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
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
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
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: email@example.com