BUY THE BOOK
Use this PayPal button to buy Life Along the Apalachicola River directly from me for $15 + $4.99 shipping.
We might have run short on other commodities, but never once during all the years I lived in my parents’ house or returned to visit did I ever hear anyone say, “Hey, we’re out of hot sauce.”
My father loved the stuff and the hotter the better. I’ve always suspected that his taste buds had been fried by gallons of the best pepper concoctions that folks like Mr. Ben Clark and others could come up with. It was a point of pride for Daddy that he would take a swallow of even the most caustic creations and not show any outward signs of discomfort. At the house, we often had two bottles of pepper sauce on the table — one for Daddy and another for everyone else.
In his later years, I asked him if he ever found any hot sauce that he wouldn’t try. His response was, “No, but I sure drank some I wish I hadn’t.”
That’s when he told me about an ill-fated trip down the river one night to visit Tommy Williams and Sonny Bailey on their houseboat.
The two told him they were making a batch of hot sauce and invited him to come try some — if he thought he could handle it. There was no way he could let that challenge go unanswered and Tommy and Sonny knew it. They apparently also knew how to create a weapons-grade pepper sauce because Daddy said when took a sip, it was all he could do to swallow it.
“That was the hottest stuff I had ever put in my mouth,” Daddy said. “My tongue and throat were burning and I could feel it all the way into my nose.”
His pride being what it was, Daddy couldn’t let on to Tommy and Sonny that it was about to burn his face off. He certainly couldn’t get any water or wash his mouth out. So, he had to sit there and act like it was no big deal. (Tommy told me recently that the most Daddy would admit was that it was “fair to middlin’.”)
Daddy said they kept him sitting there talking for what seemed like an eternity. Meanwhile, all he could think about was the six-pack of beer he had on ice in his cooler. He knew that once he left, he could get some cold, carbonated comfort. But they kept finding excuses for why he needed to stay and talk.
After a long and painful while, they finally let him say his goodbyes, hop in his boat and take off.
Daddy was careful to make it around the bend from the houseboat — well out of sight of Tommy and Sonny — before he allowed himself to open his cooler. But the pair had anticipated that. So when he reached for an ice cold beer, what he found instead was a whole lot of nothing. At some point one of his hosts sneaked out to Daddy’s boat, took the beer from his cooler and dumped out the ice.
I asked Daddy if he went back and got his six-pack.
“No, I couldn’t do that. But I did lean over the side of the boat and drink a bunch of river water as fast as I could.”
Daddy always enjoyed homemade pepper sauce and often brought home a bottle or two someone had given him. But for all the different kinds we had around the house, I don’t think any of them came from Tommy and Sonny.