I reckon iffin I were hard pressed to name my favorite meal, it would be two fried pork chops and the trimmings.
It ain’t been long ago since I was out of the state for an extended period of time. Matter of fact I was visiting that “C” state on the west coast, where they eat more tacos and other foreign cuisine than just about any other state. Half of what’s on their overpriced menu comes to the table reeking of garlic and the unpleasantry of other high society spices. My notion of spices is black pepper and salt.
After my last bite I don’t want to have to spray a breathalyzer freshener over my tongue or eat a half bottle of minty hardtack before I’m fit to kiss my wife.
Nevertheless, when I returned from my vacation I wanted myself a decent meal. Just so happened I had fried pork chops on my mind and I knowed right whur I could find ‘em. My grill and headlights headed straight towards Corbett Hill’s famed Dollies Deli.
As I walked through the door my old farmer buddies gave me that warm greeting as only country folks know how to do. Preston Thornton slapped me on the back with a “whur in the heck have you been, old man?” The pecan cracker Tom Britt walked in followed by David Grantham. The screen door banged behind them as they joined the “welcoming” committee. After pleasantries, Tom and David pulled straight-backed churs up to a red-checkered oil cloth covered table and picked up a menu.
Ray Brogden was enjoying a succulent looking dish of something but the minute he saw me, he came over and greeted me with a firm handshake. I reckon he was the onliest man in the place who was my senior. We’d known each other from the days we grew up at the “Hill.”
After more back-slapping greetings I set myself up at one of the three bar stools. Dollie’s place is small. Preston throwed his long legs up over the stool to my left. That was about the time Mangrum Brock from the other side of the creek comes through the door. “Who’s settin on dat other bar stool?” he asked.
“It’s yorn, I saved it for you.” And up he clum.
Then here comes Dollie herself with that million-dollar smile. “Welcome home, stranger!” as she pecked me on the cheek. “Whattta ya dranking?”
“Just cold ice water.”
“What about you two?” “The same,” said Brock. Preston ordered sweet tea.
“You know what you want, or do you need more time with the menu?”
“I know exactly what I want. The same as always, two fried pork chops, mashed taters and gravy, green beans and a side of apple sauce.”
The words were no sooner out uv my mouth when you’d uv thunk I was a stand-up comic who had just dropped a big ‘un. Laughter rattled the rafters. I looked to my left and Thornton was doubled over. Brock was ha ha-ing and stomping his foot on the floor.
I looked at Dollie. She was faking composure, but hands doubled over her mouth could not suppress the hee-hee-hees!
Finally she asked, “Sir, didn’t you know? I ain’t been able to get no pork chops from my supplier for three months.”
“Then I’ll take some backbone and cabbage?”
More laughter. Ray Brogden came back to my stool and said, “Son, why do you thank I’m settin over thar with no pork chops on my plate? Hog farmers are all but out of business. Do-gooders, greedy lawyers and people with an aversion to the smell of hog droppings are chomping at the bit to shut ‘em down. ACLU and PETA have jumped into the back of their bandwagons. What little hog meat is available comes from China, and that’s sold at exorbitant prices. Most goes into pork fried rice at Chinese restaurants.”
I turns to Preston and say, “Please tell me it ain’t so.” Mangrum chimed in, “He’s right, and it won’t be long before you won’t be able to chew on a dark-meat turkey leg either.”
“Well, what are you boys gonna do? Preston, you raise hogs, and Mangrum, don’t you still have turkey houses?”
“Nawsir! I saw the writin’ on the wall a long time ago. I’ve already switched from turkeys to parrots.”
“Who’s gonna eat parrot meat?”
“Nobody, we parrot farmers are selling their ‘talk.’”
“Will the smell of their droppings meet the guidelines of that new International Anti-stankers Commission?”
“Yes, sir. Parrots are fed on a special compound developed right here at our own Corbett Hill University.”
“A couple of professors, brilliant men both, came up with the formula. Parrott diet is basically the same as for turkeys, but Purina has added the professors’ supplemental formula which is made from flowers. I’m told it comes from a blend of roses, gardenias and sweet betsies. You might not believe, it but working around my houses is akin to working in an upscale florist shop.”
“Couldn’t the same formula be used for turkeys?”
“Not to date. I’m told their system is lacking the digestive enzyme that is common in parrots. However, the professors have not completely given up on turkeys.”
“When you say, ‘Sell their talk,’ what do you mean?”
“To begin with, parrots are somewhat of a novelty. For years only the wealthy could afford one, and they were used mostly for entertainment. This new industry has found that if you train parrots to say the right thangs, they will sell.”
“Who would you consider a potential customer?”
“We’re training some to say ‘amen,’ or sang a few lines of ‘Amazing Grace.’ They’re popular with preachers.
“Others are trained to say d*** or h*** and a few other salty words. Our biggest market for that grouping has been among former servicemen who’ve missed the camaraderie of former buddies with swearing tongues. Preachers shun them.
“However, pioneers in the field of parrot raising, which is a relatively new phenomenon, feel the very best market will be among politicians ... at all levels of government.”
“How did you learn what sort of language to teach for that market?”
“That was easy. I paid a pretend lobbyist to set in on a few legislative sessions and record the proceedings. Recording local city and county council meetings was a cinch even when the sparks flew.”
“And, so, what can your parrots say from a political point of view?”
“First of all, we have them separated. Since this is our biggest market, I took one entire turkey house and divided it into a red section and a blue section representing primary political parties. Of course I had to put a sound barrier in between. Then I turned on recordings with repetitive messages, mostly on how to argue.
“I have a small pandemonium (flock) of birds that can make the sound of a gavel. The gavel sound is used if, perchance, they get around to finalizing a piece of legislation.”
“What, say, does the average price run for one of your birds?”
“Depends on the number of words one can say. They can be as cheap as $50. But let’s say a member of the legislature wants to take an extended vacation, he’ll shell out $1,000 in a heartbeat. A thousand-dollar parrot can speak a thousand words, and the owner has the option of sending him to Raleigh should he have to be absent.
“Fifty-dollar birds are trained for governors and candidates running for governor. They’re seven-word parrots — no, yes, and let me think about it.”
“Mangrum, that’s all the parrot information I can absorb for one setting. Keep me posted on how sales go over the next few weeks.”
By that time I had finished two glasses of ice water. Thornton was still sipping iced tea. I turned to him and asked, “Do you believe everthang Brock just told me?”
“Absolutely, I’ve seen his operation.”
“So have you changed your hog operation over to parrots?”
“No, I’m raising possums.”
I bout fell offen my chur at that. “For what? Their hides?”
“Well, that does provide a residual market, but the better part of our profit comes from the high demand of the delicacy of their meat.”
I was floored — almost breathless. I have been a friend to the possum population for years. Finally, it sounds like the underappreciated marsupial is about to make a comeback.
“Are you boys ‘bout ready to order?” pipes up Dollie. “You know we close at 3 o’clock.”
“I tell you what, brang me the same thang that my buddy, Ray Brogden, is chowing down on over thar.”
“How you want it?”
“Pat!” she yells over her shoulder, “One possum pot pie — on the double and well done!”
As the cook set the pie on the pass-through, I saw it was none other than Pat Grady, one of Corbett Hill’s most prominent and beloved citizens.
After desserts, I asked Mangrum if he would mind telling me the names of the professors who developed the non-stank formula. I had in mind interviewing one or both for a future column.
“Well, who else? None other than your uncles, Dr. Screech and Professor Hoot Owl!”
I shore hope that on tomorrow’s April Fools’ Day you’ll be able to come up with something as worthy as today’s “parrot-ty.”
But in seriousness, I say be wary of the assault on hog farmers and their livelihood. They’re in the sights of loaded guns all across the nation.