Going back to the little rural church I wrote about in "I Love You Gob", I'd like to tell you about my unwashed Northern ways and the first time it truly let me down in the culture of the South. . .
I had only been working for the church a few months when the men of the church decided it was time to raise up and forge that hairy beast known as the Men's Prayer Breakfast. I could probably write 18 paragraphs of jokes at this point but we'll just say that most of those beasts are all bacon and no bible.
Our deacons were the main impetus behind the movement, all three of them, as well as an older gentleman named Paul Pruitt. Paul was truly an original. I'm guessing he weighed 300 pounds and couldn't have stood more than five and a half feet. He had been in a wreck and had trouble with his neck and spine, in fact, it looked like he had no neck, his massive head just sat tilted to the side between his hulking shoulders, so much so that he would seem to strain and look up just to look at you in the eye. He had a voice like he was chewing rocks and had salt and pepper rose bushes for eyebrows.
Paul had two main passions besides his wife and Jesus: watermelons and vacuums. He collected old vacuums and then used the parts to tinker around with other peoples' vacuums and hopefully fix them. A visit to his house was like seeing the laboratory of a Mad Maid scientist, a museum of mismatched skeletons of sweepers of old.
And every spring, Paul would make runs in his tiny knockaround pick-up truck down to Florida and come back with a bed full of watermelons. It was a great sight, the massive hump shouldered man joyfully rolling out of that little truck with early treasures for the warm nights. He sold some of them, but you could tell he loved giving them away more. . .
Well, Paul and the deacons started up the Men's Prayer Breakfast (it requires all capital letters), and the deacons told Paul that they and the youth pastor would handle all the cooking. The youth pastor meaning ME. I got to the Family Life Center (see also Gym) at an hour when the roosters were still in REM, and asked what could I do to help. . .
The deacons had already been up for an hour praying and farming and probably giving Yahweh a few pointers for all I know, and so the battle plan was already set. I think they may have fought for the right to make the gravy for the biscuits, but I didn't press too much in order to avoid opening newly scabbed wounds. I got the honor of doing The Grits. Which to this day makes no sense to me--give the new Northerner who has never eaten a grit nor seen one, the crown jewel of southern breakfast delicacies?
The deacons got lost in their own culinary worlds, and so I only got to hear 2 things about grits:
1. Grits are good. They stick to your ribs.
2. Grits are easy, you can just put in the crock pot til the breakfast, they'll keep.
Regarding #1, I think grits need a new PR person if your first selling point is "they stick to your ribs"--yeah, so does paint and caulking, but you don't see me dipping my eggs in them. . .
And as for #2, all I heard was "crockpot". So, I mixed the grits in water and placed the white grainy soup in the crockpot and turned it to high and watched as the deacons danced the Martha Stewart together as smells of bacon grease and buttered eggs filled the air.
We put out our bounty in a glorious buffet and the guests arrived, our mish-mash assembly of hungry and spiritually disciplined males, emphasis on hungry, and we gathered around the awkward rectangle of church tables and "blessed the food. . .and the hands that prepared it". (My hands did feel kind of tingly and good after that prayer. . .)
As soon as the Amen descended, the fellas and I dug in to the cultural beauty known as a Southern Breakfast (and to be honest, the South does have everyone licked in this department). Let's just say I loved everything. . .except the grits. Gross. How do you people eat these things? It was like eating sand from the beach, except the grains were more like pebbles made of newspaper. I employed the "Used Napkin" technique and covered my shamefully uneaten grits and went back for seconds on bacon (which is one of my Love Languages).
But then I noticed I wasn't the only one deploying the Used Napkin to hide unwanted grits. Everyone else had pushed theirs away too. . .everyone but Paul Pruitt.
A kind of hushed stare collectively permeated all of us as we watched ole hunchbacked, crook-necked Paul try to gag down my horrible grits. . .
Finally, mercifully, deacon Len said "Paul, you don't have to eat that."
And he said, "Oh, good", and pushed it away from his plate like he suddenly realized it had rabies.
We all laughed for a solid ten minutes at the Yankee boy's attempt to cook grits. Apparently, you put the grits in the crockpot after faithfully working them in the pan for a few days, and then just "to keep". . .you never cook them in a crockpot. They called my grits "The Grit".
They asked Paul why he kept eating it even after he knew The Grit was awful. He said because the new Yankee youth pastor had made them and he wanted me to feel welcome.
Now that my friends is hospitality, and that is making the effort to love someone. Any time I'm struggling with loving another person, I remember one thing:
Paul Pruitt ate my grits.