Thursday, August 30, 2007

That's the night that the lights went out in Georgia...

The movie they made based on that song was actually partly shot in my husband's home town. His grandparents were extras in the courtroom. Only hit song Vicki Lawrence ever had.

A couple of days ago, Rotten Correspondent wrote this great post about how her California husband got to meet her Alabama family (go read it now, I'll wait!). It brought back a lot of memories for me because RC's family there actually don't live too far from my in-laws up in northwest Georgia. It reminded me a lot of the first time I got to meet my future in-laws on their home turf.

I met my husband at work, in Birmingham, Alabama. He was ending a marriage, I was ending a relationship, and we ended up spending a lot of time together, even before his divorce was final. I would like to state for the record I had nothing to do with the demise of his marriage, I just happened to be there when it fell apart.

We'd been going out a few months, and I'd met his parents over lunch just once. He asked me if I wanted to go up to his home town of Trenton, Georgia to visit his family. I was terrified. Firstly, they were having a lot of fun at my expense. The bru-ha-ha that erupted when my father-in-law announced that I wasn't an American is legendary. The fact that he initially left out that I'm Canadian probably contributed to that. For a while, everyone thought I was Japanese, which didn't set well with my husband's step-grandfather. He spent a few minutes telling everyone how the Japanese tried to kill him during WWII, and that the Japanese weren't welcome in his home. Eventually it got around the family that I was Canadian and not Asian, but some hackles were still raised.

My husband comes from the county seat of Dade County, Georgia. It's located in a valley, just the other side of Lookout Mountain from Chattanooga, Tennessee, up in the very northwest corner of the state. The country is beautiful, filled with vistas of the foothills of the Smokies. It's beautiful, but very rural.

There aren't many restaurants in Trenton. The height of fine dining is a buffet place where everyone goes on Friday nights and after church. A local preacher who had a show on the only station in town used to do ads for them. His catch phrase was "All you can eat for one money!" I refer to it as Deep Fried Bits o'Somethin', because that's primarily what they serve, although they had just added a salad bar on my first visit. And that first visit was my introduction to the town of Trenton.

Did I mention I was terrified?

It seemed like half the town was there, maybe more than half, and every single one of them had a reason to come by our table to say "hi". Ray's Little League coaches, teachers, old classmates, people he hadn't seen since before his wedding two years previous. Thankfully, his first wife wasn't from this town. But Ray is sometimes known as the small-town boy who made good. So, the fact that he was newly divorced and bringing the scarlet woman with him was kind of big news. It sort of felt like the whole place was staring at me, watching what I was eating, waiting for me to break out into some strange language. They all knew I was a "foreigner", and that I wasn't from the South.

To add to this, the main entree on the menu that day was fried whole catfish. Now, I can barely choke down catfish on a good day. It's not my favourite, but I avoid whole fish for one reason: I don't like my food to make eye contact with me. It was bad enough my only vegetable choices at the time were okra, cold greasy greens, or macaroni and cheese. But the breaded whole catfish made me nervous. Especially since my father-in-law was downing them with gusto and he was seated directly across the table from me.

You ever see a cat in a cartoon eat a fish? How the only thing left is a head with x's for eyes, a ribcage and a tail? Somehow, that's how he was eating these fish, and the breading was flaking off their flat little heads. Their carcasses were glaring at me in an accusatory fashion from his plate. In a move guaranteed to make me a pariah, I finally covered their corpses with my napkin (a sheet of paper towel actually) just so I wouldn't have to see those dead eyes.

He stared at me for a moment, and I thought that it was going to be the end of my relationship with Ray. He asked me what I was doing, and when I told him, he was silent for minute.

Then he threw his head back and laughed.

"I like you, gal! You're a little silly, but I like you!"

And suddenly it didn't seem so bad that I wasn't drinking sweet tea, and that I mostly ate wilted lettuce from the salad bar. I made him laugh, and it was okay, and it made everyone else okay with me, too.

Later on that night, Ray's grandmother took me aside and told me that they never liked his ex-wife all that much. Said she never had much of a sense of humour.

At least I've got that going for me.


my two cents said...

What a GREAT story!! I have visited the Smokies and the Chattanooga/Chickamauga area--some of the prettiest country there is.

How are you feeling? Well, I hope.

Gurnal said...

I don't know...but I think I just read the first chapter of your forthcomking biography. The blog title would make a good book title.

I'm just saying...

Oh well...

willowtree said...

As it happens, I can tell you what it would have been like if you were a Japanese girl.

auntie barbie said...

First, Congrats!!!! We are so happy for all of you. Second, I was not really being a smart ass when I suggested you were pregnant. You had mentioned in an earlier post that you were thinking about it, & your symptoms sounded right. It was just a good guess.
I'm sure you heard what happened here & I'm starting to get things back together. I will talk to you soon. Hugs & kisses to all of you. said...

That is one great story. I didn't want it to end but when it did, I was glad to see you were an accepted part of the family! Pretty funny stuff.

Someday in the not to distant future, I will tell you about the day that I went deep into the woods of Georgia wearing a suit and tie, cufflinks and a briefcase. I wasn't working either. Holy hell.

Jo Beaufoix said...

Fab story Jen.

America seems to have such a diversity of people and cultures.

In the UK, although people differ slightly from place to place we're probably not that much different apart form economically I suppose.

We don't have a deep south or a deep anything really.

I know much of this is to do with the size difference of our countries, but it does make some interesting reading.

I'm so glad you were able to sit at that table and still be yourself, and Ray's dad sounds great.

code word - bpalaiit

'Be polite' in a posh ladies voice??

Jen said...

my two cents I'm still queasy during most of the morning, but it subsides by the middle of the afternoon. Really, I feel pretty good, all things considered! I'm trying to grab little naps about mid-morning if I'm not working.

And you're right, that whole area up there, especially in the fall, is so pretty. It's a great place to spend Christmas.

Gurnal, I don't think a biography of me would sell particularly well, which is why I blog! Glad to see you back.

willowtree you don't talk about your darling wife often on your blog, but I guessed she was from Asia or of Asian descent by the few pictures I'd seen. So what would have happened if I'd been Japanese? *grin* Besides half the family revolting against me.

auntie barbie I'll shoot you an e-mail or you shoot me one, because I'm not sure what you're talking about. As for the pregnancy, it was a very good guess!

MikeAw, I'm glad you liked the story. And you know, I hear they shot part of Deliverance not too far from Trenton, Ga. as well. Meet any banjo players whie you were there?

Jo I suppose we do seem diverse, and from an anthropological standpoint it makes sense. Different areas of the country were settled by different groups of people. In the Deep South, alone, there's a bunch of variety. In Louisiana, there's a lot of French influence in the food, even in the accents. There's also influence from Irish and Scottish immigrants in the mountains, and of course slave culture has really influenced our food throughout the south. The only good thing that ever came from that period of US History.

Dumdad said...

Great story. And once again a sense of humour wins the day.

The Rotten Correspondent said...

Jeez, Jen, I haven't thought of Lookout Mountain for years. It reminded me of how excited my grandmother would get on the way to Alabama from Michigan when we saw the signs for "Noogie". It meant we were almost there. And the Smokies...drop dead fab.

I love your story. I can just picture you as the center of attention in that restarant while everyone attempted to be casual and not inspect you from head to toe. I'm with you on catfish. Smells and tastes like the bottom feeder it is. Ick.I'm glad your FIL had a sense of humor about it, and if my memory is right you and your MIL get along beautifully too, don't you?

Add my vote to the biography request!

even the code wants it - sayzx- I swear!

Joy T. said...

I'm so glad you came to visit my blog today because I would have missed this. What a great story!

kimy said...

quite enjoyed the story....a bright light today! totally identify with marrying into a culturally different family/regional situation! can count on such to bring much mirth!

Diana said...

Oh, how brilliant! I couldn't have done the eyes, either. Food should never look at you. Ever.

(And a big smoochy congratulations!!!)

Jen said...

joy t., kimy, and diana Thank you all for dropping by here! I'm glad you enjoyed the story. I know I've enjoyed visitng your blogs!

dumdad A sense of humour has gotten me out of more than one dicey situation. I make up for with wit what I lack in cuteness.

RCLike I said, very few people would buy that biography. It's so much easier to blog it. I'll give it to y'all in installments here...just not in one fell swoop. No matter what the damn code says! LOL