She handed me a menu, and I glanced at it and wrinkled my brow. “No fried chicken?” I regretted opening my mouth the second I said it, from the looks they gave me. “I just thought it was a Southern thing.”
Ma clucked her tongue. “You're in the mountains now, gurl. We do things a bit different around here.”
“I'll have the Rocky Mountain Oysters. Do they come in the shell?”
Jimmy Bob looked ready to swallow his tongue, and his face turned a shade of red I hadn't seen before.
I added, “I had no idea you people had such culture.” I laughed. "I’m also pretty sure I’m in the Appalachian Mountains, not the Rocky Mountains.”
Jimmy Bob shot me a look like I had better shush, but I've never been very good at taking a hint.
“It's used for stew,” Ma said. “My brother moved to Montana and brings me a hefty supply whenever he visits. They are a delicacy, you know.”
“It sounds great. I never had oyster stew.”
“Jimmy Bob, would you like some oysters, too?” Ma asked, grinning widely.
“No thanks. I'll stick with the rabbit and collard greens.”
“It's right tasty, but not as good as the oyster stew.” He smiled encouragingly.
I'm pretty sure I had missed out on the joke or was the butt of it. I grabbed a biscuit and slathered it in butter. Ma brought me a glass of milk and I drank it, even though it could have been a bit colder. Maybe these folks lacked refrigeration. I didn’t want to offend anyone, so I kept my mouth closed.
Jimmy Bob seemed intent on avoiding my eyes. I wonder what I could have said to make him avoid looking at me.
Ma brought our food and it smelled delicious. It was also steaming hot. I dipped my biscuit in to try it out. I had never had oysters that tasted anything like this. I wondered what Ma's secret was.
Two more people showed up at the table—an older man that introduced himself as Mel, and his daughter, whom he called Sissy. She grinned at Jimmy Bob.
“Hey, Jimmy Bob,” she said. “Where have you been?”
“Running coon, but we never could find the dang hounds.”
“They ran off?” Mel asked.
Jimmy Bob nodded.
“I'll keep a look out for you and bring 'em back, if I catch the rascals.” He grinned in my direction. “Is this business or pleasure?”
“Business, of course.” Jimmy Bob nudged me under the table. “She's not my type; too skinny.”
“I'm too skinny?”
“Yup, you don't have the hips for proper childbearing.”
I didn't know what to say, but I felt offended. “That doesn't matter. I have seen smaller women than me...” I shut up after I realized what I was saying. “You're right, besides, I don't plan to have children.”
“Really?” Sissy asked. “Who wouldn't want to have babies with the man they luv,” she gushed in Jimmy Bob's direction. “You know, Jimmy Bob, Paw says I'll be about marrying age next Spring.”
I looked hard at the plain woman; she looked more child than woman. Her freckled face glowed and she would probably be a looker when she was grown, but that wouldn't be for some years.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Mind your business, woman,” Jimmy Bob whispered between gritted teeth. He tried to say more, but Mel looked toward Jimmy Bob.
“No daughter of mine is gonna marry a Willow.”
“But, Paw, he's a good man and—”
Sissy dropped her eyes to her lap. “But heck, Paw. How am I gonna find a good man if you keep eliminating all of my potential suitors?”
“You need to finish schoolin' before you be talkin' like dat.” He smiled at his daughter. “Don't you worry none, honey, you'll find a man when the time is right.”
I admired how Mel took up for his daughter. I wondered how that felt. My mother had gotten pregnant at a young age and my dad was never in the picture. I don’t even have a name to put with the faceless sperm donor, as my mom referred to him the one time I asked. I sighed to myself. I had been too put off to ask twice. Maybe if Mom would share with me the details, I might not have felt so bad. I’m twenty now. I can handle the truth. It might also explain why she had a problem cutting the apron strings.
Sure, this trip was a stretch for me, but so far I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to take some Fall pictures. I could take them in northern New York, but how could I pass up an opportunity to have the mountains as a backdrop? It's interesting to learn about a new culture. I had often wondered how people lived in the mountains, and I was getting the chance to learn first hand. Not too many movies portrayed mountain folks in a positive manner, but I didn’t believe these people were all bad. So far, with the exception of back at the country store, everyone had been quite pleasant to me.
I spooned in the stew, which cooled nicely, and listened to the chatter between Jimmy Bob, Mel, and Ma. I did notice how Jimmy Bob's face paled when Sissy said she was near marrying age. So, he was still single at least. That thought made me smile at least, but I had no idea why. Lord, Kelly, you just met the man!
Breaking though my thoughts, Ma asked, “Anyone for dessert? I made fresh lemon meringue pie.”
“I'm stuffed from the Rocky Mountain oyster stew,” I said.
“Oysters?” Mel asked.
“Yes. They weren't in the shells, but quite tasty.”
“I'm sure they weren't no oysters either, more of a nickname.” He snickered. “Jimmy Bob, you rascal. How'd you get her to eat pig testicles?”
I felt nauseous and tried to will myself to hurl, but couldn't. I felt sweaty for a moment, and that's when I hit the floor.