Harpole Letter

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ricky Harpole

Miss Rita’s revenge: Generous amounts of Triple 13 and water applied to kudzu

Of all things Southern,  none are more noble and exasperating than Southern women. And, none are more persistent in acts of vengeance and retribution. They may appear to be kind and loving, invariably polite, and quietly competent for the most part, but they never forget.

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Take Miss Rita for example. I’ve known her for 40 years. She is a doting mother, a loyal companion to Bill, her significant other, and a tolerant hostess to his Bohemian friends. She can fix anything from a snake bite to a squash casserole, is an artist of renown and an accomplished folk singer. However, she has been known to let certain subjects provoke her ire. No, that is too mild a term, especially when it comes to Yankees. They get her dander up!

She was raised at her grandmother’s knee, listening to stories of life after the fall of Vicksburg, and Reconstruction under a Carpetbagger government. She claims to have been born with lingering taste in her mouth of poke sallet and mule meat. She swore to me 40 years ago while still a student at Northwest Mississippi Junior College, that she would have her revenge, eventually.

I was young and untraveled in those days and did not recognize the symptoms. She was a zealot and a venomous one at that.

We were sitting at a truck stop in Starkville, rendezvousing with an itinerant musician, for escort to a recording session, down around Sardis Lake. He was late as musicians will be. While we waited in the sun a large and expensive SUV pulled up beside us. It was sporting a license plate issued by the state of Illinois.

That in itself was not unusual or remarkable, because if you were not born in the South you try to get here as quickly as possible. But, what was unusual was the roof rack was covered in a huge mess of vegetation, and the driver (a man who bore an uncanny likeness to William Tecumseh Sherman) got out and commenced to sprinkling these vines with water from a brand new Wal-Mart watering can.

Miss Rita sat there momentarily speechless. He noticed her watching the watering process and spoke: “Excuse me ma’am, but do you think that this plant will grow in Springfield? It is beautiful, and apparently prolific. My wife and I intend to see if it can be successfully cultivated on our family farm in Illinois. A lady in Alabama was kind enough to give us these cuttings. It is, I believe, called KUDZU.”

I started to laugh, but Miss Rita cut me off with a look. It was that look she used to get when she could taste that mule meat.

She addressed the would-be botanist in her kindest sweetest, and most helpful little old Southern Lady drawl.

“Well, Suh, I do most assuredly believe that it will grow thauh indeed, but just to be safe and shuah, you had bettah pick up a coupla hunerd pouns of triple thirteen soybean fertilizah at the Co-op stoah, right over yondah,” she pointed helpfully.

“Use it sparinly at fust, and graduly increase the dosage thru the hot month of August, in conjunction with sprinklin’ system. Why Suh, youah fine estate will be gloriously covahed with this wonderful, menace, I mean prenyal.”

After he drove away, his cargo saturated and dripping, I started to comment, but she said, “Richard. Hush now, Richard. I want to enjoy this moment for a while.”

And then, almost to herself she whispered, “Damn Yankees!”