From The Backseat Of An Old Desoto

I have been spending a lot of time lately working in a pick-your-own berry patch located almost in the heart of one of Tennessee’s fastest growing cities, which gives me the opportunity to meet a lot of people. Many of them have moved to our state from other parts of the country and world to enjoy what I have been fortunate enough to grow to love due to the fact I was born here at an early age and chose not to leave.

I have always been a people admirer. Guess I got that training from early days of coming to town on Saturdays and being told to stay in the car while my parents did their shopping on our town seat’s public square. My older brother and sister along with myself would do our “people watching” from the backseat of our old Desoto, as everyone would assemble on the square back in those days. Saturday was the day you took off from work on the farm to come into the city to get your necessities and see everyone else doing the same thing. There was not a mall, shopping center, or very few large grocery stores, but the town square had everything you needed, plus a great place to watch people without them noticing you watching them.

Since that time, I have always enjoyed talking to people from other places and learning about their lives, along with finding out more about the places they came from. In a way, I have travelled around this world without ever leaving home and seen some interesting places through the eyes of those who have been there.

While spending my days in the berry patch, I have had to help folks with their purchases and check them out at our stand. I enjoy their stories about when they use to pick strawberries as a child or tell about how sweet the produce is from the state they come from. You get a lot of stories that start with “back where I’m from” and go on to explain about how they miss those days as well as those products.

Of course, I could be mean and say something negative, but that would not be the right thing to do. And, as I have thought more about these “where I come from” encounters, as one who holds a degree of PWA (People Watcher Analyst) awarded in the backseat of a Desoto, I have determined that most of these people are really telling you memories rather than actual facts. Most of them are remembering the good days and for some reason food often figures into our best memories. Like grandmother’s house on Sundays, homecomings at a church, picnics, the first time you met your spouse, county fairs and other special times. Flavors of things just seem to stay with us and many times remind us of home.

It is sort of like what I’ve said many times since I’ve become older, “Food just don’t taste like it used to when I was a kid.” And in all of my PWA studies I have found this to be true and you know I’m totally right. But it is no ones fault but our own.

Since those of you over 50 and myself were kids, the medical profession and modern-day cooks have taken lard, fatback and the cast iron skillet out of the kitchen. They put the skillets in yard sales for people to buy and paint little pictures on the back to sell once again as country folk art and replaced it with a microwave that cooks our food by using microwave radiation to heat and polarize molecules within the food.

The word “fried” has been made so taboo in our culture to the point where even Colonel Sanders wouldn’t feel comfortable with his own chicken anymore. If you don’t believe me, take a look at what they have done. It use to be called Kentucky Fried Chicken, but wanting to dodge the bad feelings some people had about the word “fried,” they changed it to just KFC. Now they are even pushing grilled chicken. Nothing against grilled chicken, and I’m sure it is good, but if I’m going to Kentucky Fried Chicken, I assure you it will be the original recipe this chicken-eater will be looking for. That’s the taste I remember.

What we once called “seasoning” is now called a quick way to a heart attack. Instead of ham hocks, bacon drippings and Crisco, we now go out in the yard and pull up weeds to season our food. Mrs. Dash now sits on the table instead of the saltshaker and the kitchen cabinets hold bottles of cholesterol medicines. So, if I understand it right, we have removed country seasonings from our diets and instead now cook our food by radiation and polarized molecules. Still have to admit that country seasonings sound more appetizing than polarized molecules.

Yeah, food does change depending upon where you are from; often the same foods hold different memories for different people. Hopefully we are becoming healthier. However, as I think back to those folks gathered on the square on those special Saturdays, they seemed to look happier. Of course, that’s from my memory and from the backseat of an old Desoto.



Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at