I studied journalism at Mississippi University for Women, where I had a wonderful professor named William Sorrels. Mr. Sorrels had been a newspaperman for years before he decided to teach, and I'm glad he did. He taught me so much and so well, even when the lessons were hard.
“Wilkerson (that's what he called me), you have to understand that everyone – and I mean everyone – has a story,” he told me one day after I'd balked at an assignment for the school newspaper. I didn't believe him at the time, but over the years I've come to cherish those words.
Which brings me to Vickie Philpott.
Miss Vickie (that's what I call her) is a certified pharmacy technician at the Bi-Lo in Belmont, where I've shopped for years. She's bright, and cheerful, and she also happens to be a faithful reader of this column. She visits just about every restaurant I write about, and I'm always interested in hearing her thoughts.
A couple of weeks ago, I was on my weekly jaunt through the store when she stopped me. “My husband thinks you need to write about my potatoes,” she told me.
“Really?” I asked her. “And why is that?”
“Because he thinks they're the best thing in the world,” she said. And to prove it, she offered to bring me a sample. I never, ever say no to samples of anything edible, so I jumped at the chance, and I'm happy to report that the recipe I share with you today is something you simply must try.
But that's not the story of Miss Vickie. Not by a long shot.
When I interviewed her, the first thing I noticed was how incredibly passionate she is about food.
A lot of people are, I know, but when you consider the family she cooks for has got to be the pickiest family on the planet, you realize how amazing this is. Her husband doesn't even like cheese, and her (now grown) three children aren't much easier to feed.
“I grew up eating everything, so I've spent years and years working on recipes that are interesting enough for me to eat but that my family will enjoy,” Vickie said.
And she isn't kidding. She started working on the potato recipe here today about 20 years ago after they had sautéed potatoes at a friend's house and Vickie got it in her mind that she could find a better way to make them suitable for her gang. Now they're legendary in her family.
“My daughter's father-in-law even asks for them at Thanksgiving,” she said, laughing. “And my son thinks they're the best thing since sliced bread.”
That's quite an accomplishment for a woman who says she cooks for people who “fall out” if they see anything they classify as “weird” on their dinner plate.
Every one of Vickie's recipes is her own, and she gave me oodles of them, right off the top of her head.
The lengths she goes to satisfy her loved ones was staggering to me.
I probably would have just stocked up on peanut butter and jelly and called it a day, but not her. As I listened to her talk and watched her become increasingly animated and enthusiastic, I realized I was getting closer to the story.
Vickie Philpott is all about her family. Her husband, Joe, was in the Air Force for years, and those always weren't very easy years.
“We've lived all over this country as well as England and Hawaii,” she said. “People think it's really glamorous and that you have all this money, but it really isn't like that.”
For one thing, there were the long separations when Joe was deployed elsewhere. The past five years were the hardest, when he was stationed in the Middle East for long periods of time.
“When you're in the military, you make compromises,” Vickie explained.
So she did the very best she could. She worked and raised her children and made sure every holiday was memorable and filled with fun.
“We didn't have any money, so I had to do everything myself,” Vickie said. She created incredible Halloween costumes and intricate birthday cakes. When there wasn't money to buy bandages, she made “Mommy Band-Aids” with tissues and tape. She kept the faith and she kept moving forward.
Now Joe's retired from the military and works as an operations manager for a Charlotte company. Vickie loves her job and spending time with her children and grandchildren. I asked if she ever thought she'd get where she is today.
“Everything I've done, I've done for the wonderful man I love and my kids,” she replied.
And that, my friends, is the true story of Miss Vickie.