Let me tell you about The Great Jalapeno Pepper Showdown, a family legend with a Facebook twist.
Many years ago, my number two son, in his Third Class year at the U.S. Naval Academy, was noted far and wide for his un-Northwest-like ability to consume spicy hot foods. He came by this talent naturally since his grandmother believed hot peppers were the nectar of the gods. But one day he was challenged by an upstart plebe who was ready to lay the honor of the great state of Texas on the line in a jalapeno scarfing contest.
The wager was huge: The defeated man would lose more than the contest; he would sacrifice his hair. The Texan had little to lose since all plebes have closely clipped heads anyway, but my son’s hair had finally grown in, lush and luxurious, in time for an expected and rare visit from his fiancee. He couldn’t afford to lose.
Of just such stuff are heroic legends made. “It wouldn’t have been so bad,” he recalls, “except the whole brigade gathered to watch.”
Like Casey at the Bat, like Paul Revere and the Raiders, Midshipman Wilhelm strode to the site of challenge, secure that he could not be defeated. After all, his Great Uncle Ben consumed a hot pepper sandwich each and every day of his 104 years.
Finally, eyes streaming and with much gulping, he fought the Texan to a tie. Seventeen peppers each. “They were hot going down and they were hot coming back,” commented the family hero.
We’ve heard and repeated that story for nearly three decades, but I recently met that legendary Texan for the first time – on Facebook, believe it or not. The former midshipman is now a minister in central Scotland where the food is reputed to be just a little more bland. I felt awed as one does, meeting a real celebrity.
“My main memory of the day is a toss-up between being thankful for such a reasonable opponent (willing to call it a tie!) and being thankful they saved the ice cream for us!” the Rev. Alvin Dickerson recalled.
It’s a little embarrassing to be writing a column in praise of Facebook, but except for the unsettling fact that scores of people I never heard of now seem to be my closest friends, it’s just too interesting to be mad about anymore. I meet fascinating people like the artist who paints ethereal creations on eagle feathers, an author who has written a book on Runglish (Russian English), and if you haven’t had enough of food battles, there’s a pretty interesting conversation by the judges of the peach pie contest at the Puyallup Fair. With pictures.
No peppers were used in the creation of those delicacies, but there were red-hot cinnamon candies, toasted coconut and cinnamon whiskey. The pies seemed even better than last year. There’s an analysis of judging styles. I tend to take a single bite on a new plastic fork, where highly revered News Tribune columnist Kathleen Merryman is an immersion taster. She tastes everything possible. A contestant who gets her vote has truly bested the competition.
In my first year as a judge, professional judge Marlene Angell schooled me on what to do if an entry was really, truly not tasteworthy. “Remove it into a napkin and tactfully sit on it,” she said. Luckily I’ve never had to do that. But if I ever do, that will be on Facebook, too.
How else would I ever have found out that there’s a pretty good Mexican restaurant in Sterling, Scotland, and the grocery store now sells Old El Paso foods?
The fastest-growing group of Facebook users are women and men older than 55, according to the latest figures. No question it’s replaced the party line and the back fence as the best place to hear gossip. And start more battles.
“I can’t believe you guys are still eating those jalapenos?” I write on Facebook.
“Eating them and loving them,” the Rev. Dickerson replied.
“I still say I could have eaten more peppers,” my son says.
“I know I could have eaten more peppers,” replies his worthy opponent.
If there were any more pie, I think I could have eaten more of that, too.
Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional humorist and speaker. Follow Dorothy’s adventures and read more details on the stories above on her blog at sixtyplusdatebook.com. Email her at Dorothy@itsnevertoolate.com.