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My Old Man and the New Year

By Jeff Callahan

My Old Man had many habits I found sometimes amusing, sometimes irritating, sometimes completely enigmatic. He did things for no reason at all sometimes. Me too, so I find. 

There was a lot of wisdom embedded in there that was too subtle for me to notice, me being primarily concerned with ME most of the time. 

His diet consisted of Whatever He Wanted, or more accurately Whatever He Was Familiar With. This was also a field of confusion and contradiction. He could tear into a slimy block of souse meat (head cheese) and love it, but he didn’t like spaghetti because of how it looked. 

There was always fruit in the house. He ate some sort of fruit every day. Lots of bananas, black and runny with a cloud of fruit flies around. He never had any difficulties with his digestion. 

A New Year’s tradition that he and my sainted mother shared was the ritual meal of peas and collards all seasoned with hunks of fatback the size of a wallet. Mama would take the salt pork and slice it down to the rind and fan it out for maximum effect, the surface area multiplying geometrically for the pot liquor. Naturally, corn bread would accompany this feast, made with bacon drippings. Delicious, and I didn’t even much like collards. Still don’t. 

The tradition held that the peas stood for PROSPERITY and the limp, steaming collard leaves represented CASH, greenbacks. 

We were never poor, but I don’t attribute that to the magical power of fat-soaked soul food vegetables. We were always in shoes and clothes and groceries because my Old Man didn’t know anything more than the value of hard work. Hot, cold, wet, or dry. He was a man that could be counted on to be there. I wouldn’t say he thrived on mean physical labor, but he lived to be 98. 

So…I hope that you ate your greens and peas this past January 1.

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