Around here, coon and sweet potatoes are good eating.
If my granddaddy ate it, then we considered it edible.
It didn’t matter whether it came from the land, sea, or air, if my granddaddy could hunt it, clean it, and put it in a pan then it “may” have been part of “his” dinner.
I stress the terms “may” and “his” because my grandmother, whose dining sensibilities were on the other side of the spectrum from my grandfather’s, had steadfast rules about what could be cooked in her kitchen and what she allowed us to eat.
My granddaddy followed her what-you-can-cook rules and we followed her what-you-can-eat rules most of the time because there was a penalty for breaking these rules. So, my granddaddy tried to stick to wildlife menu items that wouldn’t contaminate my grandmother’s kitchen or our stomachs.
From the land, my grandfather rounded up raccoons, deer, squirrels, and even gophers.
From the local creeks, springs, and coastal waters, he reeled in all kinds of fish. He didn’t care much for crabs, shrimps, scallops and other seafood, but that didn’t stop him from bringing it home for us to dine on.
And, from the skies, he harnessed birds, like quails, wild geese, and robins.
After hunting and capturing his next meal, my grandfather would come home and begin cleaning his bounty. The grandkids would gather around him and watch and listen as he instructed us on how to clean whatever he’d brought home. Some of the grandkids, like my brothers and my cousins Ballie and Andre, not only watched enthusiastically, but also assisted him with the cleaning. While others, like me, watched quietly from a short distance away.
Unless my grandfather was cleaning fish, which my grandmother loved, she walked around with a frown on her face.
“Bean, I hope you know you’re going to clean up that mess you’re making when you get through,” she would walk by and remind my grandfather. “This isn’t a slaughterhouse.”
Most of the time, my granddaddy continued with his task without responding, which caused my grandmother to point out things he already knew he had to do.
“Wash those fish scales off the table down when you’re done,” she’d tell him. “If you don’t, flies will be everywhere.”
“Dig a hole and bury them guts and hides,” she’d remind him. “If you don’t, flies will be everywhere.”
“Don’t leave them feathers up there,” she’d say. “If you don’t, flies will be everywhere.”
To let my grandmother tell it, anything left outside would attract flies, which she hated.
When she saw that my granddaddy was nearly done, she’d added, “And, don’t bring that in my house until it looks like it came from Winn-Dixie.”
After my granddaddy was done cleaning “his” catch until it looked like he bought it from a store, he made his way to the kitchen.
My grandmother, walking two steps behind him, continued to lay down her rules.
“Bean, I don’t want you coming in here messing up my kitchen with that,” she warned. “I don’t know why you can’t just eat what I’m cooking.”
“Because I got a taste for this,” he’d answer.
And so did we.
Still, that didn’t mean it was going to appear on our dinner plate.
“Well, you can cook it, but you’re going to be the only one eating it,” she told him and us.
“But nothing,” she cut us off. “I done told y’all about eating everything you see your granddaddy eating.”
After my granddaddy was through cooking and had fixed his plate, we sat at the table playing with our fried chicken and wishing we could grub out on whatever he had hunted, cleaned, and cooked even if my grandmother said it wasn’t edible.