Post #33: CATFISH, GRITS, BISCUITS & GRAVY, FRIED CHICKEN, AND TORNADOES – Day 158, October 9, 2014
We are in the deep south – if I didn’t know it any other way, I would know it every time I look at a restaurant menu – it is signature-south. Most of the menu items are fried. Everything can be ordered smothered in gravy. Every restaurant features catfish for dinner. Grits for breakfast. A side of biscuits covered with gravy at any meal. Big portions.
Paul requested an order of sausage biscuits with gravy for breakfast:
Everything tastes irresistibly good. We up North turn up our noses at catfish, presumably because catfish are bottom-feeders and somewhat ugly-looking fish – but it is a light, flakey white fish, much like flounder, which are also bottom feeders and somewhat ugly-looking fish. Catfish is really good, especially when it is grilled or baked with lemon-pepper as they sometimes do it down here. However, most of the catfish is served deep-fried. In addition, the health benefits of catfish in the southern diet are often overwhelmed by the health detriments of most of the other signature-south items in the southern diet, as well as the large size of the portions. The unfortunate result is that Mississippi has the highest obesity rate in the country, and the southern states as a group have a disproportionately high level of obesity. But the food sure is good.
After weeks without rain, we finally had a major storm last Thursday night, starting around midnight. Wind, rain, near-continuous lightning flashes. Around 2:00 AM, anyone who was asleep was awoken by a loud and prolonged siren – a tornado warning. Thinking it’s no big deal and with no real understanding of the implications, we rolled over and went back to sleep when the siren finally stopped. However, the threat became real to us the next day shortly after we arrived at a small marina in the small town of Smithville, Mississippi, just 18 miles away. We learned that, just three years ago, the owner of the marina along with 15 other residents of Smithville were killed in a tornado that virtually wiped out the town. The son of the deceased owner now runs the marina – the empty foundation of his father’s house adjacent to the marina is a sober reminder of the power of nature. The EF5 tornado (the most powerful category) passed within 100 yards of the marina, leaving only foundations in its path; miraculously, the marina was unharmed. Later in the day, we visited a hardware store in town and learned more – the store was new, as the building that had stood since the turn of the century had been leveled. Stories abounded. As the tornado approached, the owner and employees of the store took refuge in an old bank vault adjacent to the store which they used for storage. All survived. That night, we went to the local diner (the only one in town). More harrowing stories. From a written story on the menu of the diner:
“Bobby and Melanie Edwards [owners of the diner] had been home for an afternoon break from work when the weather turned ominous. When alerts showed Smithville in the tornado’s path, the Edwards went into the basement of their church a couple of miles from their home. Bobby called the diner on the phone. ‘Shut off the gas and get into the cooler’ Bobby recalls urging waitress Brandy Holloway over the phone minutes before the EF-5 rumbled through. The waitress said ‘You don’t understand. We have customers here’. Bobby said ‘You don’t understand. It’s going to be here in 10 minutes’. Holloway did as she was told. That made 12 more survivors.”
The diner was gone. The cooler with its mix of 12 employees and customers still stood. Bobby and Melanie rebuilt. Others weren’t so lucky. A drive through the small town revealed empty foundation after empty foundation where homes and businesses once stood.
Here are a couple of images:
From now on, if we hear a tornado siren, you can be sure we will pay attention.
Of course, much of the story of our trip is the story of the people that we meet. Everyone has their own story to tell. I’ve told the story of some of the boaters and fellow loopers whom we’ve met. Here are some pictures of some local people we’ve met recently in Mississippi:
While much of the Tenn-Tom Waterway is a wide, man-made canal, the dams at each of the locks create small lakes and wetland areas that are very beautiful. Often the channels entering the occasional marina wind through areas that are scattered with trees growing through the water or stumps from trees that have long since fallen. We planned to anchor out on Saturday night, but the wind was howling in the afternoon and we didn’t like any of the possible anchorages that we saw, particularly with the gusty winds. We therefore opted to go into the Aberdeen Marina, with a winding channel that required some focus. Here are some images from Aberdeen, Mississippi:
A few nights ago, I inadvertently left the VHF radio on and was awakened in the night by someone talking on the radio. I turned it off and went back to sleep. However, it reminded me of the last time I left the radio on and went to bed. We were bringing the Joint Adventure to Boston from Florida where we had purchased her, and were tied to a dock at a marina about a mile up a river from the Intracoastal Waterway in the low country of Georgia. Around 2:00 in the morning, the radio started to squawk. I was in a deep sleep, out cold; I thought it was my alarm clock and I groped around in the dark, pushing every button I could find to turn it off. I finally woke up enough to realize it was the VHF radio, so I stumbled to the breaker panel and shut it off, then went back to bed. Now half awake, I started to connect the dots as I lay in bed. Could I have pressed the “DISTRESS” button on the radio? Did I just call the Coast Guard? I sat up wondering what to do, slowly deciding I’d better turn my radio back on when suddenly my cell phone rang (remember, it was 2:00 AM). “Is this Mr. Koningisor?” Yes, it is. “This is the United States Coast Guard. We received a distress signal from your radio and are preparing to send out a Search and Rescue mission. Are you OK?” I sheepishly explained what had happened. Fortunately, he pretended to be somewhat understanding and just scolded me mildly. As I lay back in bed, I had visions of helicopters descending upon me next to the dock where I was safely tied, then receiving a bill from the Coast Guard for $25,000. I’m surprised I ever used the radio again.
So we spent a day in Aberdeen, Mississippi, and are now in Columbus, on the Tenn-Tom waterway 335 miles by water from Mobile, Alabama and the Gulf of Mexico. Here are some images from our stays in Aberdeen and Columbus:
Sadly, my Dad and Tom left the boat yesterday to go back to the real world. I will miss them! So Paul and I are on our own for a couple of weeks until our friend Jake joins us later in the month. Tomorrow, we continue our march south.