Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Vidalia Onion Patch

A Vidalia Onion Patch
By Cappy Hall Rearick

For any Georgian worth his salted peanuts, the merry month of May means one thing: a new crop of Vidalia Onions. Doling out last season's leftovers hanging in a knotted-up pair of pantyhose in the garage becomes a thing of the past. No need to settle for Texas imports. At this time of year 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.

At my house, when that sweetest of the sweet, oval-shaped bulb comes to call it's the next best thing to a national holiday. Life as we normally know it comes to a screeching halt while Babe pays tribute to the forty-pound box of onions taking up space in my pantry.

When the truck rolls into town from Vidalia, Babe is right there to greet it. A proud picture of a Pennsylvania Yankee turned Georgian, his mission is to be the first person on St. Simons Island to bite into the onion that puts Georgia on everybody's mind. Standing at attention next to the produce truck, he could not look more Southern if he wore a Robert E. Lee hand-me-down uniform, waved a tattered Confederate flag and shouted, Forget Hell!

As soon as Babe, aka the onion man, crunches into that first Vidalia of the year, it is as close to a religious experience as a grown man can have with a mouth full of onions. His white bread sandwiches are stacked with thick slices of Vidalias and slathered with way too much Dukes Mayo. When he takes that first bite, he makes the kind of noises more appropriately heard in the X-rated section of Blockbusters.

"Why don't you simply describe how it tastes using plain ol' words, Babe," I suggest. "Those sounds of yours are making me blush."

He closes his eyes and allows his head to move from side to side ever so slightly. I have to pay close attention so as not to miss the only bodily movement he makes before drifting off to Zen City. If he would just keep his peepers open long enough, I would check out his pupils.

I love to cook, but while Babe is enjoying his certifiable craziness, he allows onions to claim squatter's rights to my kitchen, and I'm almost afraid to go in there. The other day while he and an onion sandwich were tripping down the yellow brick road, I sneaked in there and opened the pantry door looking for peanut butter. What I saw nearly gave me the vapors.

"Babe, this ridiculous obsession of yours has got to stop. You didn't just jump over the edge, you pole vaulted into overkill. I'm looking at a stockpile of Vidalia mustard and more green and yellow Vidalia pickles than we'll ever eat. And do we really need six varieties of Vidalia barbecue sauce?"

I counted twelve bottles of Vidalia Onion salad dressing before the thought of intervention became more than a possibility.

"You need help, Babe. Bite the bullet instead of the onion. Get a patch."

His eyelids flickered as he slowly turned to meet my gaze. He's back from Oz and he's conscious. The hand holding an obscenely thick onion sandwich, moved from his mouth, and his head tilted slightly in my direction. I leaned in closer hoping to get a good look at those pupils, and he chose that moment to speak. When he opened his mouth, three days of stored onion breath smacked my kisser like thrust from a B-2 Stealth Bomber.

Only then did I fully realize what those obscene sounds were all about. It wasn't Babe moaning and groaning at all; it was automatic mouth action in protest of all those onions.

"That Vidalia Onion in the sandwich you're eating," I said while backing out of range of his toxic breath, "must have been hiding out in Aunt Piddy Pat's root cellar since Sherman lit up Atlanta."

With a raffish grin on his face, he gave me a mock salute before crunching down on another bite. His mouth crammed full and still grinning, he said, "I've got something to say about that, Miz Scarlett."

"Fiddily-dee, Rhett. Do tell."

He held up the sandwich. "Vidalia breath is a Southern secret weapon to keep the Yankee carpetbaggers from coming back. Just hang on to your Confederate dollars, my ageless Southern Belle, 'cause the South's gonna rise again."

"Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place." —Mark Twain