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Holy Cheesetoast
Or: Better to put your dough into swampland

by Gene Owens

I didn’t beat a path to Diana Duyser's house down in Hollywood, Fla., to see what the New York Post has dubbed the “Holy Grill” and a British newspaper calls “Holy Toast.”

Duyser owns the 10-year-old piece of bread that just sold on e-Bay for $28,000 – which I would judge to be the going price for a quarter-acre of unimproved Florida swampland, before the removal of alligators.

This piece of toast, says Duyser, bears the image of the Virgin Mary. So she put it on e-Bay and asked for bids. An on-line casino submitted the high bid.

“You are viewing an extroidinary out of this world item!!” Duyser exclaimed in her e-Bay ad, while her computer’s spelling and grammar check choked. “I made this sandwich 10 years ago, when I took a bite out of it, I saw a face looking up at me, It was Virgin Mary starring back at me.”

The reason I haven’t made the pilgrimage to Florida has little to do with the fact that I hate flying and can’t afford the gasoline my pickup would burn driving down there. It has nothing to do with the fact that I hate I-95 almost as much as I hate flying.

My reason involves the fact that I’ve seen grilled cheese before, and I just don’t think it’s worth the trip to see this particular piece. I have no doubt that the mother of Jesus is in Heaven enjoying her eternity, but I really don’t believe that’s her image on the bread.

Duyser says she grilled the toast using American cheese, plain white bread, and no cooking oil or butter. Cuisine doesn’t get much more boring that than.

She put the sandwich in a clear plastic box and kept it on her night stand. After 10 years, it still hasn’t sprouted a spore of mold, she said

I hope somebody enjoys the toast, but before laying out that kind of bread, I think I’d want to know how Duyser knows that’s the Virgin Mary’s face. To the best of my knowledge, the mother of Jesus never sat for a portrait, and never was captured on film. For all we know, the image on that grilled-cheese sandwich could be that of Marcy Mulligan who works the grill at the Waffle House in Swampscum. If it is Mary, why would she choose to reveal herself on a piece of cheese toast when even a 2-megapix digital camera could produce a sharper image?

Duyser’s faith is unshaken by such skepticism. Since she made the grilled cheese sandwich, she says, she has won a total of $70,000 at a casino near her house, a clear indication that the Virgin isn’t opposed to gambling.

When it comes to holy images, I’m a callous unbeliever.

When I was a young reporter covering Horse Creek Valley, S. C., I got a call from someone about a ghostly phenomenon at a small home in the village of Gloverville.

A woman had been murdered there a few years earlier, and a new family had moved in. Neighbors noticed some mysterious stains on the screen window. They said the stains were the spit and image of the murdered woman.

When I arrived to authenticate it for the Augusta Chronicle, the occupants told me a steady stream of visitors had filed through their yard, peering at the image on the screen window. Most of them agreed that it sure did look like the face of a woman.

I looked closely, and what I saw were rust stains. The house had no roof gutters, so during a shower the rain would stream down the side of the house and over the screen window. Where the rain had washed across the screen, the metal oxidized, forming a pattern. I could no more see a human image in that pattern than I could see a bikini-clad Marilyn Monroe in a cumulus cloud – though I tried real hard in both cases.

It convinced me that people will see what they want to see, and maybe will see what others want them to see.

Jim Terrell, a wonderfully irreverent journalist who once worked with me on the Virginia Beach Beacon, told me about a tent revival that came to the town of Pulaski, deep in the mountains of Far Southwest Virginia, while Jim was with the local paper.

The evangelist dropped by for a bit of pre-revival publicity. He pulled out an 8 X 10 glossy black-and-white photograph of a large crowd beneath a revival tent. Superimposed on this picture was the image of a man, who appeared to be hovering over the crowd.

“Do you know what this is?” asked the evangelist.

“It’s a double exposure,” said Jim, who knew his way around a darkroom.

“No,” protested the evangelist. “It’s the Lord.”

The Lord, according to the evangelist’s story, had come into the tent unbeknownst to the worshipers. Only after the film was developed and printed was it obvious that his presence had hovered unseen above them.

Jim wasn’t taken in.

“It’s a double exposure,” he said.

And the “image” on the window screen was just rust.

And the image on the grilled cheese?

Well, it does look a little like Madonna. The Material Girl, not the saint.

If you’re kicking yourself for not getting in on the bidding, check back in with e-Bay. Last time I looked, the bidding was at $2.25 on a Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese vintage tee shirt, at $8.28 on a framed and boxed picture of the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese, and at $1 for a kosher grilled cheese supposedly imprinted with the Ten Commandments. The image on the Tee shirt looked a lot like Madonna, underwear and all.


Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.

As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.

He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He recently went into semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.

Read more of Gene's entertaining columns:
Warning: Raspberry running ant is coming!
Polaroid fades into history
A Tribute to Johnny Cash
Roy Moore at the Courthouse Door
All about Gene and Greasepit Grammar
Greasepit Grammar: Misplaced modifiers
Greasepit Grammar: Inertia can get you
Greasepit Grammar: Drinking and dranking
The Wal-Mart Paradox
Taking a week off from retirement to do nothing
Insulation reduces mouse mortality rate
Flocking South with the snowbirds
Juicy Fruit will gum up the mole works
Dan Rather and the Texas truth
Decent 'dogs
Save the kudzu - fuel of the future

Write Gene Owens at 317 Braeburn Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at WadesDixieCo@aol.com

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