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by C. Jeanette Tyson

     There they were, several women in black feather boas, shiny pink skirts and shirts and sequins, boots, fishnet hose. They call themselves the Sowpremes, the Queens of Elgin, or maybe I made that queen part up, and they were one of the first things I saw upon arriving at The County Line.    
     The other thing was The Longhorn, all the way from Ft. Worth. He had a placid way, belying the pointed menace of the horns, and a saddle. I donít know if The Longhorn had a name, but it had endless patience in front of the cameras.      
     Then again, the SXSW Film Festival had kicked off and this was a filmmakersí party; I shouldíve known to expect seasoned celebrities.

     Inside there were women in tight jeans and men in tighter jeans and everyone in boots. There was Governor Ann Richards, who narrated the film, and Liz Carpenter, who featured prominently in it. There was Cactus Pryor, also featured, and a rockiní band from San Antonio called Two Tons of Steele who provided the soundtrack.

     The film is called BBQ: A Texas Love Story. Director Chris Elley and his crew traveled up and down the great state looking for barbeque in all the right places. Seems they found a bit more.
     As one of the interviewees said, you can go left, or you can go right, but you always come back to barbeque. The question: what is it that makes barbecue so darn special to Texans?

     Well, if it helps you make the $20,000 payment on the fire truck, thatís special.
     And if it helps you raise the hackles of the University of Texas president, thatís special, too. Seems the kids in the Barbecue Club devised a seal that closely resembled the revered institutionís, in some folksí opinion. Though I didnít realize that the University seal memorialized brisket, sausage and pork ribs.
     If you can do a little mosquito calling during a barbecue, thatís special, too. (In North Carolina, where the barbecue is made from shredded pork and the sauce has a lot more vinegar, they have hog-calling contests. This seems more practical for a barbecue, not to mention comfortable, but I digress.)
     And if you can live long after youíre gone, in the hearts and stomachs of your town, and in the lawyerís offices of your children, well, thatís special, too. As the tale goes, the father, whose barbecue joint pulled in people from far and wide, willed the business to his son and the building that housed it to his daughter. There were eventually differences of opinion on how things should be done, with the upshot being that the brother moved down the street and opened his own barbecue joint. The local newspaper covered the event, as itís not every day you see a grown man carrying a live coal down the street, the fire from the original pit, he apparently felt, being part of the business. Now, of course, the town is divided. Some remain loyal to the old place, some enjoy the clean walls and legible menu of the new.
     But this seems to be the exception, for the recurring theme of Elleyís film is that barbecue brings us all together, brother and sister, friend and neighbor. Even political enemies can lay down their swords and pick up a rib. Even people who arenít native to the state!
     I was involved in a terrifically minor way with this film and was in attendance the day they interviewed Liz Carpenter. Ms. Carpenter, who likes a good barbecue, had invited a few people over. Some brought their guitars, others brought stories.
     She started talking about her days as Lyndon Johnsonís press secretary. Johnson threw a good many barbecues at his ranch. But one day was special. It was November 22, 1963. President Kennedy and his wife were coming; Jacqueline had never been to Texas and the ranch was abuzz with preparations.
     Ms. Carpenter was in Dallas with Johnson but Cactus Pryor was on the ranch, arranging for the entertainment. One of the performers was a guy who taught the Texas Rangers how to shoot, a marksman, an excellent one.
    Amid all the activity, someone noticed dust rising up on the road, then the small outline of a pickup truck and then the driver hanging out the window, yelling.
     Finally the truck got close enough and then they heard; the Presidentís been shot, the driver was yelling, the Presidentís been shot in Dallas. They ran into the house. There was a 16-inch color television on top of the refrigerator. Someone turned it on and a while later there was Cronkite, confirming the terrible news.
     One of the Secret Service men said, "You are now in the house of the President of the United States." There in the kitchen they knew before anyone else that Kennedy had died. The Secret Service man said they would all have to leave.
     The chef opened the oven door. There were two pecan pies being baked for the President of the United States. What should she do with them, the woman asked, what would become of these pies?
     Wrap them in foil, Bess Able directed, weíll take them to Washington.
     It was the first decision made in the new administration.
     Outside, in Ms. Carpenterís backyard, the crew had gone silent. There were tears in her eyes. A chill ran down my spine. It had been so long ago; we all knew the story, knew the ending.
     But there it was, the power of barbecue. For in Texas, it rarely, almost never, goes wrong.
C. Jeanette Tyson is a freelance writer and mother of Jackson and Maddy. If you missed Chris Elleyís film during SXSW, you can pick up the trail at www.bbqfilm.com Got a tip, suggestion, idea or feedback for A Little More on Your Plate? Send it to Jeanette at: foodie@austinmama.com


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