Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Cornbread, folks along the Appalachian Trail

Today’s Sunday Scribblings assignment is to write about a fellow traveler. This is a continuation of a story I wrote last June (click here), which occurred when I was hiking the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail. The year was 1985; the real names (of those I know) have been changed. I should note that just this past month, after decades of saying I was going to get around to it, I finally read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (actually, I read only small sections of it, but I listened to the unabridged version on my ipod). I agree with Cornbread; it’s a good book. The picture is a copy of a photograph of me taken during this trip.

His name was Cornbread. No, that wasn’t his real name. I don’t think he ever said his real name, but Cornbread seemed to be a name that fit. Cornbread was a welcomed sight the afternoon climbed up Bly Gap and into North Carolina during the remnants of a tropical depression wringing itself dry over the Southern Appalachians. Muddy and cold, we were drawn toward Cornbread’s fire in the front of the shelter. Tipping his Mao Cap, he greeted us and asked what kind of crazy fools we were for hiking in such weather. Cornbread was a fair weather hiker. He didn’t have any place he needed to be and didn’t see the need to walk in the rain. Someone had left a copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in the shelter and he’d spent the afternoon reading it. “It’s pretty good,” he said, “you all should read it.” I made a mental note to pick the book up.

Benjamin and I were just beginning the second week of a fourteen day trip, hiking from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Fontana Dam in North Carolina. Along with us was Peter, who’d been tagging along since Blood Mountain; a guy from Atlanta who turned out to be a part-timer herbal pharmacist; and my current girlfriend. She had arrived late the night before, bringing supplies for our second week along with several steaks that had been frozen and wrapped in newspaper and stowed in a cooler. They were still frozen when we left the parking lot at Dick’s Gap that morning, and would thaw out as we hiked and be ready for the coals at dinner,

Six of us crowded into a shelter designed for eight. Ropes were strung under the roof to serve as a clothes line and soon the place smelled of wet wool socks. We sat on the wooden floor, our pruned feet dangling over the side and toward Cornbread’s roaring bonfire. He was already at work. With his cast-iron skillet, some oil and untold numbers Martha White Cornbread packets, he sat out to make hoe-cakes for the crowd. Soon, we were all pitching in what we had for dinner. Our steaks were cut and cut in half, giving everyone a piece. Someone fixed rice, someone else fixed pudding. There was a pot of noodles and even some Jiffy popcorn, in the light tin pans that when shook over a fire expanded like the belly of a pregnant woman. It was a fine feast. Benjamin and I offered everyone a shot of Scotch that we might toast one another.

We sat around talking as the light drained from the sky, each of us sharing our stories. Cornbread told us about being an accountant on the Outer Banks. Many of his clients owned their own fishing and shrimping boats. One day he realized he was never going to get ahead in life, for the more he made the more he had to pay out. He owed alimony to two women and child-support to a third. So he quit his office job and hired on a hand on the boats, figuring that if he wasn’t going to make a living, he was at least going to enjoy what he was doing. While fishing, he read an article about the Appalachian Trail and decided he had to check it out. He set out to put together his grubstake, picking up an inexpensive backpack in a local store. Although his pack was named after some Himalayan peak, it made my back hurt just to look at it. He purchased a bulky sleeping back and collected some other gear together such as a frying pan and spatula. At the grocery store he stocked up on Martha White’s cornbread packets and headed to the trail. He wasn’t out to set any records; he just figured he could hide out and buy himself some time.

The next morning the skies cleared and everyone but Cornbread began to pack up for the day’s hike. He bid us farewell, tipping his cap and saying he didn’t have anything to do and could see no reason to move on till the puddles had dried out. When I looked back, he was engrossed in Dostoevsky.

I don’t know if his story was true, but it sounded good…


  1. And I enjoyed reading it, Sage. I like your stories!

  2. Great read, thanks very much perfect for this lazy Sunday afternoon.

  3. So was his nickname well earned? Eating cornbread from a mix just doesn't sound appealing to me.

  4. Thanks Kenju

    Thanks for stopping by Chris

    Ed, Cornbread mix (along with some fruit and tea bags) was about all he had with him to eat. They're a lot of things I'll eat on the trail that I won't touch at home--instant oatmeal and girts and cornbread being a few examples...

  5. I prefer to support my local companies and purchase Jiffy cornbread mix. :-)

  6. Wow Murf, didn't know that Jiffy was a Michigan Company. I thought maybe we were still supporting the MI economy with Jiffy Pop, but it turns out that Jiffy pop is a ConAg Brand, Jiffy must not have done a good job protecting its trademark (or the other way around).

    BTW, we were all Southerners and what self-respecting Southerner would buy a yankee cornbread mix?

  7. I think the only other semi-well known Michigan company that isn't related to automobiles or cereal is Pioneer sugar.

    So you Southerners like to overspend by buying each individual ingredient not to mention having a cast iron pot perfectly seasoned (which in Yankee speak means not washed) rather than a 30 cent box of Jiffy cornbread mix?!? ;-)

  8. Here's my cornbread recipe, borrowed from Marie Calendar's - prepare cornbread mix from the package directions, prepare yellow cake mix, from the package directions, mix together and bake in a 9x13 baking pan. Serve with honey butter and enjoy!

    Great story from the AT, sage

  9. He sounds like the definition of a rugged individualist with high spirits!

  10. I just had to say I really LOVE the photo at top: beautiful!

  11. Murf, that may be true in your side of the state--over here you got Kelloggs, Post, Steel Case, etc... And by buying ingredients individually, you probably save money and you kow what's going into your dish.

    Diane, somewhere in my blog I have my cornbread recipe (from scratch and baked in a cast iron frying pan)

    Michael, he was a character

    tc, thanks, that was me with hair :)

  12. "His name was Cornbread"

    Well, now I'm hungry. :o)

  13. You have certainly encountered some interesting folks in your travels Sage. Great story, and good for you for even getting anything out of Crime and Punishment.

  14. Bah! Cornbread! My husband has gone all his life without a nickname, and at the age of 50 he finally gave himself one - Cornbread! He has gone around work (300 controllers) and asked them all to call him Cornbread. He is very serious, but it's not catching on; although, my nickname sugar tit seems to be sweeping the nation. Bah!

    Oh, and what proper Southerner eats sweet cornbread such as Jiffy? Cornbread is meant to be a plain base for butter, honey, molasses and/or sorghum, and raspberry jam. Yum!

  15. Karen--cornbread and chili sounds good on these cold snowy days.


    Deana--I was told I was crazy to be listening to Crime and Punishment in the winter--for it is dark and heavy, but it is also a good story (Garrison Keillor even joked recently about reading Doestrovsky in the winter in MN!)

    Maggie, great name from your husband! As for your name, I'd never call you that for fear of being accused of sexual harassment or at the least getting slapped. By the way, I think it's time for me to repost my cornbread recipe--I do put a little sugar in it.

  16. I have not been able to complete Crime and Punishment for one reason or the other. However I joined Russian Reading Challenge, suppose I will finally read it, along with re-reading 'Idiot' and 'War and Peace'.

    Your story is good too. Please do write more of fiction.

    PS: I am going to write a sonnet on any contemporary issues. I will let you know when I write and post it.

  17. Gautami, I'm surprised to find a classic you've not read! I haven't read War and Peace either--I don't think I'd like a Russian Reading Challenge-about one of those books a year is enough. Maybe you should start an Indian reading group--have you read "Cracking India?"

    BTW, this story is not fiction--Peter and Benjamin are not their real names, but everything else is how I remember it--I'm sure my memory isn't perfect, but the details are there.