When I was a boy, I won an essay contest sponsored by the local library committee in my hometown in the central hills of Mississippi. The speaker at the awards presentation was a lady from a little literary society in the Delta (I forget where; in retrospect, probably Greenville; the snootiest people who breathe are from Greenville, Mississippi). 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 stores sold out of teeny-tiny white cotton gloves the very next morning).
Being a brash young thing and all of 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 does she keep in that clever little 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 in all the confidence of Luther with 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 about 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, not the least impressive being the friend who gave me this 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—not just any delta, you understand, but the DELTA—with vocal capitalization, and know to acknowledge the exclusivity (if not divinity) of its native sons and daughters, many of whom I love with all my heart. Occasionally I do slip and call them Bourbonists, but they shrug it off, thinking it’s a slur on their thirst rather than their politics.
For an antipasto dip or dressing, cream 10 ounces of a good blue cheese with four crushed and sieved anchovies, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, and a scant teaspoon very, very finely minced garlic. Refrigerate overnight; bring to room temperature before serving.