DeWitt Column: Of pecans and poachers
As a modern Southerner, I have a love/hate relationship with many things Southern: grits, country girls who catch bigger fish than I do, and last but not least – the pecan.
Sure, I love the taste of pecans and almost anything with pecans in it. I can eat my weight in pecan sandies – with or without a glass of milk. I once tasted a slice of Kentucky-bourbon-infused pecan pie in a fancy restaurant that was so good, in a moment of weakness, I wrote a romantic sonnet to the pastry chef right there on my napkin. Now that’s true love.
The hate? The pecan, that evil Carya illinoinensis, has caused me more pain, suffering and corporal punishment than any other plant species on this green earth. Now, I don’t normally go around questioning The Great Creator’s designs, but if He did not intend for little boys to shoot pecans from slingshots at 80 meters per second toward kitchen windows, then why did He make them such perfect, hard-shelled projectiles? If The Good Lord did not intend for little brothers and sisters to get struck in the head by pecans, why did He make them such slow-moving targets?
(To add insult to injury, it was usually a pecan limb that was used to beat the dust out of the rear of my britches, but that’s another column in itself.)
Those diabolical pecans also stood between me and my boyhood dream of catching every fish, bagging every bird and shooting every deer in the Coosawhatchie River swamp. A humble river born from ditch drippings in nearby Allendale County, S.C., the Coosawhatchie meandered behind my grandmother’s house on it’s 40-mile path to the sea and served as the backdrop of my childhood. Ah, but those pecans…
“You boys have to pick up a five gallon bucket of pecans if you want to go gallivanting,” Granny would say, as soon as we stepped off the school bus. Other than this mean streak, Granny was usually a mighty fine person who did good deeds, like making pecan pies and fruit cakes for sick folks and church events. Her pecans fed folks for miles around, and the extras were sold to pay the county taxes on her farm.
My cousins and I quickly devised a plan: we would fill the bottom two thirds of the bucket with pecan leaves, then top it off with a layer of nuts. By the time Granny discovered the ruse, we would be knee deep in the swamp engaged in boyhood adventures. What could go wrong?
I must confess that, while exploring that dark and mysterious swamp, we may have unintentionally violated a fish or game law or two. A redbreast or catfish may have inadvertently entered our crawdad traps without permission and got carried home to the fryer. An illegal female deer may have thrown herself in front of a bullet meant for a legal deer. While generously feeding some cracked corn to the bream and river bass, we may have accidentally attracted some ducks, a federally protected species even back then.
The crafty local game warden caught us once. He had me and my cousin by the scruff of the neck, knee deep in cracked corn and dove feathers, and was about to haul us both to the wildlife dungeon downtown, or wherever they take errant country boys. It was about that time that Granny crested the ridge where it drops off into the swamp and stood silhouetted against the skyline with her hands on her hips in righteous indignation, her kitchen apron flapping in the breeze like the cape of an angry superhero who has finally caught up with the villain.
Apparently, she had found the bucket full of pecan leaves.
It was equally apparent that, as much as we quivered at the sight of the game warden, even the wildlife officers feared Granny.
“You can have them both when I’m done with them,” Granny hissed ominously.
“Yes, ma’am,” was all the law enforcement officer said, before he slunk back into the forest wetlands.
It was always a long walk back home, with a lot of pecan limbs along the route. We called it the Coosawhatchie Death March. We knew we wouldn’t be able to sit down comfortably and eat supper that night.
But looking on the bright side, at least there was pecan pie for dessert.
Michael M. DeWitt, Jr. is an award-winning journalist, humor columnist and outdoor writer.