2018-08-10 / Commentary

Archibald’s Cutting Board

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation

Jake noticed the cutting board first. Three inches thick at the edges but worn to almost nothing in the middle. He waited until the sweating, extremely busy man temporarily stopped moving and asked if that was the place’s original cutting board.

The place was Archibald’s, a legendary Alabama BBQ joint in downtown Northport, just across the Black Warrior River from Tuscaloosa. We were in town for the Annual Cox Boys Reunion. Jake and I were running errands. One involved picking up takeout from this place to feed our group for the next several meals. I hadn’t been to Archibald’s in decades; maybe dating back to my baseball playing days at the lumber yard a few blocks away. My youngest child was visiting for the first time.

I was the oldest of four children with two working parents. Dinner wasn’t cold beans and stale bread, but one learned to turn the stove on if one wanted to eat something not prepared by a tired parent. I could make cat head biscuits at ten, cornbread soon after, and scratch pies from last season’s peaches before my voice changed.

My father cooked pot roast on Sundays that involved mushroom soup mix. My mother’s oldest brother grilled my first mesquite steak when we were visiting in Texas. At 16, I knew I wanted to be like those guys.

I taught all my sons the importance of being able to cook. All three took to it as a fun hobby that occasionally challenged them. Jake took it to heart. Under every circumstance, I turn the tongs over to him. I still feel I can match skills with Shane and Chad but Jake surpassed me long ago. Watching him absorb the ambiance in Archibald’s was a treat; like observing a young virtuoso at Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville, or my buddy TF in a Marine hardware store.

The cook slicing ribs told us they replaced the cutting board about every three years. During the time I observed him, there was no heavy chopping on the board, just slicing. That’s a lot of ribs and pulled pork.

While I was going through the process of becoming single back in the 90s, one of my technicians in Corbin, Kentucky asked about my pending divorce, mostly what I might do to keep from starving. He asked if I ate out a lot and was stunned when I told him I was able to cook.

He told me he’d never even constructed a sandwich. His mother, and later his wife, refused to allow a man in her kitchen. He was in his early 50s when this happened. I suggested he hang on to that woman; he’d be lost without her. And starving.

Most of my extended family, and the people they regularly associate with, eat with enthusiasm. Preparation and consumption of meals involve rituals that connect most of us with generations of people. Many of those people were men.

In the overall scheme of things, that might not be as important as being educated, treating others with due respect, or passing learned lessons to offspring. Our people try to do that too.

We just don’t worry about going hungry.

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