I was chatting with my friend Linda Boyd at our Oak Tree Gang tailgate party last Saturday and the talk turned to food. Imagine that! We were literally surrounded by food -- in all directions.
I specifically asked Linda if she had a box stuffed away somewhere, filled with her mother-in-law's recipes. Linda sadly shook her head and said, "No, I'm afraid her recipes didn't translate very well." Then she proceeded to explain to me how her mother-in-law cooked candied yams.
"She tried to teach me to cook like she did, but it just wasn't the same at home. She was going to teach me to make candied yams one day, for instance. Well, she had a big 50 pound sack of sweet potatoes and we sat down and peeled all those potatoes and started slicing them onto this giant pan and then she hefted a 10-pound bag of sugar and sprinkled it all over that big sheet of sweet potatoes and then she took a giant cake of butter that had been sitting at room temperature all morning and spread it all over the sweet potatoes and then started another layer of potatoes ...
"She didn't measure anything," Linda lamented, adding, "It just didn't work."
Now if you are wondering what in the world I am talking about right about now, I will let you in on the rest of the story. Linda Boyd is married to Spencer Boyd. I taught with Spencer at Cousins Middle School during my first tour of duty as an educator. He was one of my childhood heroes. I had watched him play basketball for the Newton Rams when I was a very small child. As a college player Spencer once led the nation in free throw percentage and he is one of the few people ever to best me in a free throw shooting contest.
None of the above is what makes the fact that Linda is married to Spencer relevant to the whole cooking yams story. The fact that Spencer's mother was Effie Boyd, however, makes the story very relevant.
In case you aren't from around here, Mrs. Effie Boyd --"Ef," as her friends called her -- operated the restaurant at the Porterdale Hotel for years and years and years. Just ask anybody about how good the food was at the Porterdale Hotel. There was none better -- not in these parts and not in the state of Georgia.
The food was served cafeteria style and people came from all over to enjoy Mrs. Ef Boyd's fried chicken and country fried steak and chicken and dressing and fresh vegetables. Don't even get me started on the cobblers. I cannot overstate how well renowned her restaurant was around the American South back in the 1950s and '60s. Everywhere I speak -- and I speak in an awful lot of places -- when I mention that I am from Porterdale -- and I always mention that I am from Porterdale -- someone, or a lot of someones come up to me and want to talk about eating at the Porterdale Hotel. I always tell them, with pride, that I grew up right across the street.
We would sit on the porch when we got home from church on Sundays and marvel at the number of cars lining Highway 81, the road that runs through the village, and the long line of people standing at the door or sitting on the front porch rockers, waiting to get inside to enjoy Effie Boyd's food. Some Sundays there would still be a long line at 3 o'clock. It's kind of funny, though. We didn't actually walk across the street and eat very often. It was a different day, back then. We seldom ate out at all.
That doesn't mean we didn't get to enjoy Mrs. Boyd's culinary mastery, however. She cooked the food at Porterdale School for many years and nobody ever ate better for 50 cents a week. Any time there was a banquet or fancy dinner in town, Mrs. Boyd did the catering, and on days Mama worked late at the mill, which were many, she would tell me to "run across and ask Ef to send us some supper." My mama was a great cook in her own right, but I did enjoy those days I got to run across and ask Ef to send us some supper.
Linda told me a story that really made me laugh -- and think a little, too. She said that one week before she was to marry Spencer, he was with her at her parent's house when the new edition of "Brown's Guide to Georgia" arrived in the mail. In that particular edition, Mrs. Effie Boyd had been recognized as the "Best Cook in Georgia." Of course we all knew that already.
Linda started crying when she saw the story because, at the time, she didn't know how to cook at all. Spencer knew what to say and insisted that he wasn't marrying her for her cooking and would be happy to eat peanut butter sandwiches every day.
Their marriage succeeded and I can testify from eating Linda's tailgate offerings over the years that she has become an excellent cook in her own right. But I would purely love to be able to run over to the Porterdale Hotel to let Mrs. Effie Boyd fix me a plate just one more time.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.