Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Robert St. John: All in the Family

 BARBERINO-TAVARNELLE, TUSCANY— It could be said— and probably has often been said— that I am a slow learner. It took me almost 40 years to even get an inkling of meaning and purpose in my life. It’s not that I was wandering around aimlessly for four decades. I was set on my career path and achieving business goals, but I always felt slightly lost when it came to my personal life.

It was around the time my first child was born that I started putting things together and prioritizing life in a healthy manner. There was nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking, no Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment. It was nothing more than the simple realization of what truly matters in life. I have my daughter to thank for that. Her arrival opened a new chapter on the long road to enlightenment, a path in which I still have a very long way to go.

Soon after her birth I began to look at life differently, and I began to prioritize facets of my life in a healthier manner. That precious newborn shed light on things that truly matter. I sat down one day and consolidated those things into something I call the Five Fs.

All our restaurants live by one simple statement of purpose. “We exist to SUPPORT our team, DELIGHT our guests, and SERVE our community.” Clear, concise, and a model on which we can base every decision and action, every day. I never thought of it this way until this moment, but I guess the Five F’s have been my personal purpose statement for the last quarter century.

The Five Fs are— as most effective statements of purpose— brief and to the point. They are, in order: Faith, family friends, food, and fun.

When I prioritize those things, in that order, life goes well. Granted, I don’t walk around in a self-actualized state of Zen on most days, if ever. But I am getting better at ordering and prioritizing, and I can unequivocally state that whenever I have put those things first in my life, happiness lives around the corner, 100% of the time.

This week has been a solid reminder and verification that the Five Fs bring joy into my life. I was originally scheduled host four Italy tours this fall— Sicily for eight days and three Tuscany groups for seven days each. The wife of a cousin from the Washington D.C, area called last year and asked, “If we can put together a group of your cousins, their extended family, and a few of our friends, would you add another week to your schedule.”

I didn’t hesitate.

My cousins and their friends and family arrived last week. I was already five weeks into a very heavy work schedule over here, but their arrival gave me instant energy and renewed enthusiasm. The four primary cousins here are the grandchildren of my grandmother’s brother. We are second cousins. We have grown up knowing each other, respecting each other, but mostly from afar over six-plus decades. I have always loved and admired them and have cherished the brief visits we have had over the years, but we have never had meaningful time together.

That changed this week.

This entire group has been a pleasure and joy to host. Typically, it takes a few days for one of my tour groups to meld. This group— many having known each other their entire lives— were plugged in from the first minute of the first drive to our first lunch.


I have often stated that friendships made in childhood have a deeper connection than most made later in life. Those childhood friends can be out of our lives for decades, but when we reconnect the bond that is rekindled is immediate. The same goes for family, especially enthusiastic cousins. Willie Morris called it, “A common mutuality.” Kids who share childhood experiences have that common mutuality. Cousins who share beloved grandparents who were siblings have it in spades.

I can remember my “D.C. cousins” visiting Hattiesburg and staying at my grandmother’s house. As kids, we caught bees in empty mayonnaise jars around her giant azaleas. My grandmother was an excellent cook and always put out large spreads. When her brother and his children and grandchildren were visiting, she ramped up the meals tenfold. Most of my fondest childhood memories come from that dining room.

When I was visiting family in the D.C. area they were always loving, kind, and welcoming. Nothing has changed.

There are a couple of cousins that I have just met on this trip. Ten minutes into the first lunch on the first day I had already spent more time with them than ever. By the end of the second day, I had spent more time with the other cousins I have known since childhood. What a gift.

The inner cynic in me would chastise myself for not trying to spend more time— sooner— despite the distance and life’s daily scheduling complications. But the pragmatist in me is grateful for these current days together and looks forward to many more years of time well spent, together.

I have been having a blast.

It hit me yesterday that the primary reason that this week has been so stellar is that all the Five Fs— faith, family, friends, food, and fun— have been present. There’s family all around. My family, their extended family, their relatives by marriage, and we have all connected as if we’ve lived next door to each other for years.

There are friends at every turn. At my count I am blood-related to five of the 24 in this group. A couple are widows of blood relatives, some are cousins by marriage on the other side, but the rest are friends of cousins. Now we’re all friends.

Food? Absolutely. We’ve been eating where the locals eat and what the locals eat, all week. We’re checking all the culinary boxes and covering all the dining bases at every meal.

Here’s the thing about fun that I wish I would have known in much of my misspent youth. When three or more of the Fs are in place, the fun just happens, good times are made, and the fondest memories are created.

But what of faith? It’s the first and foremost F.

A couple of mornings ago I took the group on a leisurely stroll through the Tuscan countryside. It gave us a chance to experience this beautiful landscape in person and not through the window of a moving vehicle. We finished at a picnic breakfast on the grounds of a small historic chapel on a breezy, cedar-lined hilltop. I was standing outside of the Chapel of St. Michael speaking to an archeologist who looks after the property when I heard singing coming from inside. It was beautiful. I abruptly excused myself from the conversation and walked in to see what was happening.

A couple of my cousins, and several of their friends, had formed a semi-circle in the chapel and were singing the Doxology. The acoustics in that small chapel rival any monastery I have visited. Their voices were resonating throughout the small, rounded space and out into the church grounds. It was mesmerizing.

I knew the song well and have sung it in church all my life. I probably knew the words to that short hymn of praise before any popular song from my youth. I stood and listened to them finish singing. It was a poignant moment in which I wished I would have been a part. I hesitated, but asked, “Can y’all do that again and let me join in?” 

This time it was the cousins who didn’t hesitate, “Of course,” they said. I joined in, and in that moment all the Five Fs were present— faith, family, friends, food, and fun. It was an experience I will never forget from a week I will always remember.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


 Amen, indeed.


Pickled Zucchini

2 cups              Zucchini, cut into 2” batons
1 cup               White vinegar
½ cup              Water
2 TB                Sugar
1 TB                Kosher salt
½ tsp               Crushed red pepper
1 each              Fresh garlic clove, thinly sliced

Pack the zucchini batons tightly into a sterilized 1-pint wide-mouth glass jar. (To sterilize, cover the jar and lid in water in a pot and boil for 5 minutes.)

In a small pot, combine the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Immediately pour over the jar full of zucchini, leaving about ½“ from the lip. Make sure you stir right before pouring so the crushed red pepper and garlic get into the jar. Discard any excess liquid.

While still hot, tighten the lid and let cool completely at room temperature. Once cooled, refrigerate.


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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS