When I was a boy, I won an essay contest sponsored by the local library committee in my hometown in the north Mississippi hills. The speaker at the awards presentation was a lady from some literary society in the Delta.
This woman just radiated dignity and graciousness from the top of her pill-box hat cum veil to the bottoms of her sensibly modest heels. She even wore little white cotton gloves with mother-of-pearl buttons. The ladies on our library committee were just undone by this exotic creature (the local women’s apparel store sold out of teeny-tiny white cotton gloves the very next morning).
Being a brash thirteen years old, I was totally unimpressed; I just wanted to grab my $25 check and dash, but I had to sing for my supper by sitting through (poorly) selected passages from Lanterns on the Levee. Somehow, I don’t think our girls—who, I’ll remind you, played a big hand in the literary life of our little town—were listening; they had only one thing on their mind: “What all’s she got in that purse?”
But I listened, and as I did, it slowly dawned on me that this lady was proselytizing; she had set her beady, be-vailed hat towards bringing the gilded prose of Percy to us heathen hill folk with the flattest, longest vowels possible with all the fervency of Luther bearing a hammer.
My Aunt Robbie Rae made me stay for the reception (cookies and Kool-Aid with a discreet splash of Evan Williams for everyone but me). The grande dame, to my mind, seemed just a tad bit patronizing to the other ladies. (They didn’t notice, of course; they were too busy pumping the old girl for the best places in Memphis to shop.) As our august speaker left, she came up to congratulate me, and even though I was as tall as she was, she patted me on the head.
To me that bit of petty patting summed up her whole attitude. By the time she left I was ready to lead the next revolt of the rednecks. I would have been willing enough to dismiss this exhibition of arrogance as an individual aberration until I met others from the Delta, like the friend who gave me this antipasto dressing recipe.
You see, I was so ignorant: I didn’t know that the Delta was as close to the celestial as geography gets and that its denizens were canonized at birth. I did not know that my forehead automatically slopes when I mention that I am from Calhoun County.
But now I know better; I know to speak of the Delta—”DAY-uhL-Tuh”–and have come to acknowledge the exclusivity (if not quite their quasi/semi/demi divinity) of its children, many of whom (he hastens to add) I love with all my heart.
Occasionally I slip and call them Bourbonists, but they shrug it off, thinking it’s a slur on their legendary thirst rather than their politics. It’s not.
Cream 10 ounces of a good blue cheese with four crushed and sieved anchovies, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, and a clove of finely-minced garlic. Refrigerate overnight; bring to room temperature before serving.