You Ain't Goin' Nowhere

I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.

Those are not my words. They belong to Joan Didion. But when I stumbled across them recently, I felt that familiar, almost forgotten, tug. Why I write. Why I wrote. Why I kept journals from childhood to adulthood, why I had, have, a blog, why I’m writing this. I unpack my thoughts and feelings, deconstruct them, understand them, via the written word. I often go back through the journals and blog posts to recall how I took on life, how I took on myself, when I wrote those words.

For the past year I have not written much. Some reasons. But also, I have been seeing a therapist, which is new for me. During our hour together, I bring to the discussion a new nugget, a new part of me, something to unpack, to deconstruct, and to understand. I’m into it. Mostly. But it’s like, I can’t keep it. I struggle later to recollect our conversations, what we settled on. But when I write here it’s here forever. A little treasure I can see and reread and understand differently (or the same) each time.

After reading that Didion quote I grabbed a copy of The Year of Magical Thinking, always loving the title. It’s beautifully written. She is a beautiful writer. She’s got a distinct style, a cadence, an elegance, patience and calm confidence. She is both self reflexive and self reflective. It’s interesting that I culled these adjectives from a book written about experiencing great loss and thusly being greatly lost. The book chronicles the year following the sudden death of Didion’s husband, her year. How she acted, reacted, lived, thought and felt. Her mourning process. She also studies, historically, literarily, many other’s mourning processes to assist in understanding her own.

Thematically, this resonated with me. I suppose I have had my own year of magical thinking, my own sort of mourning, self reflection and understanding. I've recently come to understand that, good or bad, change is loss. As simple as that may sound, it's penetrating. And I found it to be extensively involved.

Well and so. Here we are at summer’s sunset. The part of summer I remember as a kid, when it finally feels totally all in like summer and, simultaneously, feels like it’s over. The dread of school starting again because it starts tomorrow. Now we have eighty some odd degree days and seventy degree days with a windy hint of bluster in the air. During this brief time, the cicadas chirp around the clock; their swan song. For some reason, this time through late fall is MY time. The time I get all the biggest feels and thoughts and whatnot. My fondest (and some of my least fond), strongest memories seem to have taken place during this time of year. This also happens to still be tomato time, and the tomato happens to be my spirit animal.

This year is different, as are they all. Yet. This year is the same, as are they all. A couple of things stand out right now (other than reading Joan Didion): I’ve been making a lot of BLTs and I’ve been listening to The Byrds while I'm making them.

Now, let me clarify. I haven’t just been making BLTs. I’ve been attempting to master every tiny element of the BLT. I’ve become like a BLT scientist, and the results of my research you'll find below. And I’m not just listening to The Byrds. I’m listening specifically to Sweetheart of the Rodeo. And there’s a reason for that.

I’m a tremendously sentimental type. I relish heirloom, heritage, lore, and anything to do with my family prior to my birth. And as my parents divorced when I was three years-old, I love hearing their stories. They were sort-of hippies but sort-of not. They had long hair, bell bottoms, and the VW bus, liked bluegrass (and other types of grass)… But they also loved Motown, R&B, funk and soul. They attended bluegrass conventions and James Brown concerts. They loved traveling and camping in that VW bus together and with friends and family.

About fifteen years ago, or whenever we were still listening to CDs, I was visiting Richmond and stumbled across a Byrds CD in my mom’s collection. Considering it was buried under Edith Piaf, Chet Baker, John Philip Sousa, The Three Tenors, a bunch of wailing Irish music, and the Debbie Boone album with You Light Up My Life, The Byrds seemed to stand out (but upon reading this entirely disparate list of albums, perhaps not).

Her eyes lit up when she saw me holding it - as though it had been quite some time since she had either listened to or thought about it. And knowing how much I hunger for this sort of tale, as mundane as it may seem to anyone else, she relished telling me the album’s context in her collection.

Before I was born, my mom, dad and their friends would load up the VW bus and head to Union Grove, North Carolina or Galax, Virginia’s Fiddler’s Conventions. I particularly love the Fiddler’s Convention stories. During a Galax event, my dad met a performer named Dusty Walker. The performers were allowed to camp much closer to the stage than other folks, and Dusty confided in my dad that he was just using his musician status for the camping proximity; that he did not intend to perform. The next day, with that knowledge, when it was announced over the loud speaker that Dusty Walker was to come on stage, my dad entered stage right flat footing and continued to do so all the way across until he exited stage left. My mom tells me she fell off her seat laughing (which, knowing her meant she probably peed her pants).

Here they are at the Union Grove Fiddler's Convention in 1972.
Dad is center with his hand in his pocket, Mom is behind him with the red hair.

This story is a simple one. My mom just has a very deep-rooted memory of being in the van, headed to the Fiddler’s Convention with Connie and Joe (or was it Travis and Jean?). My dad was driving and my mom was shotgun. The windows were down and they’re all singing along (at the top of their lungs) to You Ain’t Goin' Nowhere as they were indeed going somewhere, driving down those wood-lined, windy roads. Young, in their twenties, in love, happy, and very much alive.

Every time I listen to that album I think of them just like that and it makes me smile inside and out.

I guess Joan Didion, Sweetheart of the Rodeo and BLTs sound about as disparate as my mom’s CD collection, and maybe I’m John Nash-ing a little bit here, but they represent the trifecta of my summer. Together they are the reason I’m writing this, so they make perfect sense to me.

Okay, okay, let's unpack this BLT. And so we begin with the first letter in our sandwich: B. Earlier in the summer, while dreaming that the tomato plants in my garden would one day grow to be vibrant and fecund with fruit (I’m still waiting), and mentioning craving a BLT to my friend Kate, she forever changed the course of my summer with mention of The Bacon Weave. Remember those potholders we made on the little looms as kids? Or, for those a little more kitchen elevated, pastry lattice a top pies? Those things, but with bacon. The reasons for this on a BLT are three-fold:

  1. No bite is without bacon.
  2. Bacon does not shoot out from the back of the sandwich when you take a bite.
  3. Bacon weave helps keep all of that mayonnaisey, salty, tomato juiciness inside the sandwich, and hence your mouth, as opposed to splattered gruesomely onto your plate/lap/wrist/arm/sink/floor.

Yes, the type of bacon matters, but I believe that’s a personal choice. Some people like peppery bacon, or applewood smoked bacon, or thick-cut, or whatever. Regardless of your bacon choice, a proper weave to fit the standard sandwich bread is three slices of bacon, cut in half, and baked at 425 degrees for about fifteen minutes depending on if you’re a crispy bacon lover or a chewy bacon lover (I like a little chewiness).

Now, onto the L. I believe that a BLT, like most food, is greatly about texture. Though I grow about a half a dozen frou-frou lettuce varieties in my garden, I believe that a crunchy lettuce is integral to the proper BLT. That means iceberg or romaine hearts. Boom.

The T. While all elements of the BLT are essential (or it wouldn’t be called a BLT), the tomato, in my humble opinion, is paramount. I may be biased as I consider pretty much the most perfect food thing on Earth (the oyster is a close second). You’ll need a fairly large and superbly ripe specimen. I prefer red, just because of the arresting color it adds to the sandwich. Two generous slices from the center part of the tomato, add a tiny pinch of salt.

As far as the bread goes, I rather like a lightly toasted sourdough or potato bread. Something generally straightforward, not too fancy, intense, grainy, or anything extra artisanal and crusty that could destroy the roof of your mouth. After all, this sandwich has a lot of crunch with its accompaniment of the bacon and lettuce.

With regard to mayonnaise, I use Duke’s and only Duke’s, and I smear it on the inside of both pieces of bread with a liberal sprinkle of salt and pepper (if not using peppery bacon).

Now that we have our elements, let’s discuss the order of things. I’ve tried it however many ways one can (math is hard), and the most successful approach is easy; stick to the order of the letters. Bacon, then lettuce, then tomato. The reason, in my opinion, is back to texture. One side of the sandwich gives way to the cool, soft and sweet tomato and the other registers crunchy, salty, porky umami. Each side complimented by the creamy swoosh of mayo with that crisp sheath of lettuce in the middle hydrating each bite.

Every color, texture, and flavor are represented. And, if you’re a tomato geek like me, mid-July to mid-September is the quintessential time to really get the most out of this classic sandwich.


Three years ago: Coconut Cake
Four years ago: Navajo Fry Bread
Six years ago: Chocolate-Sea Salt Pie
Seven years ago: The Ludo Truck
Eight years ago: Pissota con l”Olio

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