To South Carolina for pig-pickin

So, what’s the story with South Carolina, Greg asked me last night. Well, I’m not sure how best to describe the setup, but here goes:

  • My uncle and aunt live one hill over from my parents on the family farmland in western North Carolina
  • My uncle retired as an executive in a transportation company; his company has an executive retreat in a forest in South Carolina
  • Said retreat features fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and other outdoor sports facilities (when I was younger (11?) I rode a horse for the first and last time there; it bolted and I got a bloody tuchus)
  • My parents, my aunt and uncle, and another couple or two are sharing a multi-bedroom house at the retreat for a week next week
  • I managed to squeeze in two days off next week to join them
  • I will arrive on Saturday, the day before the pig-pickin’

What’s a pig-pickin’, my Northern readers are now asking. It’s something like a barbecue, if by barbecue you mean “cooking and eating a ridiculous amount of pork cooked on a fire.” But that doesn’t do it justice; neither does this (though it gives a little of the flavor and some of the recipe). All I can say is, after you’ve been cooking a whole pig on an enormous grill for a day, you’ll be hungry enough to eat anything. The fact that even without the anticipation the meat (dressed in a vinegar sauce only, please, no “smoky barbecue” tomato sauce here) is ambrosial is icing on the cake. And of course there are all the side dishes, and beverages, and occasionally (if it’s a pig-pickin’ that my uncle organized) live country music.

Why is it called a pig-pickin’? Well, because after being cooked over a slow fire all day the pork is soft and moist enough to be pulled off the pig and eaten with one’s bare hands, if one is feeling barbaric. And after a taste of the stuff, one could certainly feel that way. It does seem to awaken a deep hunger. In fact, I’m hungry now…

So this has been a dry week for posting, partly because I’ve been crazy busy at the office, but partly in anticipation of the stories to come.

Happy birthday, Al

My father-in-law celebrated his birthday today with us at Szmania’s. I only hope that I can be half as feisty, and in half as good a shape mentally and physically, when I’m an octogenarian-plus. (Yes, my in-laws are in town. A suspension of garden postings is in order, since my mother-in-law, a true pro, is here to straighten us out.)

Esta: back, without photos

Esta reports on her trip home to the family ancestral stomping grounds, where they visited Dave and Sally’s home at Betty’s Cove on Bear Creek, and came away with memories but no photos:

Through the entire expedition I’d been taking pictures like a madwoman, with my aunt joking about Pulitzer prizes. I had my Dad’s camera slung around my neck, and took rather painstaking care with focus and light, hunting for unique perspectives. From the cove we went to Antioch church, where my grandparents and many other relatives are buried. I took more pictures of the headstones, documenting dates and relations for future reference. Willie, Johnnie and Alice; distant cousins I hadn’t known existed, all dead before they reached 25. A Lunsford ancestor who died in the Spanish-American war. Obidiah and Polly O’Dell — I don’t have enough time for all the stories about them.

Yeah, lots of pictures. Too bad there wasn’t any film in the camera.

I talked to her late yesterday morning as she was driving home. She’s bringing back a stack of recipes from my grandmother’s collection. Apparently most of them are clipped rather than written down, since she mostly made up what she cooked, except for cake recipes. But we’re still hopeful to find some gems.

Esta: “I got in”

Big huge congrats to Esta are due:

…no sweat on the admissions. You’re in as of yesterday afternoon. A letter goes in the mail today.

My sister, the seminarian. I’m so proud (sniff).

It’s worth noting, now that we can’t jinx the admission, that she’s continuing in a long tradition of ministry on my mom’s side that goes at least as far back as Benedictus Brackbill, who was born in 1665. No pressure, kid. 🙂

A promising arrival: Johnathon Levengood

Add my voice to Esta’s congratulating my cousin Catherine and her husband Jeremy on the birth of their first child, a boy; and to my grandfather on becoming a great-grandfather (not that he wasn’t already. Ba-dum-pssh!). I’m definitely going to have to plan another East Coast sweep in June when I go out for the Sloan reunion so Lisa and I can meet little “Chonnie.”

Updated 3/5/2003: Okay, I got the name wrong (now corrected). It is in honor of my uncle, but it’s Johnathon, not John. And apparently they don’t want to use diminutives (which I can understand), so “Chonnie” is out. After this post.

Digging through Virginia

Esta breaks what was for me a five-year-old cone of silence and gives a peek inside her year as a professional contract archaeologist. Her job had her contracting to the state of Virginia, digging (per state law) at sites where the state planned to construct new public works to make sure that nothing of historical significance would be disturbed. A really cool job, right?

The constant traveling wore thin quickly, but the honeymoon would have lasted longer if not for the minimum wage, lack of decent benefits, creepy bosses and that thing about telling people their houses were going to be bulldozed.

Still, it taught her to swing a shovel. And gave her fantastic grist for the writing mill:

Rolling out of bed at 5 a.m. to get to the site on time and make the most of the sunlight. Living in longjohns, ripped jeans, flannel shirts, wool socks and beat-up boots. Staying covered in a poison ivy rash for nine months straight. Scraping deer ticks from my jeans with a trowel. The infamous black widow bite that didn’t kill me but made me wish it would. Eating lunch wherever we could, with preference given to rural gas stations that serve fried frogs legs and potato wedges, all-you-can-eat Mexican buffets that didn’t mind mud on their carpets, and diners with good pie.

Get well soon, Dad

A quick shout out to my father. As Esta reported, he went in for carpal tunnel surgery today. The preliminary news is that he came through the surgery well and is okay to travel. This is actually the second time he’s had surgery for the same condition, which gives me lots of confidence in the procedure… Carpal tunnel syndrome appears to be another one of those conditions that runs in the family. I have at various times felt stirrings of the distinctive pain, and Lisa has had fairly severe bouts with it at various times. Here’s best wishes that Dad’s surgery is a complete success and that he’ll be back to painless wrenching on the MG’s twin carburetors soon.

Presentses, my precious

Almost forgot. I gave Lisa a few presents this year to make up for a couple B-school Christmases without: an All-Clad 8 quart pot, a Cuisinart mini-prep, and a couple books on dogs to make up for the fact that we didn’t manage to get any puppies under the tree. We’re still working on finding a breeder for the Bichon Frise puppies she wants to get.

Emptier house

I just got back from taking my parents and sister to the airport. It feels weird not having a totally full house. Lisa’s folks will be here for another week, so we’ll be able to taper off slowly.

Now that our five-guest experiment is back to two, I can report it was mostly a success. One thing we figured out a few days in is that it’s a lot harder to get seven people moving in the morning than two or four. We had a long list of activities, but each morning by the time everyone ate breakfast and showered it was almost time for lunch.

We’re off to do a bit of after-Christmas shopping. Should be fun, he said grimly.