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DARRELL HUCKABY: Legislating sweet tea just too good to be true

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

I was excited for a minute. I finally thought the Georgia General Assembly was going to pass a law I could sink my teeth into — or at least enjoy pouring down my gullet. My buddy Kyle posted a link on Facebook to House Bill 819, co-sponsored by John Noel, Bob Layne, Terry Barnard and several other forward-thinking legislators.

The bill was entitled "Food service establishments, serving tea; requirements," and was intended to amend Article 13 of Chapter 2 of Title 26 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. Cutting through all the legalese, what the bill said was that any establishment in our fair state that offered tea for sale to the general public would be required by law to serve sweet tea. They would be free to serve unsweetened tea if they saw fit -- but only if real sweet tea -- as God intended -- was also an option.

That's not even the best part, either. HB-819 didn't stop there. It went on to actually define sweet tea as tea that has been sweetened with actual sugar -- and at the time it was brewed. And it said that anyone who violated the code would be guilty of a "misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature."

Hallelujah! Glory!

How many times have I -- and all of you -- gone into a place of business and ordered sweet tea only to be told condescendingly, by someone who just totally doesn't get it, "We only serve unsweetened tea -- but there is sugar on the table."

It ain't the same thing; it ain't the same thing; it just ain't the same dadblamed thing!

You can pour all the sugar you want into a glass of unsweetened iced tea and stir until you need Tommy John surgery, that tea is not going to ever be fit to drink. I know it and you know it and every Southerner astute enough to know that tomorrow is Robert E. Lee's birthday knows it. And if you have stumbled across this column and ain't from around here and don't know about sweet tea -- or Robert E. Lee -- well, bless your heart.

When I was growing up you didn't have to ask for sweet tea with your meal. It was like grits with breakfast. It just came. Brewing the tea was an everyday occurrence at my house, and the house of everybody I knew. My mama would never have thought, in a month of Sundays, to ask someone what they wanted to drink with their meal. Drinking sweet tea was just what we did.

It was the same thing when we went out to eat -- on those rare occasions when we actually did. In the places Homer Huckaby frequented with his family, folks understood that other folks drank tea with their meals and that tea automatically came sweetened. I was 18 years old before I ever heard a waitress say, "We don't have sweet tea," and I had to take an improbable trip to Newark, N.J., to hear it then.

Blame it on I-75 or blame it on television or blame it on Jimmy Carter, like we blame everything else, but somewhere along the way the South that I grew up in became a little Yankeefied, and establishments began to pop up that offered what they called iced tea -- brown liquid with one ice cube floating on the surface -- but only the unsweetened variety, which, as we've already established, really isn't fit for human consumption.

Now you'd expect such vile behavior above the Mason-Dixon Line -- or in Florida. Folks up North just don't know any better and Florida hasn't been a Southern state in years. But this has begun to happen with alarming frequency down here -- especially the closer to Atlanta you get.

It is downright appalling! But Sunday I saw Kyle's post and thought, Finally! Something's going to be done about this ever-growing problem. I began to plot my strategy to throw all my support behind HB-819. I was going to make phone calls and write letters and possibly even organize a town hall meeting.

I hadn't been so excited about a political cause since Zell Miller wanted to give me a pay raise and pay my children's tuition at UGA.

But then the hard truth hit me right between the eyes, like the truth always does. My daddy always told me that if something sounds too good to be true, it is. Alas, Kyle had somehow dug up an old proposal from 2003. That's right, y'all. The bill to define sweet tea and ensure its inclusion on every menu from Rabun Gap to Tybee Light was written nine years ago -- and apparently went where all sensible laws go to die.

It got a first reading on March 26 and a second reading on March 27 and that was that. So, at least for the immediate future, we will have to contend with, from time to time, being told that we are welcomed to sweeten ice cold tea with tiny packets of sugar.

But if there are any legislators listening out there -- you might try raising that bill up the flag pole one more time. You never know who might decide to salute.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.