Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Big Boy Takes A Road Trip

It had been a long time since I had been on one. Big Boy, never. (That's Big Boy in the back seat of the Taurus, before buckling up.)

Hurt my back (again) in the summer of aught-three, had two back surgeries in aught-four, finally got back to work in aught-five, and this year was the first year since, that I was healthy enough and had money enough for the trip. (Being off the better part of two years put a crimp in ye olde pocketbook.)

It was good to hit the road. I like the occasional long drive, with all of the scenery changes and junk food.

We arrived at Big Sis's house late in the night, after fourteen hours getting there, and proceeded to stay up until 5am talking.

Slept a few hours and went over and visited with Sainted Mother. We wanted to get out and see a bit of Monroe (Louisiana), and what changes had taken place.

We drove through the neighborhood where I grew up and saw the old homestead, and then drove by the Johnny's Pizza House on McKeen Place, to see if my old friend Wes was working. He's been with Johnny's over twenty years. I talked about working at Johnny's for a few years HERE, and Wes had started there in 1984.

Wes was working and made us a couple of "Sweep The Kitchen" pizzas. Johnny's is a local favorite place to eat, and has been for thirty or forty years. Their pizzas have a unique taste, the crust is light and sweet, but crunchy, and made every day, the sauce is their own blend, and best of all, there's lots of ingredients and the sauce, cheese, and ingredients are spread all the way to the edge of the pizza crust. No big bubble of crust ringing the edge of the pizza like everyone else has, just pure, succulent, goodness all the way from the first bite to the last. (That's Big Boy being the wild man he can be, by getting out of his seat belt and climbing on the dash to check out the evening sky near Tallahassee. Don't try this yourselves kids.)

The Sweep The Kitchen pizza has everything on it, peperoni, Canadian bacon, hamburger, sausage, onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, black olives, and jalapenos and anchovies, if you want them. Big Sis and I had one with the fish and hot stuff, while Lovely Wife and Sainted Mother had theirs without.

Absolutely awesome. I'm sure all of you have some local favorite that you would like to taste again if you could go back after almost six years away. Johnny's Pizza is that something for us.

Seeing and talking to Wes again was a huge blessing. Lots of memories and so little time. We had to go, and he had to get back to work.

I also have to mention the Sweet Tea they had there. It was strong and had so much sugar in it, I think it could almost march across the counter and climb into your cup. Only in the south do you get it like that. What passes for sweet tea in Florida has much less sugar. No big deal, but when the average restaurant makes it just like your Mom, you take notice.

Got to see Younger Brother, met his girlfriend K., as well as his Yorkie, Chester.

That night Sainted Mother served up a pot of "Soppin' Stew" to celebrate our almost-six-year absence. This is one of my childhood favorites, which is basically a good beef stew with potatoes and red pepper to spice it up. We always ate "light bread" with it and dipped it in the juice. Later we hit upon the idea of cutting open a couple of freshly baked biscuits on a plate and ladling the stew on them. The biscuit soaks up most of the sauce, and we're talkin' some serious taste bud joy here. The biscuit enhances the "stewy-ness" while the stew enhances the "biscuity-ness." (Phrase semi-stolen from a Burger King sausage biscuit commercial.) (That's Big Boy over there after a big mess of soppin' stew and biscuits. He had to loosen his overalls a bit.)

Later, Chester even let me hold him and he gave me some sugar. Though for the rest of the visits, he barked at me like I was an invading doberman or something.

When we were sitting around Big Sis's or Sainted Mother's houses and talked, I was steadily scanning old photos. I didn't expect to get much done, but I ended up scanning a total of 249 old, unique family photos. I wish I could have done more, but as it was, I probably missed a few sentences in conversations as I changed out photos on the scanner. I hated to be rude like that, but I told them up front that I was going to do it, and no one seemed to mind.

We also drove around Monroe some more and Big Sis and her Long Suffering Husband, henceforth to be referred to as Long Suffering B.I.L., took us out to eat some really good catfish at the Catfish Cabin on Louisville Ave. While there we saw another old friend of the family's that none of us had seen in over twenty years, sitting at the next table. I couldn't believe it was her at first and tried to get Big Sis to look and verify, but when Donna looked over and our eyes met, I saw hers get huge with recognition. We all had hugs and quickly caught up on twenty years of stuff.

Oh yeah, the catfish was outstanding, and the hush puppies were too. We've gone a long time without having catfish that tasted that good.

We went one afternoon and visited the graves of Big Brother, Don C. (my Dad), and my paternal grandparents, as well as my paternal great-grandmother. We put new flowers on their graves. It was pretty surreal to stand there and think about how much time has gone by.

The pain of the deaths of dear loved ones is still pretty close, and to think that years have gone by seems weird. It would be best if I were to shut up about this part now, ok?

But it was nice and it was right to pay our respects. I only regret that we ran out of daylight and didn't go see my Mom's folk's graves, but that cemetery was another drive away.

Big Sis had some of the rest of the family over one night and it was great to see more relatives that we love, but haven't seen since my brother's funeral in February, 2001.

Zona Gayle, Caren, and Autumn, it was a joy to see you all again.

Our nephew Andrew and his girlfriend were a pleasure to see as well. Our other nephew, Jonathan, was off-shore, working.

We ate the last night together at Chile Verde in the Lakeshore area, and it was fine. I love the way Mexican restaurants pile on the food. Hey, if you're going to eat what you want on a trip like this, you want them to pile it on! I needed one hand to eat with, and one hand to wipe the sweat off my brow with a napkin. The owners are from Mexico, and they make their stuff quite different from El Chico and Taco Bell. Plus, Sainted Mother has a reputation with them, and they came out to see if she finished her plate. They are always amazed and shake their head at her performance. They can't believe a little woman in her seventies can sock away that much food, and very hot and spicy food to boot.

Lovely Wife and I headed home on the 31st, and it took us sixteen hours to get back to Palm Bay. It was much harder coming back, we were exhausted and it rained hard for several hours in northern Florida, between Tallahassee and Ocala. That was tough driving in that kind of weather at 3am when your eyes want to close. It turned 2007 while we were leaving a Whataburger parking lot in Tallahassee.

We finally got home to the loud acclaim of our little doggies, and to a quieter welcome from our daughters at 6:30 am.

I'll talk about some other stuff and post some more pics from our trip on tomorrow's post.

We were blessed to be able to go and visit with family and friends after so long. Thanks to all, and especially to Big Sis, Long Suffering B.I.L., and Sainted Mother for their hospitality and the good food.

I have to give a shout out to our two new buddies in Monroe, Chester and Baxter. Chester is Younger Brother's Yorkie, and Baxter is Big Sis's gi-normous yellow Labrador. We missed our little fellas a lot, and Baxter let us love on him all we wanted, and Chester did off and on, he's a terrier to the bone though.

And to my readers, I'm sorry I didn't post like I had hoped to. I was sick (and am still not over the sickness) during the trip. I ran out of time and energy to post more. Like yesterday, I just barely got to work, and with my hoarseness and coughing, everyone left me alone. When I woke up, blogging was the last thing on my mind.

'Til tomorrow


Sindi1968 said...

I have been keeping up with you and your trip home. I was going to send and email and ask if you have ever eaten at Johnny's. It is the best , right? I have even paid big $$ to have them mailed to me.
Did they still have sweep the swamp?

JAM said...

I didn't see any signs for Sweep The Swamp. It probably won't be available until crawfish season, starting in Feb. I may be wrong though, I just don't know for sure.

We saw on their website that Johnny's will ship you a pizza, but haven't done it. We did buy 3-14 inch Sweep The Kitchens in the "take it home and bake it yourself" form. Those we left behind in Florida, Daughters, M.I.L., S.I.L. got a treat the day we got back. Hot Johnny's pizza. Sure made our house smell good, too.

Hammer said...

That sounds like a great trip. I'll have to make some soppin stew.

Those are some cute dog pics btw

Marsha (Big Sis) said...

Yes, they still have Sweep The Swamp but it's only sold during crawfish season (spring). We had Johnny's Pizza night before last, Cary had his own and I had my own w/ anchovies!

Me and Baxter have been in a funk since you left. He moped around all day Monday and didn't even eat his food (he's probably still full from the one billion treats he got in a 4 day span). He's happy now, the tree is down and he's got his spot in front of the window again where he can be the sentinel!

It's been a week today that you were here and I wish you were still here. I hope it's not years before we see you again! I love you!

Emily said...

Wow, it's been awhile! I've got a lot to catch up on here... Man, this post really makes me want pizza and/or stew. There's lasagna in the fridge...that's close enough. Glad you had a good Christmas and New Year's!

mommaofpoodles said...

Thanks for bringing us a pizza from Monroe. I almost eat the entire thing; and yall know that sweep isn't my fav. That's how much i miss Johnny's.....

Hope you are feeling better