Thursday, August 10, 2006

By Virtue of a Vidalia

Written By: Cappy Hall Rearick

Tears, sweet and tender, are rolling down Babe’s cheeks. Why? Because it is the merry month of May and, for any Georgian worth his salted peanuts, that can mean only one thing: a new crop of Vidalia onions.

No more parceling out of last year’s leftovers that have been hanging under the house in a knotted-up pair of pantyhose. No more settling for Texas imports with their bulbous yellow skins. The coming of May means that the great state of Georgia, too often overlooked by the rest of the country, moves front and center to become Old Glory’s Star of the Month.

On the day the truck from Vidalia pulls up to the back door at Winn Dixie, Babe is there, a proud picture of a Pennsylvania Yankee turned Georgian, resolute in his quest to purchase the first onion that puts Georgia on everybody’s mind. Standing at attention in front of the truck, he couldn’t look more Southern if he was wearing one of Robert E. Lee’s hand-me-down uniforms. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him salute the driver and holler out, “Forget, Hell!”

When Babe crunches into his first Vidalia onion of the year, it is as close to a religious experience as he can get while chewing. Eating is his passion. He makes sounds. “Ummm! Ummm!” His eyes roll heavenward. “Aaaahhhh! Ummmmm!”

Cooking for Babe is truly a joy. That’s saying a mouthful coming from someone whose kitchen claim to fame is the ability to cook a pot of grits seventy-five percent of the time with no lumps.

I can see him now munching a sandwich made with half-inch thick slices of his first Vidalia on white bread, smeared with what looks like a quart of Dukes Mayonnaise. The sounds he makes might be more at home in the X-rated section at Blockbusters.

“Describe it for me, Babe,” I say. “Your sounds are making me blush.”

He shakes his head, too overcome with epicurean delight to risk blaspheming the sacred moment.

“Would you like a bowl of soup to go with your sandwich?” I am playing Martha Stewart in hopes of shocking him out of his self-imposed stupor.

He closes his eyes and shakes his head ever so slightly. Had I not been watching for some sign of consciousness, I would have missed the only bodily movement he has made since he crunched down on his first bite.

“Ice tea?” I venture. “Babe, I can’t cook worth a diddly squat, but you know yourself when it comes to retrieving ice, I rank right up there with the Eskimos.”

I suspect he has drifted into Yen City since I can see no other discernible movement save the slow, deliberate up and down maneuvering of his jaw. If he would only open his eyes, I could check out his pupils.

Looking over his shoulder, I notice the open pantry door and I sigh audibly. “Babe, you’ve bought Vidalia Onion mustard, green and yellow Vidalia Onion pickles, three kinds of Vidalia Onion barbecue sauce and that awful tasting Vidalia Onion salad dressing. Enough is enough! Don’t you agree?”

He appears to be slowly emerging from his spell as his eyes turn to meet my gaze. The hand holding the obscenely thick sandwich slowly moves away from his face. He tilts forward. I lean into him, straining for a good look at those pupils. That’s when he opens his mouth to speak and the reek of onion comes close to blowing me away.

I have no problem now understanding why he makes those obscene sounds. “That particular onion,” I tell Babe as I back out of the room gasping and fanning the air around me, “has been holed up in somebody’s root cellar since Sherman lit up Atlanta.”

Grinning slyly, he gives me a mock salute, takes another bite and goes,

“Ummmmmm! Ummmmmm!”