I teared up when I made the room reservations – just a piss-ant hotel in a podunk town. My blood’s in the Panhandle soil but my feet haven’t touched the ground in this place since we buried Poppy. It’ll be a homecoming of sorts. The first time back in twenty years.
The drive from the heart of Texas to Colorado leaves you somewhere around Dumas about 9 hours in. All that driving and still in Texas. You can push a little further, say to Dalhart, but that’s about it for the day. Once you hit Texline it’s a long stretch of nothing except the Rocky Mountains slowly rising up where the dashboard gives way to the distance.
Growing up we must have made the drive from Dallas to Borger, which is near enough to Dumas, nine million times in our wood-paneled station wagon. Three children in the back, sticking to pleather seats, smiling smugly when we got to sing – not say, the word damn as we crooned along with Jim Croce. We dubbed the endless hours of highway the LBR – the long, boring road.
Husband and I decided to drive with the Littles to Colorado this year. Funny how history repeats itself. We’ve progressed from wood-paneling to automatic sliding doors on a swagger wagon. Warped 8-tracks and static filled AM radio stations mysteriously morphed to iPods and instantaneous downloads on iTunes. As we mapped out the seventeen hour drive to Estes Park, I suggested we make a slight, by Texas standards, detour on the LBR home and stop in Borger. Check things out, drive by the old, yellow house that holds childhood memories of playing marbles in the soft dirt of the side yard and eating white bread and tomato sandwiches in the curved window-seat banquette of the family kitchen.
The Littles won’t appreciate the stop. They’ll roll their eyes, complain there’s no wifi and beg to go home. I did the same at their ages. I’ll explain that in a sense we are home, that their roots lie deep in this town where their great-grandfather pitched the first tent. Maybe one of the Littles will find it fascinating that Poppy lived in a dugout long before the house on Minnesota we’re driving by. Maybe. Most likely, they’ll crank up their playlist and disappear into song.
Until one day, decades from now, in a kitchen with a family of her own, one of my Littles will be listening to a different genre of song, (on only God knows what kind of device!) chopping okra fresh from the CSA basket, her mind drifting as the rhythm of the blade slices one inch pieces of earth begging to be fried. On that day, a wave of nostalgia so strong will penetrate her core she’ll give into the tears and let the memories and the taste of fried okra take her home.
Home Style Summer Fried Okra
1 lb fresh okra, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup cornmeal (I like Lamb’s from Converse, Texas)
1 cup flour
1 TBS House Seasoning*
1 TBS sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk*
oil for frying
Heat oil in a cast iron skilled over medium heat.
In a shallow dish mix cornmeal, flour, seasoning and sugar. Soak the okra in a small bowl of buttermilk. With a slotted spoon, lift and drain the okra from the buttermilk and dredge in the cornmeal mixture until well coated.
Fry okra in small batches one to two minutes, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
* I made Paula Deen’s House Seasoning mix a while back and I use it frequently. Try it:
1/2 cup salt
1/8 cup garlic powder
1/8 cup black pepper
Stir ingredients together and store in a shaker
* If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, warm regular milk to cut the chill and add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice.