Crowder peas. Why did that sound familiar? By the time I got home from the Farm Fresh Market in Zebulon, North Carolina and had them shelled in a bowl, I remembered.
Tayari Jones talked about them in her novel, An American Marriage. They represent a southern dish one of her characters had been craving. I looked up a recipe: simply seasoned peas cooked with onions, peppers, bacon, ham. The character, Roy, was pleased to see them “snug in a shiny silver bowl” at a table “piled with a righteous feast.”
That’s what I love about farmers markets. The vegetable and fruits in the vendor booths are a riotous abundance of rich color, texture, fragrance, taste – all the raw elements to take home to create a righteous feast of flavor.
I went to the market because it was Literacy Day and Kay Whatley of The Grey Area News would be there at a table, talking about local authors and writing events. Kay, herself, is the author of the novel Making Corrections.
Kay’s Grey Area News is a hyperlocal news website and social media presence that covers community news in five counties in eastern North Carolina, a go-to place for small town have-you-heards from Knightsdale and Rocky Mount to Tarboro, Wendell and Wilson.
Also at the table was Kim Beall, storyteller and author of Seven Turns: A Ghost Love Story. Kim, from Youngsville, networks with other writers in Franklin County. The morning was a drizzly one, so we huddled under a tent, asking the tallest to tip out the bladders of water that formed in the sagging roof during times of steady downpour, and mopping any drips from the umbrellas of shoppers.
“Glad you brought a towel,” I said.
They both laughed. “Yes! A towel is the most important item a Hitchhiker can carry,” Kay responded, and when I looked puzzled, Kim explained the reference to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
When the rain stopped, we took turns venturing to visit the other tables, where I bought ears of fresh corn, ripe peaches and plump blueberries. One of the smiling vendors was distributing free cantaloupes to all who braved the shower.
Kim shared her bag of crowder peas with me. She also gave me flyers for The Franklin County Arts Council (FCAC) Writers Guild’s third annual Carolina Prize in Writing Contest. The deadline to enter poetry, short stories, essays or creative non-fiction is August 15. Entry fee is $10; prize winners in prose and poetry receive $100 and publication in the 2019 issue of County Lines: A Literary Journal. I’m going to share the flyer back in Selma, with Cornerstone Writers, who meet every Friday at 9 am at the Kosmic Kittens Cat Lounge in uptown Selma, and with the Johnston County Writers Group, which meets the second Thursday of every month at Selma Public Library, 301 N. Pollock Street in Selma.
Before I left with Kay’s crowder peas, I asked her about the name: Grey Area News. Did it refer to the blurred lines that occur between these small towns? Traveling like I did from Selma, you’re not always aware that you’ve crossed into a new county.
She said it refers to unusual news – the grey area between how we view things. There’s even a flying saucer on the masthead. I went online and read a pdf of one of the former print editions:
“Some situations are viewed in black and white; right and wrong. Yet, many people think situations also have a grey area where solutions are not so easily discerned,” the copy read. “This is not just about the choices people make, but the thought process they go through to arrive at their decisions.”
Next to articles about food waste composting, you’ll find articles about UFO sightings (hey, there were FOUR in North Carolina in April!).
There you have it: Crowder peas and weird information-sharing in small towns when you cross county lines. As Rod Serling might have said, “submitted for your approval.”