Ernie and I both, grew up a few miles away from Walt Kelly's imaginary inhabitants of the Okefenokee Swamp, and Pogo spoke to us through the "funnies" each Sunday morning.
Ernie told me about taking the photograph which graced the cover of his classic cookbook, White Trash Cooking. He and his friend, Bob, riding somewhere in the South, found themselves behind a truck full of watermelons. He knew he had to have that picture. Later he said the occupants of the watermelon truck had threatened to sue. I see that now thirty years later, the latest edition sports that same photo.
Bob was from Morgan City, Louisiana, and he was a retired, or escaped, Anglican priest. He spoke ‘cajun’. I once met his mother, a white haired, graceful Southern lady from the bayou country. Her cajun accent was as thick as gravy, so severe that I felt the rug tug under my feet.
Ernie and I met in the Jardin as the plaza of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico is called, at a time when he was living with his friend, Bob Fanque, on 24 Reloj, one half block from where we sat in the jardin. Their house was a showplace and everyone's dream of Mexican Colonial, with cobblestone streets and a street entrance not changed since Allende, It had the main house to the rear and two small apartments just behind and inside was my mental fantasy of 'living in Mexico'. It was thrilling to be a guest there, and the inspiration for creating Casa Mexilio, came directly from Bob & Ernie's Mexican home. There was a pool behind, too frigid to enter, and the roof terraces viewed the city centre filled with steeples and belfries. Bob told me that books had been written about the tolling bells of San Miguel.
The first nine years of my professional life as an educator were spent in a Florida beach town about 9 miles from where Ernie grew up in Palm Valley, along the St. John's River in Northern Florida and we shared the “white trash values”, we went to the same bars, and we spoke the same “cracker” dialect.
Ernie’s New York Times obituary states that he “became a caterer in Key West where he met his first publisher.”
Actually there’s a bit more to that story.
During the decade of the Eighties, my friendship with both Ernie and Bob had matured, and the visits to San Miguel de Allende were frequent, but the driving distance from Merida was tortuous. At that point San Miguel still was on the radar as a place to settle. And once I mentioned looking for someone to manage and live in our small hotel in Key West, Ernie wanted the job. And it was during those months that Ernie ‘catered’ the breakfasts and cocktail hours of the guests of “Gideon Lowe House”. in Key West. And I assume that it was during that time that he met his first publisher.