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 Ruby's Road: Southland

Ruby's RoadThe olfactory sense can trigger memories and images buried deep away from mundane daily synapse firing. The smell of a wet sidewalk after a summer rain, a box of new crayons and of course, Play-Doh can instantaneously reawaken childhood past as easily as the smell of stale beer resurfaces the days of brutal college bash hangovers. Back from a 2-week Florida stint visiting family, I caught a sudden whiff on the air that awakened a familiar but seldom visited brain quadrant of teenage years – Allman Brothers and The Outlaws suddenly shook loose in full surround sound from somewhere within the surviving cells of that late 60's era of wild experimentation, peace and love stirred with a smattering of youthful hormonal rage. But what was that aroma plunging me into recall?

Most people envision beaches and Disney when they think of Florida and never consider that it was, and still is, part of the deep southern culture with all its pros and cons. Fortunately, it was the positive aspects that the mind was revisiting through the sense of smell – the laid back climate and lush flora – the antebellum architecture blended with the building boom glory days of the 1930s, live oaks draped in gently swaying Spanish moss, the overpowering sweetness of night blooming jasmine, and acres of orange groves in bloom – a scent that could drift for miles to find your nose – and conversely in a winter cold spell, the burning stench of smudge pots warming the freezing air throughout the rows of unripened fruit.

Involuntarily succumbing to the heat induced afternoon nap in the shade of a porch where, drooling sweetly in your coma, you hope the palmetto bugs – Godzilla roaches the size of a chihuahua – won't carry your trance-like body off to feed their bizillion offspring. When you awaken there's ice cold lemonade and...what was that savory smell wafting through the air?

My teen years were spent whiling away the afternoons and weekends in the smoke filled room of my best friend, James Peter Britton known to all as J.B., but called in a thick drawn out accent by his momma as ”Jimmeee...” J.B.'s family lived in a ramshackle wooden house built right after the Civil War, leaning defiantly as though Robert E. Lee himself was still holding up the place.

The Brittons were financially poor but J.B.'s mom always had enough food to go around for his half dozen or so friends that showed up after school every day... as well as the 25 felines lounging around the empty cat food cans littering the back porch. It's that southern hospitality of feeding and sharing and politeness. On the couch greeting all the long-haired hippies who came and went was grandma, who in her 90-some years could recount the stories of the Civil War still fresh in the minds of those who lived to tell them to her as a child.

The inner sanctum of J.B.'s room was engulfed in black light psychedelic posters of bands and politics of the Vietnam war; self-mastered artwork, and paraphernalia which produced the smoke that billowed out every time someone opened the door. Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane performed just for us from a scratchy turntable when guitars weren't being played, poetry wasn't being read or discourse about the evils of “the Man and the Establishment” wasn't going down. It didn't take long at J.B.'s tea party to produce a ravenous appetite ... and what was that culinary bouquet coming from the kitchen where J.B.'s mom seemed to be in perpetual bathrobe, spatula in hand, over a frying pan on the stove?

Like Alice falling into the rabbit hole, we all tumbled out of the den of creativity to find his mom calling to us in her southern lilt slow and sweet like warm honey in the sun, “Ya'll hungry? I got some grits and eggs and gravy... ” Oh...that delectable smell of southern cookin' when you had the baddest case of the munchies in the history of mankind – served up with generous homemade goodness and so much love.

That smell... of truly fried deep south, down home cuisine meant to pamper the soul and the belly like a love song. There it was sending me back to the universe of J.B.'s mother's kitchen of 40 years ago – only I'm standing in front of the Forest Queen in Crested Butte – with the aroma from the new Josephine's kitchen transporting me to a simpler time. Was I hallucinating the menu? Collard greens, grits, biscuits and gravy. Meatloaf and fried chicken and catfish. Fried green tomatoes and... can it be? Fried okra? Yes!

With tears welling in memory of all those long gone southland friends and good times, I order one of every side dish on the menu and turn the ipod headphones up to a deafening roar as The Outlaws' 4-guitar army of southern rock wails Green Grass & High Tide Forever – the lyrics written by J.B. The nose knows, and remembers... never underestimate the power of good food, friends, music and love...

“Time and time again I've thanked them for a peace of mind that helped me find myself amongst the music and the rhyme that enchants you there... Green grass and high tides forever; Castles of stone souls and glory Lost faces say we adore you as kings and queens bow and play for you" Lyrics: James Peter Britton… music: The Outlaws.

Dawne Belloise
Freelance writer and photographer

Posted On Wednesday, June 18, 2008

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