The South always held a mystique for me. I romanticized about antebellum mansions on well-manicured lawns, sitting on wicker rockers, lazy afternoons reading on wraparound porches and sipping mint juleps. Too much Margaret Mitchell, I guess. But my Aunt Margaret had plans. Destiny and fate could determine my future in the Tar Heel State.
When I decided to relocate to North Carolina, I knew my relatives would think I was crazy. My whole family lived in Watertown on a two block radius. If anyone moved, it was to the other side of town. They thought I was crazy, even Aunt Margaret—the matriarch of our family. I paid her a special visit to break the news.
“What’s this I hear, you’re moving to this Carolina. What’s there? Who’s there? Your family here. What you going to do down there?”
“Auntie, this is a good time for me to make a new life for myself. I’ll meet new people, make new friends. It’s a growth area. A lot of companies are moving down there. Small businesses are starting. People are moving down there like Florida.”
“You mean a lot of old, retired people like me going there?”
“Yes, from what I’ve been reading.”
I visited her again the week before my departure to say goodbye. “I’ve been studying about your North Carolina,” she said to me. I thought, what is she talking about?
“They grow good okra down there.”
“There is a lot of farming, and okra is one of their major crops.”
“All my life I wanted to do something. My hands were tied. I have husband, six children, in-laws, canary. What can I do? Today all women have careers.”
I was astonished at this conversation and wondered where it was leading.
“I been thinking. I want you to help me in Carolina to start business.”
“What are you talking about, Auntie?”
“I gottem all planned. You know my famous pickle recipe. I want to start business making pickled okra. That show, Andy Griffith, I learn lots from that—everyday at five o’clock. Those people—the barber, Barney, Guber—and they have a nice lady for aunt, like me. There is town, Mt. Olive. They make pickles there. Why not make Aunt Margaret’s Old World Pickled Okra?”
Oh, she’s got this crazy idea. I have to discourage it.
“Auntie, how are you going to manage this whole thing? Did you think about it well?”
“Sure. You think I’m old lady, just watch TV, do crochet. Oh no. Not me. I got some money. I keep under carpet, $3,000. Now my son retired; he looking for something to do. My grandsons, one lawyer, one accountant, one investment person—they all help.”
At this point, I was dizzy. I couldn’t believe she had concocted this idea. I still disregarded it, and told her I’d write and visit next Christmas.
I came down to North Carolina, got settled and forgot the whole thing.
The following Christmas I went home and sure enough Aunt Margaret was still on this kick with the pickled okra business. She gave me the third degree. Did I find a farmer who grew the best okra in the county? Did I visit the farm? Did I try the okra? Were they small and tender? My answer was no to all. Except, yes, I bought fresh okra, cooked it, and it was great.
The woman was over 80 years old, and she wanted to start a business in North Carolina. I spoke to her son. I told him what his mother had been planning. He said, “Ann, that’s all she’s been talking about since you moved. The boys and I are just going along.”
I said, “But you’re encouraging her.”
He remarked, “What’s the harm? She’s an old woman. It’s never going to happen. Just play along.”
I decided to put Aunt Margaret’s business scheme to rest once and for all. On my subsequent trip back, I told her I found a farmer. She would have to come to North Carolina to cut a deal. He wouldn’t negotiate with a representative. I knew she didn’t fly so I felt this hairbrained idea would finally be squelched.
“I don’t fly, but they must have train to North Carolina. I find out and let you know when I come.” I couldn’t believe it.
Well, I felt whatever will be, will be. If this was the wish of this elderly woman, maybe we could all pitch in and make her dream a reality.
Aunt Margaret bought an Amtrak ticket to Durham, North Carolina. She called me that she was coming down. The train stopped in Norlina. A local farmer came on board. She told him all about her plans to start an okra pickling business, and he told her about his 10 acres of farmland and his bumper crop of okra. Just as she was about to launch a deal, her breathing got heavy. Her pulse started racing. Her face turned red, and she took her last breath on the train to Durham.
Now she’s in “okra” heaven. And that’s as close as Aunt Margaret got to fulfilling her wish to see a jar of her Old World Pickled Okra on a Harris Teeter shelf.