Uncle J.B. and the Art of Sopping

June 6, 2014

First of all, let's define sopping for my Yankee friends.
According to Webster's - chiefly dialect :  a piece of food dipped or steeped in a liquid.

You aren't from the South if you haven't sopped.  Sopping is an art form.  Knowing how to get the very last drop of tomato gravy on your biscuit is a skill mastered by few and attempted by many in the South.  

My Uncle J.B. taught me how to properly sop syrup and biscuits. The trick is to mix the butter and syrup with your fork and then press down ever so slightly on the biscuit as you swoop it around your plate; you have to hold your pinky out just a little bit.  It is a magical thing, the perfect sop. I still follow Uncle J.B.'s prescription for the perfect sop as no one could sop a biscuit like he could- he was a CHAMPION biscuit sopper! Uncle J.B. could out-sop you with Blackburn's syrup on a cat head biscuit, he could shame you with a plate of red-eye gravy, and you didn't even need to pull your biscuit eating fingers out for a tomato gravy sopping contest, because tomato gravy was his favorite.

I remember being at Bigmama's house when he would call to tell her he was coming to visit.  You could see her face light up when he would ask her to make tomato gravy.  She would hang up her black rotary phone that hung in the hallway and say "You know, that J.B. called here wanting me to me him some tomater gravy.  He don't think nobody in the whole world can make tomater gravy like I can.  So, I reckon'd I'm gone have to make it fer him."  He knew that she enjoyed watching him sop it up it as much as he enjoyed eating the best biscuits for three counties. Bigmama's reputation for biscuit making was widely known, even George C. Wallace ate many biscuits at her table when Pa was county commissioner, but voting against Wallace is a story for another day.

Uncle J.B. might be the only person, when at his funeral people said he was truly the best uncle, husband, brother, father and son in the world, that it has ever really meant just that. A stellar human being, he always had a smile on his face and hugged you like he really meant it.  He was tall and thin and wore 33-33 jeans.  His handsome face was always super smooth and those crystal blue eyes always had a twinkle in them. No matter what time of day it was, Uncle J.B. always smelled like aftershave. He was the neatest, cleanest looking and smelling person that I have ever met- hands down. According to my Grandmother, Uncle J.B. never drank a drop of liquor in his entire life and never smoked a cigarette. I think he said "damn" once, but I'm not sure? I did hear him tell a joke about a dog farting one time, but that was about as off-color as I ever remember him being. 

It wasn't uncommon to get a "handshake" from Uncle J.B. when your husband died, when you were going away on a trip, or for no reason at all.  At almost every major event in my life, Uncle J.B. was one of the first people to get to me.  Without you realizing what he was doing, Uncle J.B. would slip a hundred dollar bill in your hand while giving you a sweet love pat and shaking your hand saying "I just love you sugar, you're the sweetest thing I know."  He was slick that way, and was famous for doing this with widow women and his relatives in the small community where he was reared .  Keep in mind, he had over 80 first cousins, so that was a LOT of relatives and a LOT of handshakes!

As children, all of his nieces and nephews loved to go see him at his laundry and dry cleaning business, because he had vending machines and video games. He would give us a cup full of quarters and turn us loose- it was like little kid Vegas. We could spend the whole day playing games and eating junk!  If Bigmama was with us, he would take us to eat at Morrison's Cafeteria, and then would send me home with a Lance cracker box FULL of junk food- crackers, cookies, chewing gum, these little kid treasures were also known as The Goody Box.  I would hide my box under my bed and ration out my treats until the next holiday or the next Uncle J.B. trip to Niceville.  Yes, the nicest man in the world lived in Niceville, Florida.

J.B. was the son that every mother dreamed of having.  He doted on his mother with a relentless affection.  And as much as he doted on his mother, Betty, he doted even more so on his sweetheart, Betty, whom he married as soon as she graduated from high school.  The two of them giggled and laughed and smooched like high school sweethearts until cancer took him from her. Always holding hands and smiling, they were constantly "getting tickled" at one another. Uncle J.B.'s affection for Aunt Betty was, and is, the standard by which I think all of us cousins measure our marriages.  There was a secret world of theirs full of inside jokes and funny stories that probably would seem silly to other people, but that meant the world to them, and to all of us.  His children and Grandchildren were blessed to have had such a loving example of a father and a husband in their lives.

Today would be Uncle J.B.'s 84th birthday and I don't think that there is a niece or nephew of his who doesn't think of him and a "goody box" without tearing up.  So today, if you get the opportunity, sop something and think of Ole J.B. and try to be more like him.  The world would be a brighter place with more J.B.'s in it!

Uncle J.B. and his sweet bride, Betty.  Daughter Donna to right.

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