A little bit of paradise in Pea Ridge

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 27, 2004

For many years I have traveled our state and met thousands of people.

I’ve met rich people, poor people, Republicans, Democrats, entrepreneurs, farmers, the educated and the uneducated, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and Pentecostals.

And of course, I’ve met everything in between.

Some of those meetings I have enjoyed more than others.

One such meeting I recently enjoyed as much or more than any other was speaking to the senior citizens at Pea Ridge.

There was a little bit of Paradise in Pea Ridge – as if I had stepped back into a kinder, gentler place in time.

Pea Ridge is a small community in the southern-most part of Shelby County, near the Bibb County line. The only way I know to describe the people I met there are simply – as &uot;real&uot; people.

They are genuine, down-to-earth, caring, compassionate, God-fearing, patriotic, &uot;real&uot; people. The best description of them is that they are &uot;salt of the earth&uot; people.

They are of a generation that has known a strong work ethic and has contributed to the greatness of America. They pay their taxes and they vote.

They love their neighbors. They do unto others as they would have them do unto them. They help each other in times of trouble. They have a voice, and they’re not afraid to use it.

They have lived through more than most of us will ever see and know more about life than most of us will ever know. They have attended and graduated from the school of hard knocks and they don’t complain about it – they’re proud of it.

Every other Tuesday they get together at their local Senior Citizen Center, formerly a community schoolhouse. They sing, and pray, sing and take prayer requests, sing and talk, sing and last but not least, eat.

They have enough food prepared to feed an army, and it’s as delicious as any your grandmother has ever made. Name any dish on the table and they can tell you who prepared it.

And their food is as real as they are: cornbread, thickened new potatoes, fried green tomatoes, stewed squash with onions, turnip greens and the proverbial southern dish – crispy fried chicken.

Better yet, they had something I didn’t even know existed anymore – &uot;fat back.&uot;

My grandmother used to call it &uot;white meat.&uot;

I hadn’t seen &uot;white meat&uot; in 30 years and truly thought it was extinct. But one of the ladies at Pea Ridge told me that it’s still around; it’s just that people have gotten &uot;uppity&uot; and call it salt pork today. Whatever they call it, it sure was good.

And if there is a vegetable that’s grown in Alabama, you can bet it’s on their table. Not to mention the homemade desserts which are good enough to make Weight Watchers close their doors in shame.

And the Pea Ridge singing – or as my grandmother used to call it, sangin’, rivals that of Bill Gaither’s Homecoming Celebrations.

You can literally feel the schoolhouse floor move beneath you from the tapping of feet to the various southern gospel hymns which are unheard of in today’s modern, high tech churches. Vestal Goodman, Jake Hess, Dottie Rambo or any of the Homecoming gang would feel right at home with the Pea Ridge Seniors.

Pea Ridge is a place where you can’t help but be moved and transcended back into a time of God and country and all the southern tradition that comes with it – all day singings and dinner on the ground included.

A place where people still love their neighbors, aren’t afraid to pray in public, have pride in their community and still take time to stop and smell the roses along the way.

Given the fast-paced, computerized world we live in today and the hectic, tumultuous lifestyle most of us have of fast food, frozen dinners and fancy social occasions, for me personally, Pea Ridge was a little bit of Paradise along the way