Thoughts from behind the dumpster

Published 3:00 am Saturday, October 11, 2014

Just what heaven is like, I’m not exactly sure.

But I kind of think the Good Lord will prepare special places for each one of us.

Not to count my chickens before they hatch but I’m hoping my special place is either a cabin at the foot of the Teton Mountains or a front row seat at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.

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Either one will suit me just fine.

That’s what I was thinking last weekend as I sat listening to the rain tap on the top of the circus-type tent and waiting for the next storytellers to weave their magic with words at the 42nd National Storytelling Festival.

I was so deep in thought that I didn’t notice the sniffing all around me until it reached a crescendo.

Every nose – all 1,200 of them was sniffing– and every eye – all 2,400 of them – was on my fried “baloney” sandwich. The aroma of the fried baloney mixed with mustard and mayonnaise and a real dill pickle filled the tent. Mouths were watering and I couldn’t take another bite knowing this was not a five loaves and two fish kind of day.

So, I slipped my fried baloney sandwich back in the bag and hurried out of the tent to eat my sandwich where no eyes could see or noses could sniff.

As I crouched behind a large metal dumpster, chewing each bite the 32 times recommended for meat, my thoughts drifted back to the summer I was crowned Queen of Fried Baloney.

It was the summer of … well, it was several years ago.

I was working at Canyon Village at Yellowstone National Park. I was a pantry girl but I also worked in the employees’ cafeteria when I wasn’t bathing heads of lettuce in the kitchen sink or creating relish trays out of recycled raw vegetables.

Being a pantry girl was a step above slapping Salisbury steak and sauerkraut on a line of trays being shoveled along by snobby Ivy Leaguers from East Coast colleges and hippies from areas of California void of soap and water.

Evidently, the Yellowstone Park Company chefs had never heard of fried pork chops and turnip greens. If it hadn’t been for the jar of peanut butter that I kept hidden under my bed I would have nearly starved to death.

I survived on rolls, butter and green beans during the week and on chocolate milk on Sunday nights when we had “cold cuts.”

I’d never heard of such a thing as cold cuts. They looked like square pieces of uncooked meat with pimento, poppy seeds and olives smashed into them. Daddy ate souse and liked it. So I figured cold cuts were Sunday souse and I didn’t want any part of it.

But there, among all those cold cuts, was one piece of meat that I recognized – baloney.

It wasn’t the kind that Mr. Lamar Belcher sliced “real thin” for Mama at the City Market but it did hold a resemblance to it.

Forget the cold cuts. I decided to make me a baloney sandwich. But first I had to fry the baloney because I didn’t eat raw meat. So, I turned on the grill and fried a piece of baloney, crisp around the edges and a little burned in the middle. I put the piece of fried baloney between two pieces of bread that I had smeared with mayonnaise and mustard, added a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce and a few pickles and I was in hog heaven.

I noticed several noses sniffing. “What’s that?” the noses wanted to know.

Fried baloney. It’s a Southern thing.

The next Sunday night, several hippies wanted to try a fried baloney sandwich. The next Sunday night the prissy pants got in line. By the third Sunday night, nobody was eating cold cuts and I was sweating over the hot grill trying to keep up with the orders.

This went on for a couple of Sunday nights until Chef Grumpy noticed the summer stock of baloney was almost gone.

Then, came the directive from the YP company: The grill CANNOT be turned on on Sunday nights. Now, that didn’t set well with about 200 college kids who had developed a taste for fried baloney sandwiches. So, on the next Sunday night, nobody ate. Nor the next.

The hippies were experienced protesters and protest they did. They waved signs, wrote messages on the paper napkins and banged their plastic glasses on the tables. Then, the prissy pants joined in and they all made a big fuss.

A few days later came another directive: Let the girl from Alabama fry baloney!

I was crowned Queen of Fried Baloney. My crown was a colander with slices of baloney stuck on its feet and my scepter was a large turning fork. We all sang “A hundred slices of baloney on the grill” and then we sat down to a Sunday cold cut night of fried baloney sandwiches.

Those are thoughts from behind the dumpster at the 42nd National Storytelling Festival in historic Jonesborough, Tennessee.