Kudzu, Cotton and Red Clay Banks

 

I’ve battled kudzu for the past thirty years.  Some bright soul decided to import it from Japan and somehow the smothering vine has found a growing spot near my garden and is trying to cover a gully cut by a stream.

Kudzu became a great erosion control method, so great it has been called the “Plant that ate the South.”  Below my garden, near the creek, I saw my first Kudzu runner this morning.  The war begins again, a war that I am gradually losing.

Sorry, you’ll have to allow me a “pig trail” memory.  I remember cotton growing in the huge field across from my childhood home…and kudzu growing in the eroded ravine bordering that huge field.  It reminded me of the old Tarzan movies we watched on a black and white television on Sundays after church.  It was a jungle and I feared walking near it.  My childish mind imagined a tropical rainforest flourishing just across the road…lions and tigers and big snakes, oh my!

There was a smaller field of cotton growing behind my house above an eroded red clay bank separating the cotton from the field of corn growing below it.  There was no kudzu growing on the bank but should have been.  Broom straw was all that grew on its banks.

That’s not quite true, my mother grew there too…grew weary of having to clean my permanently red-stained clothes after I played on it.  Until I was old enough to pick cotton or pull corn I honed my imagination playing on those eroded red clay banks.

Tonka toy trucks and earthmovers created redoubts and ramparts to protect little green plastic soldiers who fought for their lives in the battles I created.  Later, as I outgrew the trucks and soldiers, my friends would join me as we refought World War Two battles with cap pistols and my Combat, the television show, Thompson Sub-Machine gun.  Sergeant Saunders would have been proud.  Momma wasn’t.  She still battled my clothing and was a bit peeved when she found me using her aluminum mixing bowl as an army helmet.

None of those items exist anymore…except…the kudzu.  The fields have given over to condominiums. Tonka toys passed down to my younger siblings as I outgrew them, green soldiers became lost somewhere in the sands of time.  Plastic, green soldier heaven I guess…or hell.  My machine gun, carelessly abandoned, run over in the prime of its life by an uncaring bicyclist.

I don’t see a lot of cotton grown near my upstate home.  I see a lot of kudzu.  On trips to the coast in the late fall, I once saw expansive fields growing cotton.  Cotton bolls bursting white in the fall as the fields sped by outside of my car window.  Big green, red or orange machines rolling in unison, replacing the slaves, sharecroppers and po’ white trash who picked it by hand in a time long past.  Even with mechanization, much of the cotton has been replaced by soybeans.

I say po’ white trash because I can.  I used to be a part of the po’ white trash or po’ white at least.  I never thought of us as trash…nor even poor I guess.  Sometimes life is quite rich without the need for money.  Even the owners of the lands we worked were “landed” rich with little actual money.  We worked side by side with the black sharecroppers, their hands callused over from the daylight to dark of night days making four dollars a day…1950s and 60s money.  Let’s see…that’s about forty dollars a day in today’s money, less than three hundred a week in today’s green money for a six-day week.  Not a lot of money to realize your dreams.

Kudzu was planted in the United States in the late nineteenth century as a foul joke.  Not really, it was a novelty, touted as fodder for livestock.  I admit my goats loved it.  When they grazed was the last time I had the vine controlled.  Shouldn’t have gotten rid of the goats.  Good grazing but not good to dry and bail.  Too heavy and wet.

On a bad day, a vine of kudzu will grow six inches in a twenty-four-hour period.  I don’t think kudzu has ever known a bad day.  In optimum growing conditions, which seems to be any humid, Southern summer day, it will grow a foot a day.  I swear on my dead mother’s grave the statement is not an embellishment.  I’ve watched it do it.

Roundup doesn’t work despite spraying it every two weeks and by “All Things Holy,” don’t burn it…it just grows back stronger than before.  I once attached a chain to a large root and tried to pull it up with my thirty-two-horsepower green tractor that does not run like a deer…the root pulled my front end off the ground before the root broke.  As far as I know, the root is still growing toward China.  I guess I need to mend my fences and get a goat.

In the 1930’s many cotton fields had played out and been abandoned due to the depression and the low prices accompanying it.  Erosion had begun to do its dirty deed in fields over plowed and undernourished.  Kudzu was used successfully for erosion control…too successfully.  I’ve seen stands of fifty-foot pines covered, bending under the weight, and abandoned cabins totally enveloped by the vine.  During the winter their gray outlines are almost ghostly.

Beware if you are living next to a stand.  Be vigilant and do not leave your windows open.  A person might wake up trapped in their bed by long green vines.

Like Don Miller’s writer’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is of an abandoned home about a week from being covered in Kudzu courtesy of http://www.discover.uga.edu

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“Warm Biscuits on a Sunday….”

 

I absolutely love Kelly Clarkson, her voice, her sass, and her sense of humor.  If I were younger…and unmarried, I’d go to Nashville and camp out on her front doorstep…wait, she’s married?  To Reba McEntire’s son, you say?  Well, I’m not going to break up her marriage over something she said.

Southern and brazen,  with a voice as rich as Tennessee whiskey and biting as corn likker, Kelly likened a singer’s voice to “warm biscuits on a Sunday with butter drizzlin’ off of em’?”  How Southern is that!

An inner voice asked, “What does it mean?”

Another inner voice attempted to clarify, “Well…I guess…um…well…butter my butt and call me a biscuit, I don’t have a clue.”

I never heard that exclamation of surprise until I was an adult and I am not sure how authentic it is.  It does sound Southern.  “Buttah mah butt and call me ah biscuit.”  Yeah, rolls off of the tongue Southern but why would you wish your biscuit to fall out of your mouth?  That question came from the crazier of the voices in my head.  It does get crowded in there but never boring.

I’m not totally sure what Kelly meant.  I think it probably means “damn good” because biscuits drizzled in butter on a Sunday are “damn good” and, at least for me, a little bit poignant.

I love homemade biscuits and can’t think of anything better than a buttered, homemade biscuit on a Sunday…or any other day of the week for that matter.  Light, flaky, golden brown on the outside, light and soft on the inside.  Runnin’ in REAL butter, not the oleo stuff.  Just add a side of eggs for breakfast.  Slathered in King Syrup or honey for a dessert.  Stuffed with a slab of Neese’s liver mush for lunch.  Smothered with sawmill gravy for…heaven on a plate.  I assure you, biscuits and sawmill gravy are a heavenly meal unto themselves.  Never allow anyone to try and convince you otherwise.

We have several sayings from below the Mason Dixon involving biscuits…unless we stole em’ from somebody above it.  “A cat can have kittens in an oven, but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.”  Yankees may understand a derivation, “Just because you live in a garage, don’t make you a car.”  Here in the South, it might mean, just cause you’ve lived here for five generations and say Y’all don’t make you Southern.

We even express our undying affection with affirmations of love such as, “I could put you on a plate and sop you up with a biscuit.”  This is making me hungry and missin’ my grand momma.

I associate biscuits and love to my grandmother. Nannie was a somewhat stoic woman who had trouble overtly expressing her love.  I’m not sure I remember a time when I got an “I love you,” from my Nannie.  I was much more likely to get a whack on the ass than a pat on the back.  She did not abide foolishness.

I knew she loved me and the rest of the grandkids.  I knew it as well as I knew Nannie’s biscuits would be light and flaky.  Love was displayed by example, not expression.  Examples like buttered biscuits on a Wednesday…for lunch.  Her greatest expression of love was, “Donnie you’ve been a good boy, want another biscuit?”  This also explains why I have fought a war with my weight for most of my life…food was the language of love and of positive reinforcement.  She was the same with her peanut butter cookies…I loved them too.

As a small child, I remember watching her as she went about making her biscuits in the tiny kitchen of her home.  Standing in front of her window to the world, watching the birds in their domain,  she made her biscuits.  With me playing on the linoleum floor, she would be cutting in the lard and adding buttermilk to give it a bit of a tang.  She was careful not to overwork the dough to keep it light and flaky, before rolling it out and cutting rounds with her red handled biscuit cutter.  Rolling up the scraps into mini-biscuits, nothing was wasted, before painting the tops with melted butter.  She only glanced at her efforts and relied on feel as she watched “her” birds cavorting around her bird feeder.

Late in her life, I asked about her recipe.  She didn’t have one.  It was a little of this and a lot of that until it all came together, nothing exact.  You learn to make biscuits by making biscuits.  I must not make them enough.  Mine are not light and flaky, some so hard the puppies won’t eat them.  As I said in another essay, maybe it’s the lard…or the love.

Thank you, Kelly, for sending me down a lovely rabbit hole.

Coming soon “Cornfields and Cow Patties.”  Until then, check out Don at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM