Darrell Huckaby - New Year traditions die hard

The year 2008 might be a long one for me, y'all - and not just because of the extra day in February, either.

I have a confession to make. How does that work? "Forgive me for I have sinned?"

I am not speaking now of God's laws, although I am certain that I have broken plenty of those. I am confessing today because I broke one of Tommie Huckaby's laws.

Tommie Huckaby was my mother and a force to be reckoned with in her day. There were certain tenets that you lived by if you were raised in her household and one of those was that you ate turnip greens (or collards) and black-eyed peas on New Year's Day - with some part of a hog's rump thrown in for good measure.

This was not an option, understand. This was gospel. It was what you did. Call it tradition or superstition or whatever you wanted to call it, but you'd better do it. It brought one luck for the coming year.

The peas, I believe, would provide good health and the greens - being as they were the color of money - would bring prosperity. Or as my mama said, "Peas will make you pretty and greens will make you rich - or at least they'll keep you from being poor."

I guess we ate the pork and cornbread because they tasted so good with the peas and collards.

At any rate, that's what we ate at our house on New Year's Day and once I left home always maintained the tradition. At home I would always serve an indescribably delicious Boston butt that I would smoke myself along with equally tasty cornbread, very mediocre black-eyed peas and gosh-awful turnip greens.

I can flat cook a Boston butt and cornbread. I never did get the knack of greens, but am not too old to learn if anyone wants to teach me.

It didn't really matter if they were good or not, though. I drowned them in pepper sauce and ate them. My kids and my lovely wife, Lisa, would fill up on pork and cornbread and hold their collective noses while eating one bite of peas and one tiny taste of turnip greens - just in case there was something to that prosperity thing.

And if you are wondering why I always cook the New Year's Day meal, it's because Lisa has a slight flaw in her bloodline. Her grandmother was from Wisconsin. 'Nuff said?

Sometimes I travel over the New Year's holiday. Never mattered before. I have always been able to find a place to get the soul food that I needed to keep me in good stead for the year to come.

Po' Folks. Morrison's Cafeteria. Cracker Barrel. I have tried them all.

Not this year, though - but not for want of trying.

I began this year in New Orleans, La. A month ago I made reservations for New Year's Day dinner at a famous Crescent City landmark called Dooky Chase, where Leah Chase and her husband, Dooky, have served greens and peas and pork and gumbo to prominent African-American politicians, musicians and businesspeople for 50 years. Ray Charles once wrote a song about their place.

They also serve regular folks like me.

But here's the thing. Their building was all but destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. It took them 24 months to start serving take-out meals and were planning on having the grand re-opening for their dining room on Jan. 1. They didn't make it. So it was on to Plan B.

We left our hotel at noon and walked over to Mother's - another famous landmark that serves greens and such, along with the best Po-Boy sandwiches this side of heaven.

Mother's doesn't do reservations. You just walk up and stand in line and wait your turn.

It was cold in New Orleans on New Year's morning and the line outside Mother's was around the block. We waited 20 minutes and didn't move an inch.

I would have waited 'til the cows came home because I knew my mother would be turning over in her grave if I didn't get some greens and peas and such. But I had a wife and three kids with me, and they aren't as steeped in tradition as yours truly.

You know, if your wife ain't happy, nobody's happy.

We gave up the ghost and went to Mulate's for catfish and shrimp and I am, as I said, in big trouble but because I'm not pretty to begin with and the Lord knows I don't have any money.

Oh well, we have the MLK Jr. holiday coming up in a couple of weeks. Maybe Lady Luck will let me have a do-over.

Anybody want to help me out with those greens?

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.