Inviolable Southern tradition, Free enterprise
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In my lifetime, eating black-eyed peas at the beginning of each year has been an inviolable Southern tradition. Grandmothers and mothers would no more think of not serving them on New Year’s Day than they would of not praying before meals.
Even when I was overseas in the military, Mama sent me packages of black-eyed peas, and admonished me not only to eat them, but also to share them with fellow soldiers from the South … and if there were any left over, perhaps some of the Northern chaps, too. (Mama was a tolerant person, but even so, she’d often slip and refer to those who started the War Of Northern Aggression as “damn Yankees,” and besides, she was deeply offended by the fact that Northern farmers feed cattle black-eyed peas.)
I love them; my father hated them — with good reason. Only a child when The Great Depression hit, he remembered when his father, the proud farmer of fifteen acres who earned extra money as a circuit-riding country preacher, made twenty bales of cotton and expected his year of back-breaking hand-and-mule labor to gross $10,000 at the current market price — about one dollar per pound. Overnight, the depression reduced the per-pound price to a nickel.
The family lost everything, and if they had anything to eat at all — for breakfast, lunch, or supper — it was usually black-eyed peas. Dad vowed never to eat them again.
My father once defined for me The Great Depression: “During that time, a man with ten million dollars, each worth zero, was worth no more than a man with one dollar. Everyone was in the same, sinking boat.”
Dad survived the Depression’s deprivation, starvation, homelessness, and aching need, but suffered indelible psychological scars that troubled him the rest of his life. He had a morbid fear of making a disastrous crop and going broke, and watched expenditures like a hawk. Giving one of his six children a buck was ludicrous; the word EARN was sacred to him.
Dad hated the government because he knew that the egotistical, power-hungry, greedy politicians running the country — not the competitive, capitalistic, free enterprise system that, up until then, had maintained a thriving, stable private economy — caused nationwide joblessness and severe economic chaos.
Dad loved free enterprise because it allowed him to take well-planned, calculated risks, to work hard, and with favorable weather and a good market, make a profit.
He despised welfare because he knew that, while it might provide temporary help for struggling, honest folks, it was far more likely to attract lazy slobs who were crafty enough to convince government bureaucrats to put them on the dole, with the certainty that signing a few forms yearly would keep them there.
Modern Americans can learn a lot from my father’s experience. They must promote winners-take-all, bums-starve-in-the-street free enterprise. They must realize that life’s greatest elixir is hard work; they must desire free enterprise competition, and demand its retention. If not, they too might end up hating black-eyed peas.