By Cappy H Rearick
Ever wonder how the New Year’s tradition of eating peas and rice got the name Hoppin’ John? Well, wonder no more.
Some say it originated with a game similar to musical chairs where kids hopped up and down at the table. Duh. My Grandkids from Hell jump up and down at the table as if they’ve swallowed a Slinky. Up North, people eat pork and sauerkraut because it cleans them out in preparation for the coming year. Yuk. Homemade colonoscopies might be Yankee logic, but I’d sooner have kids jumping up and down at the table like Jack on Crack in the Box.
Thinking it will ward off bad luck, most Southerners adhere to the tradition of eating pork, collard greens and Hoppin’ John on the first day of the new year. I am a true Southerner but I have not always been a true believer.
On New Year’s Day many years ago, me and my big mouth declared, “No Hoppin’ John and no collard greens for me.” Big mistake.
Mama had roasted a Boston Butt to within a smidgen of cremation. Her collards were swimming like Esther Williams in ham grease. I didn’t believe that a year of good luck depended on which veggies I ate on January 1st. That said, I never met a pig I didn’t want to take home to Mama. So, after downing three pork sandwiches— my one nod to tradition— I developed the bellyache from hell, a first draft of more to come.
The next day, my dog blitzed an entire can of Alpo, looked up at me and promptly dropped dead. Yeah, she was old, but I was just a kid and that dog had been begging for table scraps all of my life. Her high-speed exit made me think she should have eaten my share of collards.
Daddy buried Susie Q in our back yard while Mama and I cried and passed each other one Kleenex after another. He wore a dark suit and tie and stood at the gravesite with his hands clasped in front of him. When I said, “Daddy looks like a preacher,” Mama laughed and cried all at the same time.
On January 3rd, I went to the kitchen, poured lard in a frying pan before realizing that we were slap out of potatoes. Totally forgetting that I’d turned on the burner under the grease, I walked to the Piggly Wiggly and bought a five-pound bag of potatoes and then dilly-dallied back home much like Prissy did in Gone With the Wind. I was stopped by the sound of loud sirens. Not one red fire truck, but three of those bad boys were parked end-to-end in front of our house. Smoke billowed from the kitchen door while neighbors lined up on the sidewalk and gawked.
Within minutes Mama’s kitchen was toast. All of the cabinets would have to be repainted and her new wallpaper smelled like a Boy Scout Jamboree. She stayed mad at me for the next twelve months.
Fearing the next day could bring even more bad luck, I didn’t want to wake up. What if the calamities over the past three days were only teasers? Hello? I should have stayed in bed because that year was the longest one of my life. One piece of bad luck pounced on me every single day.
Bottom line? I learned more than I ever wanted to know about traditions, why they were not mere words but established entities that I should honor. I’ve been known to eat myself into belly bloat since then. You might say I’m the poster child for New Year’s Day cuisine.
I promise you this: until my jaws no longer go up and down in chew mode, I will cover my sassy southern you-know-what by hogging down pork, Hoppin’ John and collard greens every January 1. I’ll even eat some of that boring Yankee delight they call sauerkraut. Who am I to mess with tradition, even when it originates north of the Mason Dixon Line?