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Tom Chaney: Don't Ask, Don't Tell about... Sausage

Of Writers And Their Books: Don't Ask, Don't Tell about Fried Green Tomatoes with Sausage. Tom says: "The Lavender Boys and Elsie serves to blunt the harsh reality of battle whilst demonstrating southern culinary ingenuity in desperate times." This column first appeared 19 October 2008.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: A Community Necessity

By Tom Chaney

Don't Ask, Don't Tell about Fried Green Tomatoes with Sausage

This tale comes straight from a real Civil War authority, an authentic author, and a great musician. As I read Tommy Womack's fine book The Lavender Boys and Elsie [2008] I called to mind my father's response to questions about the truthfulness of some of his stories. "Well," he was wont to reply, "If it ain't true it ought to be!"

The story runs something like this. Albert and Elsie Deveroux, brother and sister, live in Clarksville, Tennessee. Their father had died some years back leaving, as one might expect, a widowed mother of two. Mother remarries. The new husband is Bartholomew Jansch, widowed father of two daughters and one son.

Mother dies. Bartholomew becomes the evil stepfather. Albert escapes south to join an Alabama regiment. Elsie stays home to care for the wicked stepsisters and run the household much in the manner of Cinderella.

The novel consists of the correspondence between brother and sister with a couple of other letters thrown in for good measure.

Albert is gay. He explains that to Elsie who in the first place doesn't believe him; in the second place doesn't think homosexuals exist; and in the third place knows he is wicked for being gay.

Elsie also hears voices.

Albert finds ideal love -- ideal meaning unrealized since soldiers cannot in honor consummate an affair -- in the person of Jorge Johnsen who is killed at The Hornet's Nest where Albert is slightly wounded. His wound is tended by a nurse who calls him "Flamingo" because "you walk . . . very delicately and lightly on the ground."

About the time of the battle of Shiloh, Elsie writes breaking the sad news that wicked stepfather Bartholomew has gone to his reward. Bart junior having died of exposure trying to enlist and falling into a bog, Bart senior had been cast into a blue funk. He and Elsie were at table when a tintype of her mother falls off the wall.

"Attend to that," he orders Elsie who goes to the barn to get a hammer. She reads over his shoulder that he is drafting his will and leaving all to the wicked stepsisters. Whereupon she strikes him repeatedly with the hammer until he is dead. The dear departed real parents serenade Elsie from beyond the grave with "Blessed Assurance" -- in harmony.

Elsie puts her huswifery to good use, bleeding and butchering her victim as the voices of her true father and mother instruct her. "There's enough sausage on that man to feed a church all Sunday afternoon and well on to Wednesday," says Father from his heavenly perch.

The church finds Elsie's sausage casserole delectable, but a problem arises when a Yankee raiding party cleans out the smokehouse taking the cured remains of Bartholomew, Sr. with them.

The stepdaughters are visiting relatives in Franklin at the time of their father's death. Returning one at a time each is stored in the smokehouse.

Meanwhile back in the Alabama regiment . . . Albert has taken a spent powder shot and kept on fighting to the inspiration of those who were his detractors and tormentors. He and Swindon, one of the nurses, are instructed to form a regiment of their own by their colonel Montgomery. They have seven more nurses making a regiment of nine, and Albert is promoted to captain after much brandy and many suggestions, all rejected, by Colonel Montgomery that they take an evening walk.

The regiment gets to choose its colors -- lavender and beige -- and are assigned to General Pickett by order of General Robert E. Lee prior to Gettysburg.

We know that amongst the most secret papers of Lee was an unsigned order in handwriting recognizable as that of Jefferson Davis: "As per private conversation, LB cancer must be removed with all speed and regardless of cost. Please act at once."

And so Pickett's charge up Cemetery Ridge fails. The Lavender Boys are slaughtered. The tide is turned. The battle and the war go to the north.

From Elsie Holland's obituary in 1913: "First Church of Christ wishes to thank and recognize Mrs. Holland for her award-winning achievements in forty successful years as editor of their annual holiday cookbook."

It is such a pleasure to read a fine historical novel which hews so closely to the established record.

Womack told the Nashville City Paper, "My goal was to inject as much realism into the story as possible, but also to [write] something that wasn't quite the typical Civil War novel. I've always been intrigued by the Civil War, and the fact that you had men standing 200 to 300 feet away firing at each other over whether a state had the right to keep black people in chains. That type of situation certainly lends itself to any type of story that you could create."

War is its own obscenity and madness. The Lavender Boys and Elsie serves to blunt the harsh reality of battle whilst demonstrating southern culinary ingenuity in desperate times.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2013-10-20 01:12:53
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