A Beloved Snack with a Side of Sentiment
Mark ditches the Impala and heads south for good times and an addictive favorite
A lifetime ago, before I had children or real jobs, my not-quite-yet wife Karen and I set off for points south with our friends Fred and Sherry. We met at Fred’s parents’ house on Long Island, Karen and I limping down from Somerville in some ’63 Chevy or other (we had a series of them, Impalas and Chevelles, all near junkers), one that needed a quart of oil every fifty miles. Fred’s father took one look at it and said “You’re not driving a thousand miles in that?!”
Well, we had nothing else. Maybe Fred and Sherry’s car was no better, I can’t remember, but Fred’s dad just said, “Take my car,” a late-model Cadillac that none of us would want to be seen dead in. Still: Not only did it run, it ran perfectly, and it was roomy and after all there was no pretending we were not middle-class post-college white kids. In fact en route not a few people commented on what nice wheels we were driving.
We set up the back as if it were a living room, with pillows and snacks, and we listened to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” on the radio about fourteen times a day, and we stopped at a couple of places, and we visited Okracoke, and we wound up at some place near Myrtle Beach where we camped and birdwatched – those skimmers! – and we swam a little. It was April, but warm enough.
One day we drove into Charleston. It was 1976.
We did what tourists do: walked around the harbor, poked into this and that, wound up at the old slave market. (That’s now a museum. I have only been back to Charleston once, and it was so work-focused I have no sense of the city at all.)
Someone yelled, “Balled peanuts! Balled peanuts!”
Of course that’s what it sounded like. The old and semi-toothless guy was standing in front of an aluminum stockpot, set on a burner and emitting steam.
“What’s that?” said one of us.
“Balled peanuts,” he replied. Oh, BOILED peanuts. Not only could we not speak the language, we’d never heard of the food. We bought some; they were fifteen cents, after all.