Wafting over the office partitions came the magic word. I raised my head trying to capture the magic.
You can tell by my photo why I grew up here in the hometown with no acquaintance with the magic word of the moment: chitterlings, which folks here in the South pronounce chitlins.
You see, chitlins, as I’ll spell it, is a black dish. And I’m not talking about the color of the china.
I began hearing about chitlins after I left the hometown in pursuit of my journalism dream. Initially I thought of cracklings, which are pieces of fried hog skin. Dad on occasion, when I was a kid, would toss some into his corn bread.
But I learned soon enough that cracklins are not chitlins. An African American cook one time told me that “you have to wash chitlins real good.” You better believe it. Chitlins are hog intestines.
So what are chitlins like? I’d ask folks in the rare opportunities when the subject came up.
No one would ever tell me. Folks acted as if I shouldn’t be talking about such things.
“I don’t know anything I could compare it to,” someone said one time.
“I’ll tell you,” someone else said another time, “just be sure to bring with you some mouthwash.”
Two days before Thanksgiving co-workers near the end of the work day were talking holiday food and what they were fixing for the big feast day.
“I’ve never had chitlins,” I hinted, not so subtilely.
“You don’t want them,” said a next-door co-worker with a repeated, slashing motion with her finger across the neck.
Then a co-worker in the next row piped up with delight. “I love ‘em,” she said with a grin. “I’ll bring you some.”
“Good,” I said in the holiday spirit of modern diversity and dialogue. “I’d like to try ‘em.”
I do not have a diverse background. My first African American classmates were in high school. College was even less diverse, surprisingly.
My only black classmate there was Allen Johnson, now editorial page editor of the big Greensboro newspaper. We shared a class during our first semester Down East. Though we attended the same journalism school, I never saw Allen afterward.
A guy from Oak Grove lived in the same dorm as I. Sam Allen and I became acquainted, and during one Christmas break I was happy to haul some of his stuff back to Elkin for him to pick up later.
He’s about the only schoolmate from my college days who I ever see any more, and then only when our paths happen to cross around town. Except for a Hickory couple, I’ve lost touch with everybody else or they live far away and I never see them. I regret that.
So I waited for my chitlins. Thanksgiving passed. “I didn’t have any left over,” Patricia, my onetime delighted co-worker, sheepishly admitted.
We had a Christmas luncheon at work. “Did you ever get any?” the throat-slashing, chitlin-hating co-worker asked.
“Can’t get nobody to get me no chitlins,” I told her with tongue – but no chitlins -in cheek.
Whitney giggled and showed me on her smartphone a photo of chitlins, uncooked. Not appetizing. “Don’t do it,” she repeated.
I got my cabbage and black-eyed peas on New Year’s. But no chitlins.
Well, there’s always next year.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.