While my feet are firmly planted in the California soil, my roots extend throughout the prairied fields of those flyover states. This is home. And I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until I stepped foot off the plane and breathed in the honeysuckle sweet scent of open air.
Driving down the highway on my way to Savannah, I saw a sign: “The Whistle Stop Café.” It said it was located just under 10 miles off the route—but anyone who knows a southern back road knows this doesn’t mean a damned thing. It may not seem far to you, but you get stuck behind Farmer John and his trusty old Deer, and you’ll find yourself trickling along at the pace of molasses in winter. Steady and slow—the music of the South. Not to mention the potholes, cow crossings, and washed out roads you have to navigate. Don’t let the sign fool you—time runs different here.
And eventually I make it to that little café, tucked on a street a half a mile long that possesses all the industry of the town—antique shops, repurposed goods, and jerky from the local cattle rancher—next door to the Jeanette Mill, a metal, rusted depot left to decompose into the earth.
I head up the steps onto a wraparound porch, stop to stroke the troll of a gray cat who won’t let you pass without some Southern hospitality (a.k.a. belly rubs). And I pull back the screen and head in and someone calls out “How y’all doin? Grab a seat wherever you’d like.” Her voice is drowned out by the sharp whistle of the train that runs through town but I get the gist and pull up at the counter.
I wanted coffee, but it’s been at least six or seven years since my last taste of real, Southern Sweet Tea, and all of a sudden, that syrupy sweetness sounded better than anything else in the world. It came my way in a Mason jar, as Sweet Tea always should, and that first taste was nostalgia at its finest, bringing back a slew of fond memories I had almost forgotten.
The waitress takes my order, her soft, southern lilt lazy and slow like a lullaby. I close my eyes and let the languid pace of her words wash over me, the warmth of sound mingling with the exhaustion brought forth by a red eye flight that rode me hard and put me away wet. Nothing on the menu costs more than five dollars—and I’m brought back to a world of historical fiction, ordering a basket of Fried Green Tomatoes that arrive sopped in grease, as Fried Maters always should.
I listen to the waitress talk about the Gumbo she has cooking on the stove at home. She bitches about the man who tipped her with a two dollar bill, pissed because she can’t spend it—there’s a sacred history to them, starting in the year 1776 when they were first manufactured for America’s defense. They’ve been lucky ever since. You can give them away—but every Southerner knows you just don’t spend them. And as she carries on, my eyes wander about the room. The whitewashed walls, the hardwood floors. The lace curtains in the windows and the rusted signs that hang above them. The taxidermied heads of wild pigs, deer, and rabbits, and the occasional jackalope—the 8th wonder of our natural world.
And it strikes me, all of a sudden, just how much I love it here. How much this feels like home. How right it all is. And I already know that, by the end of this week, if the creek don’t rise, my heart will be recaptured by the glossy mystery of the South, and I won’t be citified anymore. Cause I’m back in my old stomping grounds, and I sure as hell plan on doin a lot of stomping while I’m here.