"Big Appetite: My Southern-Fried Search for the Meaning of Life," by Sam McLeod, 254 pages, $23 hardcover, Touchstone
2In fact, wife Annie suggests the solidly built Sam'll get to the root of his weight issues by accepting an anonymous invitation to a reunion in his old neighborhood near Nashville, Tenn. She nudges him out the door, cautioning him to "keep your hands off that old girlfriend, you hear me?"
Since Sam and Annie are pseudonyms, I'm guessing every other name he uses is made up to protect the people's privacy and in some cases to prevent embarrassment for actions committed up to five decades ago. I imagine there's more than a grain or two of truth in much of what he writes, each bit wrapped in the embellishments he began cultivating as a grade schooler.
I loved this book. I grew up in the same era as Sam. We're mid-centurions, just like my home, built in the late 1950s, is mid-century modern.
Being a kid in the 1950s and 1960s was a laid-back time. A time mostly without TV and certainly without computers to distract physically active, creative play. A time when moms generally allowed their kids to run rampant throughout the neighborhood, play massive games of hide-and-go-seek and kick-the-can, swing from trees, build forts, dig to China (I'm assuming other mothers besides mine allowed this one), shoot real metal-tipped arrows, and ride bikes and sled pell mell down steep inclines without helmets.
Back then, the primary occupation for traditional moms was mostly keeping their homes and riding herd on their offspring during the day. The seven moms of the 16 kids in Sam's memory ended up taking one kid or another, sometimes not even their own, to the long-suffering Dr. Pritchard, who patched up said children's long string of injuries.
It was all in a day's work for the doctor to repair broken bones, sprains and bruises, or cope with a child knocked senseless or even repair the hole in one boy's skull where a metal-tipped arrow had been extracted after it was shot sky high. Think gusher. Pools of blood are mentioned more than once. Oh, and fair warning, so are boobs, wieners and penises. These are kids, after all, so that's what comes up in conversation occasionally.
Along the way, Sam waxes rhapsodic on Southern cuisine: His aunt Wiese's famous Strawberry Pie; his mother Coco's mac-and-cheese with oysters, Coco's Toasted Cheese and Onion Sandwiches and Coco's Pickled Shrimp; neighbor Mrs. Mallory's Ginger Ale Salad; and Grandma Jolley's Chicken and Rolled Dumplings. The best part is that whether or not the recipes were secret, they aren't any longer, because Sam has thoughtfully shared them, so we'll know what the hubbub is and can try 'em ourselves.
It's probably no mystery to Sam, who meets with his doctor to find out he's pushing the needle over the side on the scale, that some of these recipes have enough calories in them to be one or two days worth of food from just one serving of one recipe.
It's perhaps the funniest of his books, which include "Welcome to Walla Walla," "Bottled Walla" and "Blue Walla," and I liked those a lot. "Big Appetite" has made the big time. It's hot off the press from Touchstone Hardcover, a division of Simon & Schuster.
The onetime banker, lawyer and venture capital investor is segueing nicely into his newest guise as gentleman farmer/auteur. I laughed so hard retelling one of his anecdotes to my husband tears rolled down my cheeks.