Posted in Seeing Race and Racism

Seeing Race and Racism #2 “A Fiery Night in Georgia”

A blog category looking at a topic we white folks usually don’t like to talk about.

I SO wish all my childhood memories were fond and happy. They should be, right? Some of mine, many of mine, maybe most of mine are joyful. Going into the woods to pick out and chop down our Christmas tree. Such fun. Summer vacations at a tiny, inexpensive motel at Jacksonville Beach. Neighborhood fish fries after softball games. I could go on.

But, if truth be told, not all of my early childhood memories are so happy.

I remember cowering under my bed, after watching The Wizard of Oz, thinking that those flying monkeys were absolutely horrendous. And might be up in the skies outside my window.

I remember purposefully and loudly falling off my bed as a little kid when I would hear my parents fighting in their nearby bedroom. I sometimes pretended to sleepwalk for the same reason.

But one of my most harrowing early memories is an uglier, impossible-to-understand one, a darker one, even though it involves such unforgettable hot and fiery light.


I am a skinny, freckled, awkwardly sensitive little kid in hand-me-down shorts. My parents, four brothers and I live in a crowded small house in the Peach Orchard section of Cochran Field on the outskirts of Macon, Georgia.

It is summer, a sweltering night in the South. It is probably 1957 or 58.

I’m in the backseat of our ancient station wagon, dad driving, mom directly in front of me, at least one brother also in the back.

No air conditioning, of course. No seat belts. Windows down. Warm night air blowing my hair and keeping my outstretched hand standing up as we make our way down the road. Incredibly, I can occasionally hear the tires make sticky, sucky sounds as they roll over tar-patched cracks, still oozing from the day’s unmerciful Macon sun.

It’s a sultry night in Georgia.

“Something’s on fire,” one of my folks say.

We get closer. The fire appears on my side of the car. I can feel the heat before I can see what’s burning. I quickly pull my hand inside the window.

I am mesmerized. A cross, unbelievably tall, is on fire! I have to crane my neck up to see the top of the flames. I hear dogs barking. I see people in white Halloween costumes mulling around the cross. I smell gas. And see smoke around the flames. People are yelling. A weird party.

The cross is just SO big. Way too big for Jesus to carry up a hill. And the cross was’t on fire in the Bible, I’m sure of that. It is summer, and I go to Vacation Bible School.

“Neal, roll your window up!”

I’m scared. But I don’t know why I’m scared.


I obey. But it’s like the heater is on full blast.

My father starts to speed past. But why? I’ve never seen anything like this. Why can’t we watch? I have to turn around quickly to see the cross get smaller and smaller. It finally morphs into a tiny lighted dot behind me.

It’s hotter than it’s ever been in the car. The heater MUST be on. It’s sizzling. Suffocating.

And it’s quieter than it’s ever been. Our car is usually loud with rambunctious boys yelling to be heard over one another.

Finally, I feel slightly cooler air begin to blow in from my mother’s window.

“Neal, roll your window down.”

We ride in silence till my father turns on the radio. I hear quiet music.

“What WAS that?” I ask.

“That was bad people doing something bad.”

I don’t understand.


Over six decades later, I look upon that night as one of those loss-of-innocence junctures. I can’t remember exactly how my parents explained what was really happening at that “weird party.” But I did find out, at some point, that the cross was being burned in a white couple’s front yard to warn them about being sympathetic to the struggles of black people. Vigilante hatred. Burning on the cross.


I wish I could say that the temperature has gotten so very much cooler in the South—or elsewhere in our nation. That the tar doesn’t still melt and stick to our tires. That air conditioning has decreased the scorch. That there are no more “weird parties.” But I cannot.

Just look at yesterday’s “Real Feel”:

Another “weird party” just down the road that stretches from my Savannah to Brunswick. You probably know the horrific story of that hot day in Georgia when vigilante hatred burned anew …


May we somehow as a people learn how to live.

Posted in Delicious Joy

Okra! Okra! Gimme Mo Okra!


Okra is BY FAR my favorite summer vegetable.  I grew up in north Georgia having to take a knife out to the garden nearly every evening, wearing a long-sleeved shirt in the summer heat, and cut the star-shaped veggie off its itchy stalks.  But, oh my goodness!  The taste!  After my fried okra plateful, and then the gumbo, I was life-long-hooked.

Okra:  Herbaceous, hairy, annual plant of the mallow family (Malvaceae). It is native to the tropics of the Eastern Hemisphere and is widely cultivated or for its edible fruit. The leaves are heart-shaped and three- to five-lobed; the flowers are yellow with a crimson centre. The fruit or pod, hairy at the base, is a tapering, 10-angled capsule, 10–25 cm (4–10 inches) in length (except in the dwarf varieties), that contains numerous oval, dark-coloured seeds. It may be prepared like asparagus, sauteed, or pickled, and it is also an ingredient in various stews and in the gumbos of the southern United States; the large amount of mucilage (gelatinous substance) it contains makes it useful as a thickener for broths and soups. In some countries the seeds are used as a substitute for coffee. The leaves and immature fruit long have been popular in the East for use in poultices to relieve pain.


— Encyclopedia Britannica  (Well, not the pictures.)


I LOVE chopping okra–the smell, the texture, the soul involved.

Just finished chopping this mess:


And my gumbo from the other night:


Just look at a few of the Health Benefits of MOKRA (my okra):

  • The pods are among the very low calorie vegetables. They provide just 30 calories per 100 g, besides containing no saturated fats or cholesterol. Nonetheless, they are rich sources of dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins; often recommended by nutritionists in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
  • The pods are one of the rich sources of mucilage substance that help in smooth peristalsis of digested food through the gut and ease constipation condition.
  • The pods contain healthy amounts of vitamin A, and flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene, xanthin and lutein. It is one of the vegetables with highest levels of these anti-oxidants. These compounds are known to have antioxidant properties and are essential for vision. Vitamin A is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in flavonoids helps to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
  • Fresh pods are the good source of folates; provide about 22% of RDA per 100 g. Consumption of foods rich in folates, especially during the pre-conception period helps decrease the incidence of neural tube defects in the offspring.
  • The gumbo pods are also an excellent source of anti-oxidant vitamin, vitamin-C, providing about 36% of daily-recommended levels. Research suggests that consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the body develop immunity against infectious agents, reduce episodes of cold and cough and protect the body from harmful free radicals.
  • The veggies are rich in B-complex group of vitamins like niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid. The pods also contain good amounts of vitamin K.  Vitamin K is a co-factor for blood clotting enzymes and is required for strengthening of bones.
  • The pods are an also good source of many important minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium.



Good Evening to All!  Eat MO OKRA!

Neal’s Ridiculously Simple Okra Gumbo:

One medium onion, a few cloves of garlic, some okra, a few vine-ripe tomatoes (emphasis: vine ripe)

Sautee your chopped onion in a tad of olive oil.  Add the chopped tomatoes and either a couple cups of vegetable broth (I make mine when I’m boiling corn or other vegs–don’t throw that nectar away!) or water.  Simmer a few minutes.  Then add the sliced-pretty okra.  But not too long.  You don’t want it all mushy.  10 mins is great.  Don’t add much salt-you want to taste the okra!




Posted in Delicious Joy

Pot Pie Smiles

One of my earliest joyful memories as a kid finds me meandering off, on warm summer mornings, to the community playground near my house in Cochran Field, near Macon, Georgia.  My best friend Billy and I would play until our mothers brought us chicken pot pies and sweet tea.  Sitting at the weathered, wooden picnic tables, we would  gobble down our pot pies in their little aluminum containers (which we repurposed as treasure collectors).

I have always loved the creamy texture, the flaky crusts, the green peas and carrots, and the homey, Mama-ish warmth of chicken pot pies (or turkey pot pies but NOT cheesy or veggie pot pies).  Of course, they were FROZEN SOLID forty-five minutes before I had all those lovey feelings as a child.  And back then, I didn’t realize that our mothers were watching The Price Is Right or Queen for a Day instead of preparing fresh, homemade lunches for us boys.

So after buying organic vegetables from the local farm-to-table community market (doesn’t that make me sound health-oriented and grounded yet hip and on-target?), I decided to make a homemade chicken pot pie.  HOMEMADE

First of all, do you have ANY clue how long it takes to chop carrots, celery, peppers and potatoes? Boil the corn and then scrape it off the cob? Finely cut the rosemary? Roll out the dough? (Okay, okay, all I did was roll it out of the carton, but still.)

But, oh my goodness, what fun! I may become a famous TV chef or something!




Swanson’s may do it faster, but not better!