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Tobacco and Collard Greens

Posted Jul 21 2011 9:51pm

After being at our new church for a few months I was invited by several of the older women in the church to go out to dinner with them. They were so cute when they drove up to my driveway. Their heads barely reached over the headrests and all but the driver were in the backseat. They left the front passenger seat open for me which I thought was so sweet.

On our way to the “eatin’ place” we sat in bumper to bumper traffic and I was desperately trying to carry on a conversation with a group of very quiet ladies.

I happened to glance out my window and saw a huge tobacco field. So, of all things, I start asking questions about tobacco. I never knew the process involved in making tobacco so these sweet pillars of the church explained to me how you make it. They were rather perturbed with the “new” way of making tobacco. “It isn’t as careful of a process these days,” they noted. That brought me to my next question, “Well, does tobacco taste any different today than it did back then?” I mean, seriously, what a dumb question for the pastor’s wife to ask. These are very refined, Southern church women. Would they really fess up even if they did do a little chewin’?

Dead.silence. for what seemed to be hours.

Finally one little shaky voice piped up in the back and confessed, “I tried it once with a friend but I got so sick I could hardly stand it. I’ve never had any since.” A few of the ladies swore they had never tasted it even in all the years of working the tobacco fields and others remained silent with a half grin, but never saying a word. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were reminiscing in their own minds of the good ole days.

I thought this would be a good time to tell them about how my great grandmother would ride to church in a horse and buggy and dip snuff on the way there. The problem was that when she would “spit,” the wind would catch it and swipe it into the backseat where my grandmother and her siblings were riding. They had to clean up every Sunday morning before they got out of the carriage. The best part was that the snuff wasn’t in a skoal can. Instead, it was in a beautiful Limoges china box.

We all laughed at the thought of this as we pulled into our new eating place since they had moved the other one. A squabble about broke out over the eatin’ place. Half the ladies thought we hadn’t gone far enough while the others thought they had taken the old Shoney’s place down. We ended up at Golden Coral for dinner. And no more than five minutes after we got there and prayed for our food did major drama go down.

One of our groupies got choked on some cabbage. Choking and gasping for breath. The lady next to her patted her on the back but this wasn’t helping at all. I sat there and thought, “Surely, she will be okay in a second.” But the seconds turned into minutes. I got up and tried to do the Heimlich while she was sitting down. (Don’t ever do that because that’s NOT the way you’re supposed to do it.) I hadn’t thought about the Heimlich since the word was on a spelling test in high school. I knew how to spell it but was struggling with how to do it. I was afraid I’d break some ribs if I did it too hard. I asked my 97 year old friend if she could breathe. She had sheer panic on her face as she shook her head NO and pointed to her throat. She was about to choke to death and it was going to be my fault. The pastor’s wife was killing one of the founding members of the church because she couldn’t do the Heimlich maneuver right. Not good. I loved this sweet, independent widow who still lived at home by herself. I had to figure something out.

A few minutes later I looked at all the people in the restaurant that were staring at us like a freak show and yelled, “Is there a doctor or medic in the house? We need some help here!” Two people came over and told me to stand her up. I did this and it helped some but she still was struggling to breathe. I swear every time she would try to cough hard her bottom set of dentures would go out about a ¼”. I kept waiting for them to fly out on the tray in front of her but thankfully they never did. Finally after about four minutes of trying to clear the airway she got relief and all was well. By that time the rest of the ladies were in shock. They swore they were praying the whole time I was beating her on the back and yelling at everyone around us to do something.

What do you really say at that point? She sure as heck didn’t want anymore cabbage. Neither did the rest of us. So we all just sat there in silence. Me and my 90 year old friends. Sitting quietly and staring at our cabbage and collard greens. Somebody had called the ambulance so a fire truck showed up and two paramedics came in to check her out. My friend was fine but still had to fill out a bunch of paperwork. We finally boxed up our food and made our way out to the car. We got lost a few times on the way home but eventually made it back home. Whew! I was never so glad to see home. Who’da ever thought that my first night out the girls would be so dramatic!

I look back on that night and as traumatic as it was it served as one of the sweetest memories I’ve had at our church. These ladies spent time and effort into trying to make the night so special for me. I often take things for granted in my busy, frantic days. It’s not always easy to plan something as simple as a dinner out for our older sister’s in Christ. My meal was paid for. The front seat of the car was reserved for me. I was offered to go first in the line. I felt so honored by my new friends.

I miss my one older friend who has since gone on to be with Jesus. I regret that I never made it to her house for that ice cold glass of tea we talked about. Two of the others are now home bound and a trip to the eatin’ place isn’t an option anymore. I’m reminded to make the most of my moments. To follow through on promised visits. And to grow in my love for these sweet older women who know more about life and tobacco than they might care to admit.

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