Take an ole cold tater and wait

Published 2:51 pm Tuesday, April 13, 2010

If I write the name, Little Jimmy Dickens, and you recognize it and even know something about it, I can assume a few things about you.

First of all, you’re old!

Now, before you get all huffy about me mentioning your age, let me admit that I’m old, too. So let’s all thank the good Lord that we have reached a certain age and there are still enough marbles rolling around “up there” to remember Little Jimmy Dickens.

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Secondly, if you recognize the name, Little Jimmy Dickens, you probably are familiar with old style, country music. That’s what Little Jimmy Dickens sang.

He was born James Cecil Dickens and had an authentic claim to kinship to the great novelist, Charles Dickens. His nickname, “Little Jimmy,” was a result of his height or, more accurately, his lack of height. He was one inch short of 5 feet or 4-foot-11.

Little Jimmy’s diminutive size was accented by everything around him. His Stetson cowboy hat was always perched atop his head with just a little tilt to it and the J-200 Gibson flattop guitar seemed to dwarf him. But, he was a giant of a showman and he’s still a-goin’.

I couldn’t help but think of Little Jimmy Dickens this past week as I visited a couple out on Vada Road. I was delivering a flat of strawberries that they had bought as part of a fund-raising project and, as I entered their house to deliver their berries, the aroma of sweet potatoes baking in the oven was filling the room.

Little Jimmy Dickens’ could be called the greatest singer of novelty songs this side of Ray Stevens. His most popular reached No. 1 in 1965 and was named “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” I remember it well and so might you.

He had another novelty song, though, that those baking, sweet potatoes had me recall. It was a song about dinner or lunch at home when a crowd or the preacher might be visiting. The table was set with a scrumptious meal and everybody was ready to dig in. Everybody, also, might be pretty hungry, especially the children.

Believe it or not, there was a time when children were expected to wait on the adults. Nowadays, we have moved the children to the front of the line. I don’t necessarily disagree with that philosophy. There is not too much wrong with taking care of the children. But in Little Jimmy Dickens’ days, the children were expected to let the adults, particularly the men folk, go first.

In the song that I recalled as a result of those baking potatoes, Little Jimmy, with tongue-in-cheek complained that he was downright worried as he saw all that fried chicken, the good pieces, disappearing from the platter. He sings of how the neck and the feet (I guess they fried everything back then) didn’t satisfy his gullet as much as the pulley-bone or, at least a wing, might have.

I guess his momma could see the angst all over Little Jimmy’s face, so she just pacified her son with the words, “Jim, take a (sweet) tater and wait.” When I smelled those sweet potatoes baking in the oven, I couldn’t help but think of the Little Jimmy Dickens’ song, “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait.”

Thankfully, the couple had put three taters in the oven, so there was one available for giving to the preacher. Usually, I’m a little hesitant to take a handout like that, but the sweet savor, as the Lord would say (Genesis 8:21), the pleasing aroma of a baked sweet potato, took control. I accepted the gift, wrapped in a paper towel, and headed off to finish my deliveries.

A most wonderful experience accompanied me everywhere I went that morning. As I would get out of my car to deliver someone’s strawberries, I left the car having gotten use to the fragrance of the sweet potato resting in the seat beside me. However, when I returned and, with the windows to the car having been rolled up, opened the door to get in, the arousing aroma of sweet potato hit me right where it felt good. I would smile and anticipate the pleasure of eating that Ipomoea batatas (Latin for sweet potato) as soon as I got home.

Little Jimmy Dickens’ song wasn’t the only memory jogged by the couple’s gift of a baked sweet potato. It brought back the memory of my Granny’s kitchen.

We lived right up the road, a quarter of a mile, from Granny’s house and a visit to her house, actually her kitchen, after school was not unusual. She was about the same size as Little Jimmy Dickens, not a very large woman. She always had something on top of the stove.

It could have been a fried, fruit tart or even a cold biscuit with that day’s luncheon meat in it. Many days there was an old, cold tater sitting on top of that stove in some plate. My brother and I were hungry scavengers looking for anything that did not move.

Granny was always generous with her leftovers and those old, cold taters were very convenient. There was no washing up. Just grab one and peel back the skin and stuff it in the mouth. Imagine my surprise as I looked up sweet potatoes on the Internet and found them at the top of the list for healthy foods. I’m glad I didn’t know that “way back then.” It might have ruined the taste. Nah!