There’s an old saying that, “We are what we eat.” It sounds logical if it’s said with conviction. It seems a bit humorous if spoken with a smile. I decided to test that adage by examining some of my favorite foods.
My palate strongly favors the country style meals that were common in my childhood. They included the basic but wonderful offerings that were routinely found on southern dinner tables. For this column, however, my focus is on three foods that I was introduced to by a friend.
Michael Sullivan was two years ahead of me in Unadilla High School. We both lived in a rural part of Dooly County called Third District. We were both members of Harmony Baptist Church. Mike had a beautiful baritone voice. I can readily envision him singing “It Is No Secret What God Can Do.” His smooth clear delivery reminded me of legendary country singer Jim Reeves.
Mike played lead guitar in the Unadilla F.F.A. String Band. The same five guys performed as VeEsta & The Country Gentleman when vocalist VeEsta Brown joined in. Mike often sang “The Green Green Grass of Home.” He sounded much better, in my opinion, than Porter Wagoner’s hit rendition.
When Mike was in the 11th grade and I was in the 9th, I joined the band as the piano player. Jerry Pickard played rhythm guitar. Charles Jones played the bass. Jerry McIntyre kept time with the drums. We practiced every Monday night in the school auditorium.
Mike gave me rides to and from practice and when we had occasional bookings. On one of those late-night excursions, he asked if I wanted to go to the Allstate Truck Stop and get a ham and cheese omelet. I had no idea what an omelet was. Mama cooked a full breakfast for us six days a week and gave us cereal on Sundays. Omelets, however, were not on the menu.
My first taste of that omelet was the beginning of a love story. I’ve had several variations, but the one that I enjoy the most is still ham and cheese. They are especially good at supper time with grits, biscuits, and pear preserves.
Mike and I took guitar lessons in Warner Robins for a while. After about two months the teacher and I both realized that I should stick with piano. During that short time, Mike helped me attain a greater appreciation for French cuisine. I had never had a chocolate éclair, but with one bite I developed a severe addiction. I thought about continuing the guitar lessons so that I could keep making those weekly trips to the pastry shop.
Mike also gets credit for introducing me to grilled cheese sandwiches. Mama sometimes made open topped cheese toast in the oven. It was, however, at Mr. Ed Langston’s Shell Station, in Unadilla, where I first had melted cheddar cheese encased in grilled bread. It’s amazing how much good can be done with a stick of butter.
Mike Sullivan was a good friend to have. He was more mature in his spiritual walk than most of us teenagers. He was consistently a good example in both his conduct and attitude. He drove me to band practice for two years, introduced me to three foods that I continue to enjoy, and made a lasting impression with his exemplary character.
He celebrated his 50th birthday on October 1st, 2000, then died unexpectedly on November 8th. He was living in Chicago, a long way from his rural Georgia roots.
When I have an omelet, a chocolate éclair, or a grilled cheese sandwich, sometimes I still think about Mike. I’m joyfully reminded of the good times we had in the band. More importantly, I’m reminded of how readily Mike embraced his faith. He knew what he believed, and he lived it. It didn’t matter what was going on around him, Mike kept his feet planted on solid ground.
I guess in some ways it’s true that we are what we eat. But it’s probably more important who we eat it with. I’m glad I spent some time with Michael Sullivan. The omelets and such were delicious. But it’s the spiritual food we shared that I’ve come to value most. It’s the spiritual food of which we can say without doubt, “We are what we eat.”