That's me on the left, Mister Sweet Tea, age two, at an undisclosed location in our little house in Brewton, Alabama, reading the Pensacola, Florida, newspaper. That's also me on the right, comparing my Size 14 to The Awakening, one of my favorite statues, at its former location in Washington, D.C. I was a columnist for the Mobile Press-Register then; in my newspaper columns, I often referred to myself as “your big-footed correspondent.”
None of which, of course, has anything to do with my title of Mister Sweet Tea. Those are just incidental photographs from the biography of a genetically Texan, Southern-raised lover of Sweet Tea.
How much do I love Sweet Tea? Although I prefer to make tea one gallon at a time, I have a five-gallon Bunn tea maker in our basement for big Sweet Tea events, which are more frequent than you might imagine. While I have the tea maker plumbed in, I also have adapters for the hose so that I can take the tea maker and attach it to kitchen sinks for events such as Brother Paul’s (Holderfield) Fish Fry, an annual supper in North Little Rock to raise money for the soup kitchen at Friendly Chapel, the Church of the Nazarene flock that Paul shepherds. That’s 250 gallons of sweet tea.
I once was shy about claiming the Mister Sweet Tea title, but greatness has been forced on me. I can no longer deny my Sweet Tea Destiny. In 1997, way before Sweet Tea was cool, The New York Times was the first to take note of my ascendancy, and other publications were quick to fall in line. Southern Living referred to me as the Sweet Tea Evangelist.
So here I am, your big-footed Sweet Tea Royalty. You can read all about it in Sweet Tea Times, a collection of my columns from my years as a writer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
As for the photograph of me reading the newspaper, Daddy took it and sent it to LIFE magazine in the hope that the editors would publish it on their back page and embarrass me for life. The editors declined, telling Daddy they didn't publish posed photographs. They didn't believe: A) That I was only two (I topped out at six-foot-three, two-hundred-that's-all-you-need-to-know pounds and the aforementioned Size Fourteen ); B) That a kid that young could read (I couldn't); or C) That if I was in fact only two, that a two-year-old would voluntarily strike such a pose (in the potty-training category, I was an early blossom). For the record, Daddy didn't pose me, and I ain't saying where I picked up the tradition.
Genetically, I am a Texan, by which I mean that both of my parents are Texans. My father grew up in Bryan and is a Texas Aggie twice over, by which I mean he earned his bachelor's and master's in forestry at A&M. My mother grew up in El Paso, in the shadow of the Franklin Mountains and a tortilla's toss from the Rio Grande and Juarez. She is not an Aggie. (Next time you are in El Paso, find a Leo's restaurant for Mexican food. If you are passing through Oklahoma City, Edmond, Broken Arrow, Tulsa Hills or Norman, find Ted's Cafe Escondido.)
So my DNA is shot through with Texas, but I was born and raised Southern. I started life in Marianna, Florida, lived in Brewton, Alabama, until I was five, and then finished out my years in Pineville, Louisiana, best known in the Pelican State for its disproportionate number of cemeteries and as the home for what once was the state's premier psychiatric hospital.
I have worked at eleven newspapers (including the Pineville [Louisiana] High School Yahoo) in eight states: the Alexandria (Louisiana) Daily Town Talk, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, the Shreveport Times, the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, The Denver Post, the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader, the Mobile (Alabama)Press-Register, The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, the Sun-News in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and theArkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock.
I left the newspaper business in the fall of 2013 after thirty-five years in the racket.
My father, I am saddened to report, didn't live to see his photograph of me published. He died shortly after noon on May 4, 2014, age eighty-four, with my mother, his wife of sixty-one years, beside him. As always.
But Daddy left me a sweet-tea legacy (in more ways than one, but more on that later). One day when I served him a glass of sweet tea, it wasn’t to his liking. “Bigfoot me,” he said, by which he meant, make it sweet enough.