I was standing in the buffet line after church when the fight broke out. Now, folks, we weren’t in the Green Lantern in Natchez, Mississippi, where a fight is as near as your mother-in-law on a cross country road trip. This was a moderately fancy restaurant with attentive servers and well-appointed accouterments. I backed away quickly from the fried chicken livers to avoid the fray and instinctively sought out the source of the pushing and shoving. It was a gaggle of ladies wrestling over the beets!
We had to be in West Tennessee.
It’s the only place in the world where fisticuffs flare and feelings run hot over a vegetable that has never sponsored a TV show or had poems written about them. I’m not anti-beet by any means. I have actually eaten them on occasion. Aunt Beatrice would serve up pickled beets at Thanksgiving and Christmas that would melt in your mouth. Mother pushed them off on us as “a very healthy food”. Of course, she said the same thing about spinach, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and spam.
I might could have envisioned a stand-off over the last country fried steak or maybe the sole remaining piece of homemade coconut cream pie. Leon, David and I once fought all afternoon over a lone chicken leg. But we’re talking beets here, people! I’ve crawled on my belly like a reptile through the wild Johnson weeds to bust open one of Mr. Archie Moore’s ripening watermelons. I walked Cynthia Wheat home so many times we wore out a path across Bethel College’s front lawn to get close to her mother’s sugar cookies. I’ve had wild cravings for chocolate milk shakes, pork shank and baked beans, Milk Duds, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, rutabagas and fried catfish. But beets don’t exactly set your heart on fire as a “go to” dish. And fighting over them in a public restaurant seems to me to fall into the “Bridge Too Far” category. Jerry Springer couldn’t have orchestrated this!
We were in fact in West Tennessee; Milan to be exact. And this is no indictment on that particular partition of the great Volunteer state. I’m just saying that I doubt womenfolk go toe to toe over beets at an upper Manhattan eatery, in a dinner club in New Orleans or at a fancy Hollywood bistro. And I can’t picture any scenario where the Chicago police rush in and arrest fourteen ladies for brawling over an emptying pan of beets.
West Tennessee people take their eating a mite more serious than some. I had already taken note of the hominy on this buffet going like fifty cent pan cakes at a Kiwanis sale. The lines were long in front of the cabbage and mustered greens bins as you would expect. But nothing beat (no pun intended) the throng congregated around the ruby complexioned root.
I held my plate over my head and elbowed my way toward the center of the action. I had to get a closer look. Order was near ’bout restored before I could snake my way to the front. I couldn’t tell if the red faced men breaking up the fracas were mad or embarrassed.
“What happened?” I asked the petite little girl that had seated us.
“Wilma Dean was late getting the beets out.” She said it like the restaurant was somehow responsible.
“Does this happen often?” I was craning my neck under the glass to get a look at what must be the best tasting beets on earth. The cupboard was bare.
“Only when Wilma Dean takes one of her slow notions.”
I tried to picture a “slow notion” as I moved back to let Wilma Dean empty a whole new bucket of beets onto the buffet. The crowd standing around with half filled plates cheered. You can’t even get this kind of stuff on “Duck Dynasty”.
“We have plenty; please line up in an orderly fashion.” The petite girl apparently doubled as referee. I wasn’t about to line up for beets. I moseyed over to the country ham and red-eye gravy, green beans, squash, fresh tomatoes and cornbread. I could survive without the beets.
You know how the Lord will work on you right out of the blue at times. I was buttering up my cornbread when it dawned on me, “How many of those nice folks fighting over the beets had just come from church?” Many were sporting their Sunday best. I wondered if any of the morning sermons were on that peace that passes all understanding, the patience of Job or Jesus’ command to love thy neighbor. Them West Tennesseans are truly a “peculiar people”! I was standing up to ask for a show of hands of all that had just come from a worship service when that verse about “judge not lest you be judged” smote me in the eye.
I figured we’d had about as much fun as could be had at one meal. I’m pretty sure Jesus never turned beets into wine or fed five thousand with them. But I thanked Him for our meal anyway, and was especially grateful that Olive Loaf wasn’t on the buffet……a full blown riot might have broken out!