heaven
Our souls on glory of split bourbon float.

Be with me darling, early and late. Smash glasses– 
I will study wry music for your sake.
For should your hands drop white and empty
All the toys of the world would break.

My former AP Literature students should remember this one well. We talked about its irony (“clumsy” in a love poem?!), its beautiful use of onomatopoeia (“all glasses chip and ring”), its sudden shift from criticism to praise (“no cunning with any soft thing/Except all ill at ease fidgeting people”).

“What do you notice about the way the poet uses sentence structure?” I would ask. “Those long, complex sentences, then that one, short outburst–‘And never on time’–like this husband is spouting his exasperation for the umpteenth time. Can’t you just hear them argue? Anyone ever heard their parents argue like that?

“What do you notice about that line “A wrench in clocks and the solar system”? The scale suddenly grows from household size to the whole universe, doesn’t it? What kind of statement is that about the breadth, the everything-ness, of this guy’s love?

“And that last line? If her hands fell white and empty–yes, it means what you think it means–not only would the joy go out of his life, the joy would go out of the WHOLE WORLD. “All the toys” would break. He admits she’s clumsy, messy, late…and he still adores her. Now THAT’s love, right?”

My Mate’s not a poet. If he were, he could easily write a poem like this about me–except for the lipstick part. And if he did, I would swoon. THAT’s love.

But he doesn’t need to write this poem. It’s already written. And this weekend, he’ll find another way to tell me his version of what Nims told his love. 

Happy Anniversary, babe.

Happy Anniversary, babe.

What poem would YOU read aloud at a wedding, I wonder?


Happy Anniversary to My Ever-Lovin’ Cradle Robber

We thought we were pretty darn scandalous, back when we started. He was a teacher, I was a student. He was 32, I was 17.

OK, I am milking this just a bit. My hubby was a teacher…of law students, and I wasn’t one of those, as I was too busy being a Senior in high school at the time. So he wasn’t MY teacher–duh. And, yes, he was, and, amazingly, still is 15 years old than I am, but, as I’ve always told people who gasp, “But doesn’t the AGE DIFFERENCE make things tough?”: “Actually, no, he was always very mature for his age.”

Still, we kept our relationship secret for two thrilling months. Then, when I finally confessed our relationship to my mom, she said…

“Ah, yes. I thought so.” So much for scandal.

Today my cradle-robbing sweetie and I celebrate our 26th anniversary. (If you count from when we started our relationship, it’s actually been 34 1/2 years. We’re not the rush-into-marriage type, obviously.)

Still goin' strong after 34 1/2 years

Still goin’ strong after 34 1/2 years

A year ago, we celebrated by renewing our vows. Our sons were both there, and let me tell you, there ain’t NOTHIN more precious than listening to your kids make funny-sweet speeches at the wedding of their own two parents.

I don't mind violating my husband's privacy, but you'll just have to imagine our sons off to the side, making us laugh & cry.

I don’t mind violating my husband’s privacy, but you’ll just have to imagine our sons off to the side, making us laugh & cry.

So what about that age difference? The only weirdness I can remember is when my own sons reached that age-17 benchmark and started imagining how they would feel if their female friends were dating a 30-something. Their reaction was pretty much, “EWWW.” Of course I assured them that my 17 year-old self was far, FAR more mature than their own friends. 🙂

Ken’s on Medicare now; I have to buy my own insurance. He’s retired; I’m still working. Of course he works harder in retirement than he ever did for a paycheck–yup, I married that kind of guy–but it’s all work he wants to do, like building me a special rack for my earrings, made out of a myrtle branch.

We will have our unique challenges as he ages before me. We know it’s unlikely that he’ll ever have much of a relationship with any grandchildren our sons may someday produce. We know I’m likely to outlive him, maybe by 15 years or more. On the other hand, as Ken points out, I could walk in front of a bus tomorrow–or, on our island, a deer. We’ll take what comes, and feel ridiculously grateful for it.

So, tonight? We’re going on a picnic. He’s not a big flowers-and-jewelry guy, but when I worried that our picnic might be nixed by rain, he said, “So what? We’ll wear rain gear.” Now that’s MY kind of romantic.

And our special dinner? Well, when someone says, “How you doing? Need anything?” Ken’s always responded, “A steak sandwich and a root beer float would be nice.” So guess what we’re having. I’m gonna go pack it all up in ice right now and stuff it into my knapsack.

But don’t tell Ken. It’s a surprise. Happy Anniversary, babe.

So…what’s the age diff in your relationship? Anyone beat 15 years? Any women out there older than their male spouses? What’s that like? I love when you share!