Some of you may know that I spent my childhood and college years in and around Lansing, Michigan. You know, state capitol, birthplace of Oldsmobile, and home to a large and reasonably well-regarded public university. It wasn’t a horrible place to grow up: there were parks, trees, video game arcades, a good local theater and a few thriving independent businesses. I’m still thankful for its four distinct seasons, good public schools, and modicum of diversity. And despite being an early casualty of the auto-industry-collapse Diaspora, I only moved about five hours south, to Cincinnati. While my sister is quite happy and prosperous in Phoenix, I’ve sometimes felt an affinity to one of Darwin’s Galapagos finches, well suited to my surroundings, but completely out of place anywhere but my own native habitat.
Now, despite my grounding in the Midwest, our family did have one other important geographic connection, one which I had to think clearly about when i received a small package from “home” this past week. My father grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and all of his side of the family still lives there. Our family vacations typically involved the twelve-hour trek down I69/65 to visit, sight see, guzzle the absurdly sweet tea I’m only now shaking off an addiction to, and absorb the culture shock of the slower, genteel Deep South.
But Birmingham is also home to my first real Food Memory. Ollie’s Barbecue. No matter what the circumstances of our trip south, no matter how much or how little time we had, our extended family always made it a point to go. It’s one of those traditions kids get caught up in, but by the time I was a teenager I could never wait to go to Ollie’s and sit at the ancient Formica counter top and watch the meat being smoked.