Being and Southerness: pineapple coconut cake, the town of Plymouth, and onion-flavored turds
by Angela Perez
One Sunday in September of 1979, the wind blew hard all day and I sat rather uncomfortably in the parking lot next to the Church of God in the small Southern town of Plymouth, North Carolina. Here in this swampy little town the geese congregate for a spell in the fall and the air year-round smells like sulfur thanks to the smokestacks on the pulp mill down the road. This morning, I heard Sister Dale tell Sister Overton as they were setting up the tables outside for this afternoon’s church homecoming luncheon that the stinky smell put out by the pulp mill is the smell of money. Most of the church congregation is employed there and it’s pulp mill money what paid for all these pretty pink cotton dresses and white vinyl pumps from Rose’s.
All afternoon, old ladies with stiff grey beehive hairdos have been cutting into me, into my moistness, and exclaiming “Sister Braswell has done it again! Good Lord, I’ll have to take twice as many sugar pills tonight! Praise the Lord!” I will admit, I had some competition from Sister Overton’s collard greens with fatback and homemade cornmeal dumplings (you can still see where her nimble fingers made impressions in the dough). But at the end of the church day, it’s dessert that finishes everyone off and that’s what they taste on their lips as they drive home to watch football and vacuum the floor and crochet a little colorful lopsided afghan destined for the back of the couch. My creamy frosting is what they will remember as they doze off in the La-Z-Boy recliner, wearily dreaming of those long ago days when afternoon sex was a sure thing on the weekend.
Ah, but I digress! Back to church!
There among the wooden benches pulled from the vestibule into the parking lot, people moaned in ecstasy over my creamy coconut frosting and then rolled their eyes into the back of their heads (I promise I am not a sex-obsessed cake. I just call the world as I view it.) As Brother Braswell stuck a fork in me, I heard him whisper to the Korean mail-order bride (who was married at the time to Brother Chester, a 65-year old man who always sat through Sunday service cleaning his filthy fingernails with a rusty pocketknife) that he wanted one more go ’cause she had such a sweet-ass cooter.
The Korean woman raised her eyebrows and primly directed him to try her kimchi salad, which was an unusual dish to see on a table at a church homecoming in a small town in the South in the 70s. “Be careful when you eat it, Brother Braswell,” said the Korean lady, “it’s real spicy, like my cooter.” He laughed and licked some frosting off his fork in a suggestive way. I saw his toupee was flapping in the wind just a bit and wondered if the Korean lady noticed too.
I was a pineapple coconut cake for most of an entire day, but I never let all of the compliments make me cocky. And then, as you know, by about two o’clock that afternoon, after about 100 people had stuck a knife into my gentle sides or, in the case of some of the really old people, stuck a pissy smelling finger into my top to scoop up a dab of frosting, I was reduced to mostly fluffy golden crumbs. Life sure is odd. Just as you receive all the accolades and compliments and recognition that you need to go out and be confident in the world, you just up and disappear. Doomed to a toilet bowl or an adult diaper in just a few hours.
What else can I say? Did the folks at that homecoming in Plymouth really find joy in me that day? Could I have behaved differently there amidst the giant cast iron pots of collard greens and cabbage and brightly colored Tupperware bowls of coleslaw, and mac and cheese and potato salad? Well, I mean, sure, it doesn’t matter now, but I want to know because there will be many more cakes after me at future church homecomings. I mean, these little kids who were digging their spoons into me all afternoon will grow up and bake their own cakes on hundreds of Saturday nights to be ready for Sunday homecoming. This little town will grow and flourish because the ever-deepening stench of sulfur tells us so. That pulp mill will make paper forever and little families from West Virginia will continue to move down here to find work and they’ll keep building white and yellow shot-gun houses and buying dresses and shoes from that little Rose’s department store downtown. The world will always need paper!
Aw, sure, I was a delicious cake for just a day but I’ll tell you this: at least I wasn’t Sister Smithwick’s broccoli casserole, that one covered in French-fried onions. That dish always makes Reverend Dean so gassy and his farts stink up the parsonage for days after homecoming because he loves the way Sister Smithwick sautees her broccoli in lard first. But, oh, what wonderful explosions emanate from the rolls of onion-flavored turds in his butt! What yells of disgust Brother Dean makes while he sits on the toilet! So, kids of the South, listen to me carefully. Keep your mind on the future and find a good husband or wife and have two children, a boy and a girl, and go to church and figure out what dish you make best and bring it to homecoming. For this is the way of the world.
*Editor’s note: thanks be to Istvan Orkeny, a Hungarian writer who went to the movies and hasn’t been seen since