In 1982 I wrote a letter to Gary D. Ford, a travel writer for Southern Living magazine at the time. My letter was in response to an article and map that Ford had published about the different types of barbecue and sauce throughout the South.
The map showed clearly that my native and beloved East Arkansas was part of the red sauce region distinctive of the Southeastern United States rather than part of the Southwestern region to which many in both regions often associate all of Arkansas.
Of course, in 1991 this geographical and cultural distinction was confirmed (much to my satisfaction) when the University of Arkansas elected to leave the Southwest Conference and join the Southeastern Conference.
May 12, 1982
Southern Living Magazine
Birmingham, Alabama 35201
Dear Mr. Ford:
Thanks for the confirmation!
Coming as I do from the Southeast Arkansas Delta country (McGehee, pop. 4000, right under that chicken’s back foot), I have long been both painfully and pridefully aware that we Eastern Arkies share more in common with the Southeast than we do with the Texas-dominated Southwest.
Your barbecue map serves to point out a truth that I have always suspicioned and forever championed against all gainsayers from both regions—the Mississippi River is not the western boundary of the real South (Southwestern Bell and the Southwest Conference notwithstanding).
It is not insignificant that my hometown is located geographically closer to the state universities of Mississippi, Louisiana, and even Alabama than to my own (twice over) Alma Mater (Wooooooo-Pig-Soooooy!) up in Fayetteville; it is culturally closer to these Deep South sisters as well. Your map clearly delineates that (up to now) physically invisible but spiritually discerned boundary. For that I thank you.
Although named after that illustrious city in Alabama, Selma could well be called Georgia Colony, since so many of its early settlers (such as my own Peacock ancestors) were middle-Georgia planter, Methodist-minister visionaries who made the covered-wagon trek west just prior to the “late unpleasantness between the States.”
As a descendant of that hardy race, Floyd is the undisputed champion barbecuer of SEARK. As irrefutable proof I offer in evidence the fact that it is he who is chosen to prepare the meat for the annual Selma Homecoming. (How in the Sam Hill did y’all miss that time-honored commemoration in your “research”?)
Floyd is of the vanishin’-breed, whole-hog-in-the-ground, seasoned-hick’ry-smoked, all-night-long-watchin’-and-turnin’, secret-recipe-red-sauce-bastin’, the-ribs-is-good-but-the-cracklin’s-is-the-best-part, hand-me-the-dish-rag-it’s-drippin-on-my-shirt-front, gimme-another-RC-this-stuff-sho’-is-good-n’-hot, type culinarian. Be warned, his omission from this article is regrettable; from subsequent such articles, unforgivable!
Finally, one small note on the origin of barbecue. My French coworkers tell me that the word comes from the French barbe à cul (pronounced “bar-ba-ku”)—literally (and vulgarly), “beard to behind,” indicating the method of cooking an animal (evidently a goat). How this expression and procedure came into American usage is beyond my ken. Any ideas?
May 17, 1982
Mr. Jimmy Peacock
1926 S. Bixby Street
Sapulpa, Oklahoma 74066
Dear Mr. Peacock:
Of all the letters I’ve received in response to my barbecue article, yours had to be the best. I laughed throughout, especially over your 6-line, hyphenated description of Fred [sic] Gibson. There is a man I would like to meet.
I’m glad you found the barbecue map accurate, even down to McGehee under the chicken’s back foot. And I’ll have to get by Selma soon and eat some of Floyd Gibson’s gimme-another-RC-this-stuff-sho’-is-good-‘n-hot barbecue.
Gary D. Ford
Associate Travel Editor
P.S. I, too, ran across your idea about the origin of barbecue. I also ran across so many others, that I thought discretion the better part of valor, and did not enter the fight. Your guess is as good as mine over how it came into American usage.
Thirteen years later, I wrote a second letter to Gary Ford about another one of his articles in Southern Living. This one was about the “edge” of the South, and featured Oklahoma as being part of that “borderland.”
In my letter I mentioned an article I had written and enclosed about the cultural and linguistic differences between Southeast Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma. I will publish that article and address that subject in a later post.
17 August 1995
Gary D. Ford, Travel Editor
Southern Living Magazine
P.O. Box 523
Birmingham, AL 35201
Although you may not recall the incident, way back in 1982 I wrote to comment on your marvelous —and now infamous—barbecue article, which epistle seemed to pique your interest (see attached).
Now I am moved to respond to your equally marvelous (and perhaps yet to become equally infamous) article “Life Along the Edge of the South,” the first and only piece in the August issue I have had a chance to read. (We editor/writers do stay busy, don’t we?)
As an exiled southeastern Arkie in northeastern Oklahoma, I was particularly interested in your report on the Sooner State and its indecisive denizens who “don’t know whether they’re Southerners or Midwesterners or Southwesterners.”
In support of this truth by one who has been there (for lo these eighteen dismal years!), I have taken the liberty of enclosing an unpublished but frequently updated article I wrote originally in 1982 (coincidence?) on this very subject.
Note the “coincidental” references to Okies’ lack of regional identity, my version of Oklahoma’s “crazy quilt of a cultural mosaic,” and Okies’ maddening use of the term “pop” for “Coke.” Your assessment of the situation here in Soonerland was right on the money! As I, a native of “the Holy Land,” tell these ig’nernt East Okies, “Thou art not far from the Kingdom!” (I also tell them, “Oklahoma’s okay, why it’s next to heaven!”)
Thanks again for the “confirmation” and keep ‘em comin’.
Your devoted admirer and kindred spirit,
PS The next time you’re out this way, give me a call. We’ll git together to “call them Hawgs” while sharing a plate of real Southern-style barbecue and a Coke!