Growing up in New Orleans, I ranked the Fourth of July at the bottom of the holiday totem pole. Big deal. We had Mardi Gras for goodness sake, and in July not having school was holiday enough. For me, the worst part was faking an interest in firecrackers, which I still despise. Not the pretty ones that illuminated the sky but the hostile ones. The ones that whistled, exploded, and landed kids in emergency rooms. No thanks. When I reached a sensible drinking age, however, my pecking order changed, and the Fourth began soaring to the top of my personal queue. I owe this, in part, to the charms of the Mississippi coast and a particular enclave called Pass Christian.
West Virginia is the heart of Appalachia—beautiful mountainous countryside where you can drive mile after mile without spotting any scars of large-scale industry. Residents here have been working and foraging the land for generations. Somewhere along the line, outside perceptions of our state pegged us as isolated or unsophisticated, but that only served to grow our cultural pride, make us kinder to each other, and solidify our culinary heritage.
Ice cream might be the only food socially acceptable to lap up like a dog. It’s a treat of reckless abandon and tail-wagging happiness. And when it comes in a cone, we don't even have to stop with the cold stuff, chomping straight on through the vessel that carried it to us.
In port cities up and down the summer Southern coast, marshland Spartina grasses shift from vivid spring green to deep viridian, signaling warmer waters. The ocean beckons, for sport, relaxation, beauty, and sustenance. Cages descend, seine nets scrape the ocean depths, fishermen gig by moonlight and drop lines into creeks and rivers. Sun and pluff mud offer nature’s spa treatments as we wait for something to bite. A chicken neck, a string, and a little patience are all that’s required to nab a blue crab while seagulls, dolphins, and pelicans stalk fishing boats hoping to score a meal from those processing their catch. The search for seafood makes equal opportunists of us all.