Start Thursday around noon, a barbecue joint: Jim ‘n Nick’s bustling Birmingham location for lunch with CCB’s oldest brother and a couple of former co-workers from the IT caves of Alabama military bases. I damn near succumb to the creamy, peppery cheddar-ness of a pimento cheese hamburger, but opt instead for the pulled pork plate, collards and baked beans; CCB goes for crispy fried catfish. I can’t really contribute to a conversation about network administrating, so I take on a heaping forkful of pork, beans and greens with some spicy BBQ sauce and one of Jim ‘n Nick’s famous cheddar cornbread muffins, wash it all down with a bottomless glass of sweet tea.
Thursday night in Huntsville, CCB’s pa greets us with a couple of Yuenglings while his ma goes to town in the kitchen: barbecue chicken simmering in its own sauce, scooped over white rice; sweet, fluffy corn pudding and crispy, cornmeal-dusted fried green tomatoes, plus a salad featuring figs and tomatoes that went from their respective plants in the back yard right into the bowl. We settle in for the night with banana pudding, soft Nilla wafers, banana slices and toasted meringue, and proceed to sleep for 10 hours.
In the morning? Scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and homemade fig preserves. Hot coffee.
To send us off, three generations of Cheetah Clubbers get together Friday for lunch at Wintzell’s Oyster House, a Mobile-based chain, food fresh off the Gulf: fried crawfish tails and shrimp with remoulade and chunky homemade tartar sauce. More sweet tea.
Friday afternoon takes us up into northwestern Tennessee, hours of tree-lined highway with occasional pockets of lumber yards and drug stores. Just before the turnoff, we get goofy-adventurous and decide to stop for a beer at the Hollywood Lounge, which feels like a cool, pitch-black cavern when you step in from the blinding hot white of the dusty dirt parking lot. Six grizzled men in overalls, work boots and stained shirts; a sign over the bar that reads, “Support your local Outlaws.” The beer comes ice-cold in bottles. The man next to us introduces himself as “Smash.”
Pleasant View Resort is four miles off the main drag, down a one-lane road that splits and turns into various neighborhoods and farmland. As 40 or so relatives from five states slowly find their way to the lakeside cabins, the family comes together for the sunset over an assortment of tiny charcoal grills, eating ribeye with Uncle Brent’s homemade steak seasoning, baked potatoes with sour cream scooped from a big bowl, Bud Light in a can.
Saturday afternoon food punctuates a stifling hot day spent in the water—in the pool and on the lake. A hundred yards off the shore sits Redneck Island, a swimming area and collection of attached pontoon boats housing a concession stand. Burgers, nachos, corn dogs and French fries for lunch, eaten while wearing a bathing suit, wet hair, towels tied around our waists and the sun beating on our shoulders.
Not on the menu: fresh-caught tiny brim.
Saturday evening’s feast for 40 is assembled family-style in tinfoil trays and takes up every inch on one of the cabins’ dining room tables, descended upon after grace in the grass: fresh-smoked pulled pork, brisket, corn pudding (this time with cream cheese and jalapenos), cucumber salad, pasta salad, homemade barbecue sauce, lemonade. Dinner outside with three generations, then cousins gather in the cabin’s air conditioning for late-night daiquiris and laughter over the day’s adventures.
Everything centers on Sunday brunch: French toast, ham, deviled eggs with bacon, what shall now be known as “Good God Gouda Grits,” fruit salad with strawberries, oranges and blueberries, homemade spinach quiche with rich, buttery crust, biscuits with honey and homemade blueberry jam.
Overstuffed and sleepy, we nurse our coffee and drag our heels before finally making the rounds to say goodbye. And then it’s just the long drive home.