Thursday, August 2, 2012

Spivey Brothers, Mothers, and Others

I hosted a party last weekend.

In Hollywood some publicity department might shout: “Eighty years in the tectonic aligning! Fifty years in the imagining! Twenty years in the making!” What it came down to was, I cooked us up some Spivey Brothers Barbecue Sauce, and a bunch of guys came over to try the ribs, chicken, and excellent Louisiana-style hot links, per the smoke-and-red-pepper heat of that long-gone, Shreveport-out-of-Georgia sauce.

The young woman in the photo--think of her as unannounced muse of the party--is my mother as a spirited teen in the mid-Thirties, youngest of eight children; six sons, that is, plus two daughters. (Good thing for me that much-loved sibling Marjorie Lucile Spivey had no cause to mess with that Mystic, Georgia bridge shown in the background.) And the elderly couple trying out for the sequel to American Gothic are Mom’s looking-too-serious parents, Jesse T. Spivey and Lucile Cook Spivey, photographed in the late-Fifties after they’d
sold the family farm and followed their four surviving sons to Shreveport.

Back in May of 2009, I wrote at length about the brothers’ barbecue sauce business (here), and since then I’ve had emails from a score of SBBS fans, oldsters and youngsters alike, who’d loved it long ago, heard raves about it from relatives, searched all across the South, tried to recreate the unknown recipe, Googled the name (and discovered my blog post), ended up pleading with me to share the sauce’s secrets...

The upshot was that after sitting on the recipe ever since 1993 when Uncle Bobby, next youngest to my mother but nearly 80 by then, chose to pass the charcoal-fired torch on to me… after all those years, I say--I say, son, I say--I decided the time had come to put up (a batch) or shut up (the grill). I searched a dozen dusty bookshelves, found the errant envelope at last, and set to work… “work” in this case meaning
studying the list of ingredients, then enlisting a few grill-enthusiast chums to serve as the brawn--I mean brain--trust for this sensitive project.

Some Spivey family lore may be in order at this point. The two middle sons died early, Charles killed in World War II and stubborn smoker Henry by throat cancer in the early Fifties. He was a bachelor and had his own house near the big farm; his death knocked out a prop the (grand)parents sometimes leaned on, because the other boys had abandoned the fading farm years before that and had made Shreveport their base.

Oldest son “Bubba” was full grown by the time Mom was born, and an elderly man by the time I started paying attention. Next in line was Jack, a
steward on ocean liners, who brought coins, stamps, and other good stuff back from his voyages. (Aunt Hester was married and a resident of Savannah, so not involved.) With Henry and Charles gone, brothers Pat and Bobby became more family oriented and Pat at least more churchified.

Mom always said I looked and acted like Pat--here as the left-handed Huck Finn character busy drowning worms. (Young double “Cousin Eddie” just tried to look swave and deboner.) But I’m aging to resemble my father more and more: bald, shortened, gradually withdrawing.

Deacon Pat also followed another supposed Southern tradition, marrying Charles’ pregnant widow and raising that rowdy new arrival as his own--through hot rods, wild broncs, rodeo days and grass-widow nights--alongside their large brood of kinder-Spiveys.

Bobby must have enjoyed parenting too since he helped produce four more stalwart sons. (One of them, my cousin Joe, is a well-known country music fiddler ranging from Nashville down to Shreveport, from the Grand older Opry to the late-lamented Louisiana
Hayride, those two longtime linchpins of regional Southern radio.)

In earlier days back on their sold-off Mystic farm, the dark and strangely unsettling smokehouse eventually became an important symbol to me. (See the related post coming next time, which will excerpt some bits from my suite of poems about “Mystic.”) But to the brothers I expect it was just a training stop on their way to the barbecue pit in Shreveport and the unexpected success of their “old family recipe” sauce.

Granny and Granddaddy were gone, and then Bubba too, by the time the business went deep South, and the Kraft Corp. stepped in, buying the Spivey recipes, any established good will, and an enforced silence... then craftily created the corpse,
killing the barbecue sauce along with the rest of the Spivey Brothers line.

Well, the gallon-and-some of sauce that I cooked up the other day did at first seem a mite heavy on the vinegar and mustard. But after several tastes, the brain trust and I decided to add more water and let the concoction simmer a while longer. And did those few ounces and minutes make a difference? All I’ll say is that the restless attendees were suddenly voracious, slathering sauce over links, ribs, breasts, hands, faces, and luckless shirts. Whether by fingertip, spoonful, or pint jar, the sauce was consumed.

As a result I'm thinking of producing a limited number of special t-shirts--a gift to participants but inexpensively available to Spivey Brothers devotees as well. It’s an all-type shirt so far, maybe with messy barbecue stains included. The front might read thus: “I GOT SAUCED AT THE SPIVEY BROS. BARBECUE REVIVAL, JULY 28, 2012.” And on the back: “If I told you the recipe, I’d have to kill your appetite.”

A better message (okay, funnier) may pop up, but meanwhile I do have some words for the SBBS fans… Forget the sauce version we made. I’m just not the one to consult for the recipe or the list of basic ingredients. As I indicated earlier in this piece, it’s really not my place or my decision to make. I’m a distant quasi-Spivey, yes, but the Shreveport area is chockablock with direct descendants of the four brothers.

Go talk to one of my cousins, will ya, please?

Oh, and the dog? Shoot, every Southern barbecue needs a steamy, edge-of-the-
bayou shack with some ol' houn'dog sleepin' under the porch. You could thumb through Miz Welty, or Faulkner... Penn Warren, O'Connor, Styron, Percy, and all them other storymakers. (Hunh! Gossip-spreaders more like, ever' one of 'em. And that's all!)

1 comment:

Donald said...

I was raised in the Sunset Acres area of Shreveport. I grew up eating barbecue from Spivey Brothers. I swear the sauce is so good you could drink it. I would love to get my hands on that recipe