Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Slim's God-Fearin' Cornbread Recipe

In the previous post, I shared my efforts to enlighten a couple of transplanted Yankees by explaining how to make cornbread.
I received several responses.
Margaret Howell, an old friend from my high school days in Mississippi, wrote to say that my blog post had inspired her to make cornbread that very day. Of course, as a Southerner, Margaret made it the way Jesus would have made it - white corn meal, no sugar, she said.
“I had it with black-eyed peas and cabbage. Wish you were here for some!’’
Me, too.
Matt Self, who is a big-shot TV producer at the local NBC affiliate here in Phoenix, wrote to expand on the cornbread theme. “In my neck of the woods (Kimberly, Ala.) we crumble that stuff up in a glass and pour buttermilk over it.’’
Matt, is absolutely correct.
In fact, I told my Yankee friends about that, too. They just looked at me with an expression of incredulity, so I gave up trying to convince them. You have to take the Yankee out of people a little at a time, I reckon.
C.J. in Phoenix, being a Southwestern girl, was opposed to using corn meal altogether. “You need a recipe for tortillas,’’ she said. Let’s all pray for C.J., OK?
And finally, there was this from Cristina in Mesa: “So what’s your recipe? I don’t like the fluffy, yellow cake stuff, either.‘
Well, that’s a first. No one has ever asked me for a recipe before.
So I am honored to consent. Here goes:



One 8-inch cast-iron skillet, properly cured.
Note: Over my mild objections, you can also use the tin muffin trays or corn-pone trays, but I can’t guarantee that your conscience won’t keep you up at night if you do it that way.


1 ¼ cup of white corn meal mix.
½ cup of Martha White self-rising flour (It’s got Hot Rize!)
1 teaspoon salt
¾ tablespoon of baking powder
1/3 cup of Crisco shortening.
2 eggs
1 cup of milk

A word about ingredients:
Organic products are very popular these days. But I strongly advise against using organic produce in any recipe. OK, I realize that this recipe doesn’t cause for anything which would require you to choose between regular and organic, but let me finish: It’s a topic I have deep feelings about. And, besides, I never interrupt you when you are talking, do I?
Now, I am opposed to the use of organic produce for many good, common sense reasons.
First, people who insist on using organic produce are generally weird, odd, strange people. I am not sure exactly why that is. It could be a chicken-and-egg deal. I don’t know if they are weird, strange and odd because they consume organic produce or if consuming organic produce causes them to become weird, strange, odd people.
But, invariably, people who insist on organic produce are the sort of people who raise kids that turn out to be synchronized swimmers or rhythmic gymnasts. You know, weird people. So it’s best to stop the cycle of weirdness at the current generation.
Beyond that, I will point out when I grew up we grew almost all of our own vegetables. We had competition from bugs and worms as to who was going to enjoy the fruits of our labor, so we routinely saturated all of our plants with powerful chemicals. It never did me no harm. Today, I am a 5-foot-11, 185-pound picture of virile manhood, the veritable picture of health.*


Find a clean mixing bowl. (For me, this is the most time-consuming part of the process)
Dump in the flour, corn meal, salt, baking powder and mix thoroughly with a spoon.
In a separate container (my cookware consists primarily of plastic margarine and Kool-Whip containers. Either will suffice), mix the Crisco, beaten eggs and milk together.
Pour liquid concoction into pan with the corn meal mixture and blend with a wooden spoon. Don't use an electric mixer; the cornbread mixtures should not be too thoroughly blended.
Grease skillet with a stick of butter or margarine.
Set oven to 400-degrees and place skillet in over to preheat.
Remove pre-heated skillet from oven (with an oven-mitt, unless you want to practice your cussin‘) and pour mixture into pan.
Cook for roughly 35-40 minutes. To make sure it‘s done, stick a toothpick into the cornbreard. When you pull it out, if no cornmeal mixture sticks to it, you know it‘s done.


Cut cornbread into about six big slabs.
Slather butter all over your slab of cornbread (Don’t forget to say the blessin’ before you eat!)


This tip is from noted Southern cornbread connoisseur Bill Perkins. "The proper way to store cornbread is to leave it in skillet on top of the stove with a dish-towl over the top of it.'' Thanks, Bill, for all you do. And, most of all, for CARING!

* This is an example of a literary device writers refer to as "creative license,'' i.e., an exaggeration used to emphasis a point. How big a exaggeration it is in this case is open to debate.

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's cornbread, not cake!

Ron and Joan try. They really do.
But some things are just not easy for them, mainly because of their disadvantaged upbringing.
By “disadvantaged upbringing,’’ I mean they are - and there is just not delicate way to put it - Yankees.
They just don’t know no better, as the saying goes back home.
I should point out here that Ron and Joan have done well for themselves despite this obstacle. They are eager to try new things and more or less open to a more enlightened view.
Take the issue of cornbread, for example.
Saturday afternoon, this important topic came up and we all decided that it would be great to have cornbread to go with the tortilla soup that a friend was bringing over for dinner the next day.
Those familiar with this blog know that I have been helping Ron and Joan out for the past few weeks while they recover from a bad car accident.
Well, I made the innocent inquiry of whether we had all the necessary ingredients for cornbread. It was with great pleasure that I learned that Ron and Joan had a big cast-iron skillet. It was really more than I could have expected, to be honest. We started clicking off the necessary ingredients: corn meal, flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, cooking oil.
Then one of them - I think it was Joanie - said something that I found very disturbing: “Don’t forget the sugar,’’ she said.
Sugar? It was a jolt, to be honest.
And then I remembered: Yankees use sugar in their cornbread. And that ain’t all, either.
So I pressed them on their definition of cornbread.
Now, I don’t want to put words in their mouths, but their idea of cornbread was a creating that was yellow, fluffy and sweet.
“What you are describing ain’t cornbread,’’ I said in a calm, restrained voice. “Yellow? Fluffy? Sweet? You are describing cake!’’
Patiently, simply I tried to explain it to them.
“Well, I guess it is possible that cornbread can be made two ways,’’ I said. “You can make fluffy, sweet, yellow cornbread. That’s one way.
“And then there is the way God intended.’’
Now, this comes as no surprise to any genteel southerner, of course. We have known since our earliest days that cornbread is made with white cornmeal and no sugar.
But there have been dark forces at work over the decade, truncating the time-honored cornbread tradition. In fact, even the corn meal manufacturers - people who have been given a sacred trust to uphold all that is good and decent about cornbread - have proven to be a part of the conspiracy.
Don’t believe me: Check out the cornbread ratio on the box. It calls for roughly twice as much flour as corn meal, which is almost exactly the proper ratio inverted. They also call for as much as four teaspoons of baking powder, which - if followed - would produce that obscenely fluffy texture that is contrary to the very nature of cornbread and a violation of a major tenet in the art - that cornbread should be flat and course. And, of course, the box also calls for sugar, which is simply an abomination.
Now, Sunday evening I made cornbread. Sadly, the corn meal was yellow, so I had to carry on as best I could.
The end result wasn’t half bad, though.
And then Ron did something that I could not have anticipated: He poured honey over the cornbread, even as I was slathering the butter on my chunk of corn bread.
Of course, I was too polite to make a scene, but it did remind me of a passage in Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.’’ In that seen one of the Ewell children had been invited to eat lunch with Jem and Scout. The visitor, being of a disadvantaged background and horrible manners, asked the maid for some molasses and drenched everything on his plate - meat, vegetables, bread - with molasses.
When Scout protested, the maid sternly told her to be quiet.
As I watched Ron drizzle honey over perfectly good cornbread, I suppressed my impulse to speak out.
Now, Ron is a fine, intelligent man.
But there are some gaps in his education.
Put honey on your cornbread?
Southern mamas would be aghast.
But I cut Ron and Joanie some slack.
They grew up Yankee. They just don’t know no better.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What Have THEY Been Drinkin'?

Does anybody have a phone number for The FOX television network?
I have a TV show concept that I want to pitch: It’s called “Are You Smarter Than A University President?‘’
Last week, a group of 119 university presidents put their pointy little heads together and called for a reduction of the legal drinking age from 21 to 18.
The presidents say it is important to lower the legal drinking age to combat binge drinking on campus.
Oh, I see...
Well, no. I don’t.
These presidents claim that a lot of students under the age of 21 are prone to binge drinking because they have limited access to alcohol. Their theory: Because a person can’t buy a beer in a bar, he’ll buy 38 beers and drink them in the bushes someplace.
OK. First question:
True or false: The way to reduce abuse of a substance is to make it more readily available?
If your answer was, “Duh! False!’’ then congratulations! You Are Smarter Than A University President!
When this story first came out, I waited around for the punch-line, even checked the calendar to see if it was Chinese April Fool’s Day or something along those lines. Then it dawned on me that they were actually serious.
I listened to the arguments for reducing the legal drinking age limit to 18, as it was prior to 1984 when - as we all know - no one EVER binge drank.
Their argument is two-fold:
1. Under-age people binge drink because it is “forbidden fruit.’’ Make it legal to drink at age 18 and suddenly all these students will trade in Coronas for Calculus. (Dude! It's Saturday night! Let's study til we puke!'')
2. The legal drinking age of 21 isn’t working. People under 21 are drinking anyway! Shocking, huh?
Look, I’ve had three DUIs, even went to prison for DUI. I don’t claim to be an expert on many subjects, but I figure I have serious credentials when it comes to alcohol abuse.
And from where I sit (which is NOT on a bar stool , by the way), it is easy to see the deep flaws in both points.
1. For this premise to be true, you might expect that once a person turns 21 he immediately hangs up his beer bong and drinks only a glass of wine with dinner. Reality check time: Do you know any 21-year-olds? See what I mean?
Beyond that, the idea that making something legal diminishes its use is just plain goofy. I mean, under that theory, we should legalize murder, right? If that theory were true, abortions would have pretty much stopped after Roe v. Wade. Quite the opposite is true, as we all know.
2. This is equally nonsensical, even though it is embraced by Arizona Republic editorial writer Kathleen Ingley, who bemoaned the “failed law’ that raised the drinking-age limit to 21 in 1984.
Failed law? Ingley cited the fact that so many teens are drinking as proof of the failure of the law.
Interesting. I’ll go back to the law against murder. Every day, hundreds of people are murdered in the U.S. So, you see, the real problem here is that “failed law’’ against murder. At least that seems to be the way Ingley looks at it. I wonder what other bad things we could get rid of by simply changing the law that prohibits them? Just playing devil's advocate here, Kathleen, but could it possibly be the culture that is flawed and not the law?
But, really, what do all these university presidents hope to gain by calling for a change in the drinking age?
I suspect the real motive is that they are tired of being embarrassed by the torrent of booze that practically flows through their campuses, especially given the fact that 7 out of 10 students are under the legal drinking age. Furthermore, I suspect the presidents would like very much not to be held accountable for the overt law-breaking that transpires regularly on campus.
Me? I happen to favor the position held by Arizona senate candidate Russell Pearce (*K, Mesa) who plans to propose a law that would send anyone caught drinking under the age of 21 back to Mexico.
“But, hey, I’m not even FROM Mexico!’’ the offender might argue.
Well, too bad. You are a criminal and, the way Pearce sees it, all criminals should be sent to Mexico.
Now that I think of it, I think Pearce shouldn't be a senator; he should be a university president.
* Kook Party

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A whole 'nother level

I was watching a little bit of the Olympic table tennis competition the other night and, naturally, it reminded me of prison.
I should probably explain that, huh?
Well, once I got out of Sheriff Joe’s Gulag and was transferred to the state prison at Florence, conditions improved in just about every way imaginable. Oh, it still wasn’t like an extended stay at the Four Seasons, which is what some people who don’t love mercy suggest whenever someone brings up poor living conditions in jail/prison.
Well, one of the little things they had there at Florence West prison was a ping-pong (or table tennis, if you prefer) table. These sorts of things were provided for inmates in order to break the monotony of beating each other up. So I played a lot of ping-pong.
Now, back at Itawamba Community College, I was sort of a ping-pong whiz. I wasn’t the best player on campus, but I was in the top five, for sure. But after I left Itawamba, I didn’t play ping-pong again and it’s funny how much your skills can diminish over a quarter-century of inactivity.
So when I first took up the paddle, I wasn’t much competition.
But the rust began to wear off. I was routinely beating my friends. I generally played people I was on good terms with, mainly as a safety precaution. You never know how a convict is going to react to getting skunked, after all.
After a couple of weeks, I was a dominant player. I even began to talk it around that we should put together some sort of ping-pong tournament.
Then one day I walked into the room where the table was located and saw two of Sheriff Joe’s most favorite people in the world - illegal aliens who had been sent to Florence.
Have you watched those Chinese players in the Olympics? Well, that’s pretty close to what I saw while watching these two inmates play. They were simply crushing shots and, more surprisingly, the ball kept coming back over the net somehow.
It was then I realized that if there was a tournament at Florence West, I’d be competing for the bronze - at best.
But isn’t that how it goes in life? Sometimes you fancy yourself pretty good at something, based on what turns out to be pretty limited information.
Poetry is a good example of this. So is singing.
I know a lot of people who sing well. In fact, I have an old high school friend, Jan Grissom, who became one of the world’s top sopranos. Unfortunately, I’ve not had the opportunity to hear Jan sing.
But I’ve heard some people who I thought were pretty good. I am thinking primarily of some people I’ve heard singing at church.
But there is a different level. I realized this when the contemporary Christian group Avalon came to sing at the church I attended. I was simply amazed.
Yes, there is a whole ‘nother level when it comes to singing.
It’s like that with ping-pong, too.
And writing.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Getting the Star treatment

I sat in Steve Strickbine’s office in Scottsdale on Friday morning as we negotiated a deal for me to write columns for his monthly magazines. I use the word “negotiated’’ is the loosest possible terms. Here is how those negotiations went:
Steve: “We would like you to write a column for us each month.’’
Me: “OK.’’
Strickbine is the president of Times Publications. Most likely you have seen his magazines, which are circulated around the Valley as the Scottsdale Times, Gilbert Times, Chandler Times, East Mesa Times, Ahwatukee Times, Northeast Phoenix Times and Glendale Times. About 125,000 copies are printed and distributed at more than 3,000 locations across the Valley.
I have been aware of the Times for a while now. The format allows writers the space necessary to do some in-depth reporting, something you see less and less of in newspapers. What you also see in the Times that you rarely see in newspapers any more is a sense of fun. It’s a lively, entertaining, well-done product.
Probably the most recognizable name among the Time’s contributors is David Leibowitz, a former columnist at both the East Valley Tribune and Arizona Republic and radio show host at KTAR.
Leibowitz writes columns for the Times now. Steve gave me a whole bunch of back issues and I noted that Leibowitz’s columns appear near the front of the magazine. My column, Steve said, will run a little farther back, in the “Voices’’ section.
Now, I don’t know what this means, of course. Although it appears to me that I’m batting clean-up while Leibowitz is up there at the top of the batting order, trying to draw a walk or roll a trickler through the infield. Of course, that is just one way of looking at it, I realize.
At any rate, I’m really excited to have the chance to have my words put on newsprint again. That hasn’t happened with any regularity since Feb. 14, 2007, my last column at the Tribune.
Leibowitz came up in my conversation with Steve. On March 14, 2007, Leibowitz and I met that day under the most unusual of circumstances. I don’t remember what Dave was wearing, but I was wearing the black-and-white stripes, handcuffs and leg shackles. We met in a small room in the visitation area of the Durango Jail in Phoenix. I had been at Durango for 12 days at the time.
I don’t remember hardly anything else about our conversation except for the fact that Leibowitz had a Starbuck’s coffee. Prisoners in Maricopa County are not allowed to have coffee, so I remember fixating on that Starbuck’s cup. In his column, Leibowitz said he was fixated on my leg shackles.
Anyway, we talked about an hour, I think, and then Leibowitz left to write a column and I left to serve another 110 days in custody.
I never did get a chance to see Leibowitz’s column about me and I sort of forgot the whole thing pretty quick. At the time, I was a little preoccupied with not getting beat up by the other inmates.
But Friday, the subject came up and I asked Steve if he had that back issue. He found one and gave it to me.
I was eager to read Leibowitz’s column because I remember how emotionally exhausted I was at the time of the interview. As I turned to the column, I wondered if I had been able to articulate any coherent thought during the interview Not surprisingly, Leibowitz produced an interesting column, even though most of my observations about life in jail could be paraphrased in one phrase: “GET ME OUT OF HERE, PLEASE!’’
But what really caught my attention was the promo of the column on the cover of the magazine. In the top right hand corner of the cover, there was a picture of Leibowitz and a headline that read “Slim Smith’s Tumble’’ with small type that read “Jailhouse interview with a fallen star!’’
The promo was only half an exaggeration, I realize. Fallen, certainly. Star? Well, that’s a pretty liberal use of the term, don’t you think?
Still, I got a good chuckle out of it.
Yes, I think writing for the Times is going to be a lot of fun.
Look for my debut column in the September edition.
They say they are going to promo the column on the cover, too.
“Star Rises From the Ashes’’ is my guess.
Too funny!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A job inquiry

August 13, 2008

Ms. Marian Frank
Features Department
The Arizona Republic

Ms. Frank,
One of the angels who flitter around and fuss over me and generally look after my well-being forwarded your memo about the job opening you have for a lifestyle columnist for Arizona Living.
After reading the memo very carefully, I have decided to seek this position. I freely admit that I am an unconventional choice for this position in the sense that I am a man and you are looking for someone to write about “issues, trends and experiences that appeal to women 40-49 years old.’’
The conventional candidate, I realize, would be a female in that age range.
Well, there is nothing this side of Sweden I can do about that.
While I am not a female, I have lots of experience with females. My own mother was a female, in fact.
I was once married to a female and if I ever marry again, I intend to marry another female, most likely in the very 40-49 age group you are seeking to serve (I am 49).
I have a sister who is a female. Also, I am a father to a 16-year-old female, which I realize is almost like a sub-species at that bewildering age.
Many of my best friends are females.
Aside from my extensive experience with females, I believe I possess other qualities that suit me for the job.
During my tenure as Metro Columnist at the East Valley Tribune, I found that my
columns had great appeal among women, even though I did not necessarily tailor my subject matter to this demographic.
Women seem to like my writing style, which I would describe as warm, personal, funny and unpretentious (is it pretentious to consider yourself unpretentious, I wonder?)
Modesty aside, I have a singular talent for relating to people on an intimate, emotional level. Women readers especially value that quality, I’ve come to realize.
Male readers generally are fact-driven. A guy wants to know an athlete’s stats. Women, again speaking in general terms, are more interested in how the athlete treats his mama. Men want spreadsheets. Women want stories. That plays to my strength; I am a story-teller.
I also think I have a pretty good feel for what women in the 40-49 are all about. Most are well-established in their careers and homes. Their children are older and they are beginning to wonder if it is possible to have grandchildren without the unflattering necessity of actually being a grandma.
Women in this age group generally have a well-defined sense of identity. Unlike their younger peers, they seem to possess a healthier balance between their personal interests (health, aging, retirement, etc.) and more universal concerns (community, charity, the environment, “Dancing With The Stars.’’)
They read more, are more discriminate in their choices and more certain of their convictions. They have been around the block; you can’t fool them.
I admire women in this age group. They are smart, interesting people.
I would like to write for them.
I am pretty sure they would like that, too.
Thanks for your consideration.

Slim Smith

P.S. Your memo mentioned that you are looking for a mix of Anna Quindlan, Ellen Goodman and Dave Barry. The voices in my head were all excited to hear there are jobs out there for schizophrenics!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Beard dives into shallow end of the pool

Like most Arizonans watching the Olympics, I am rooting especially for the athletes who have Arizona ties.
There are a whole bunch of them, but I’ll not bother to suggest a number. I’ll leave that to the media, which appears to be obsessed with that sort of thing. Perhaps as a means of justifying the expense of sending reporters to China to cover the event “from an Arizona perspective,’’ some of the media have really gone to extremes to pronounce as many athletes as possible as having an Arizona connection.
Rest assured, if an Olympic athlete’s sister-in-law’s third cousin once went to NAU for a semester, that athlete is considered to have “Arizona ties.’’ Well, there is one Arizona athlete I simply can't root for.
Her name is Amanda Beard, a four-time Olympian and multiple medal-winner in swimming. Without question, Beard is a phenomenal talent. But I simply cannot cheer her on because she represents much of what I believe has gone desperately wrong in our culture.
Beard was making news long before she began her Olympic competition by posing nude, with an American flag as a backdrop, for a PETA ad. Beard explained that she posed nude to call attention to the cruelty of the fur industry.
Beard is an expert on this topic by virtue of having watched some PETA-produced videos about the subject.
I can only assume that before watching these videos, she was a wholesome, modest, decent young woman who - when confronted with the cruelty of the fur industry - did what any clear-headed, idealistic person would do - take all her clothes off and adorn herself with the invisible cloak of Bimbo-ism. I thought the American flag was a nice touch, too. It speaks so eloquently of all that is good and decent and virtuous in our country, don’t you think?
Now, this sort of distasteful extremism is only to be expected from PETA, whose president once wrote a letter of complaint to Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat when a suicide bomber committed the unspeakable atrocity of using a donkey in a bombing that - oh, by the way - killed a dozen or so innocent “non-animals.’’ The letter didn’t object to the human carnage, of course, since those victims were considered by PETA as merely collateral damage.
Yes, I think it is safe to say that there is no depth of poor taste PETA will not plumb in an effort to promote its agenda.
That is why I would like to have given Beard the benefit of the doubt by considering the possibility that she - being young, attractive and naive - was merely an unwitting pawn in PETA’s army of kooks.
There is no question she was an easy target for PETA recruiters, having grown up so very blond in Southern California and going to college at the University of Arizona in Tucson, otherwise known as Raza-ville. The girl never had a chance.
But, on the other hand, this was not Beard's first venture into exhibitionism. In a culture where Paris Hilton is the Queen of Empty-Headed Sexpots, Beard is obviously angling for a prominent place in her court.
Beard says she posed nude for PETA to support a cause. Well, I wonder: What cause she was advocating when she posed nude for Playboy and various other magazines that exists for primarily as an aid for men’s acts of, uh, self-gratification?
If you are female reading this, I hope you will take time out to enlighten me on this subject: What is it about the female gender that makes young girls consider being the object of lust for some greasy middle-aged truck-driver grunting in a restroom stall such a great achievement? I am reminded of a quote attributed to the late British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge: "How do I know pornography depraves and corrupts? It depraves and corrupts me.''
Some of you might be inclined to quibble over whether or not Beard's photos are pornographic. To clarify, here's what I have adopted as a reasonable standard for determining what is or isn't pornography: Would you be comfortable showing it to either your child or your mother?
Of course, in our Western culture, no one even bothers to ask that sort of question anymore. As the esteemed Hilton might say, “There’s nothing better than being hot.’’ Poor deluded soul.
So, no, I’ll not be cheering on Arizona’s favorite exhibitionist when she hit’s the pool in China. I don't believe in her "cause.'' In fact, I don't even believe in her sincerity in supporting it.
Beard can pontificate all she wants about the fur industry, but I’ll bet if Nike developed a swimsuit made from the hides of baby seals that would shave .01 seconds off her time, she’d be out there balancing a beach ball on her nose and barking “Gimme!‘’

Monday, August 4, 2008

Why Tupelo "Rocks!''

I do not know what it was that turned my attention to my hometown. Maybe it is the uncertain nature of my current prospects. The clouds of my childhood are white and fluffy; those on the horizon, bleak and foreboding.
Maybe it was just a random thought that popped in my mind and snuggled in for a while, you know, sort of like a tune that keeps playing in your head.
Maybe it was something I ate.
Whatever the reason, I’ve been a little preoccupied with pleasant thoughts of home, which in my case is Tupelo, Mississippi.
As is often the case with hometowns, I realize that Tupelo is a great place to live if you don't actually live there anymore.
If you have heard of Tupelo, most likely it is because Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Also, Tupelo pops up from time to time in song lyrics, which suggests it must have some lyrical quality that my limited training renders me unable to identify.
When I lived there 30 years ago, the population was around 20,000, which qualified Tupelo as a major city by Mississippi standards. That meant that Tupelo residents were adorned with an air of big-city sophistication that people in Pontotoc or Booneville or Baldwin could never claim.
Tupelo was designated as an “All-America City’’ in the early 60s. Also, Tupelo was the first city to get its electric power from the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s. There was a Civil War battle there, but I don’t remember who won.
But most of all, Tupelo takes inordinate pride in being the “birthplace of Elvis.’’ He is not the only famous singer from Tupelo, though. Guy Hovis, Jr. is from Tupelo. He was a singer on the Lawrence Welk Show. But perhaps the best singer, judged solely on the quality of voice, is Jan Grissom. I went to high school with Jan, but I didn’t find out until recently that she went on to become a world-renowned soprano, a member of the Metropolitan Opera who sang with Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo and a lot of other famous opera stars I never heard of.
Of more prominence, at least in my view, is that she was not once, but twice a guest on the “Prairie Home Companion’’ radio show with Garrison Kellior. Let me state now that I would do anything - including contract killing - to be on the "Prairie Home Companion'' show.
Yes, like most folks from Tupelo, I am proud of my hometown.
It has little to do with the honors it has received or the talented people who call it home.
Instead, it is the city’s healthy self-image. Tupelo is a great place because the people there believe it is. It is a town that takes some things very seriously - education and community service - but doesn’t take itself too seriously. People there are as inclined to embrace their quirks as quickly as their virtues.
As evidence of this quality, I submit this story about Tupelo:
Long before I came along, there was a pedestal outside the entrance of the Leake & Goodlett building supply store on East Main St. On it, there was a large oval stone. This, too, was a point of pride for the community.
There was an inscription on the pedestal that identified the stone as “The Tupelo Meteorite.’’
The inscription tells how the 1,100-pound meteorite fell to the earth near Nettleton, Miss., in 1870 where it was discovered by a farmer whose initial thought was likely to have been, “Great, another big, stupid rock I have to plow around!’’
Now, people in that agrarian part of the world are familiar with rocks of all shapes, sizes and hues. But there was something about this rock that suggested it was unique, even other-worldly. For one thing, there was its symmetry; rocks are rarely as oval as this one. The other thing was that, at least according to the farmer, the rock wasn’t in the field one day, but was the next. Your average, every-day, run-of-the-mill rock generally just doesn't show up in people's fields unannounced.
So based on such empirical evidence, the rock was proclaimed to be a meteorite and was brought to town and given a place of prominence. After all, there aren't many towns that have their own meteorites. Memphis doesn't have one. Neither does Atlanta or New Orleans.
The rock that suddenly appeared out of nowhere didn’t always stay put, though. Over the years, it could be found on the top of Dudie’s Dinner, in the foyer of the high school and at numerous other inappropriate venues around town. I confess that I had a hand in pilfering the meteorite and placing it in the foyer of the high school in 1977. I can say that now because the statute of limitation on such an offense has almost certainly expired by now.
But in 1980, a Dr. John Harris (a Yankee, I strongly suspect) happened to come across the meteorite as he was driving through Tupelo on the way to Ole Miss to give a lecture to whatever sober students he could round up.
Harris was a NASA chemist and nuclear physicist, so the Tupelo Meteorite was of great professional interest. He asked someone, probably Mayor Ballard, if he could borrow the meteorite to take it back to Houston for closer examination. Well, given the fact that people had been "borrowing'' the meteorite for years - and for far less edifying purposes - Mayor Ballard could hardly object.
Well, he should have, because a few months later Harris returned and pronounced that the meteorite was, uh, meteor-wrong. “It’s just a chunk of concreted sandstone,’’ he said.
It is at this point, where the true character of Tupelo was best exhibited. In fact, I consider it the town's finest hour.
I suspect that most towns, upon hearing that for more than 100 years they had been being paying homage to a chunk of concreted sandstone, would have taken great pains to quickly distance itself from the matter and hope that everybody else, especially those rubes in Pontotoc or Booneville or Baldwin, would eventually quit laughing.
But that is not the course that Tupelo pursued.
Instead, they quietly took possession of this giant rock and simply placed it back on its pedestal.
Furthermore, the inscription on the pedestal was not amended in any way.
It strikes me as an act of quiet, dignified defiance.
That is why, in the highly unlikely event that you happen to find yourself on East Main St. in Tupelo Mississippi, you will see The Tupelo Meteorite sitting proudly on its pedestal out front of the Leake & Goodlettt building.
Unless of course, it’s on the top of Dudie’s Dinner.