Speaking of Tennessee and being Su-then – that is a whole ‘nother world down there in Dixie. The things they do are amusing at every turn. The Cracker Barrel is an example.
After my lengthy flight from Portland, OR to Knoxville, TN (the closest airport to Kingsport that I could use with my airline miles), and renting a car for the last leg of the trip, I was starving to death and didn’t want fast food – I wanted collard greens and fried okra and black eyed peas and corn bread and other such Su-then fare. I wanted Cracker Barrel. I called my family and my Uncle Martin gave me the names of three exits with Cracker Barrels between Knoxville and Kingsport, an hour and a half drive away.
I parked the rental, mouth watering, and stepped up on the long porch of this mecca of southern cuisine. I passed all those wooden rocking chairs and for a second I was tempted to sit a spell, but figured I’d better get my name in because it was Saturday evening and the place was packed.
After a small wait in which I browsed the country store and thought about how good it was to be back in the South, a sweet girl with a cherub face seated me at a little table in the middle of the action. Waiters and waitresses zipped from table to table and said things like, “Hello, darlin’. Can I git you something to drink, sugar?” It was like that through the whole meal. I couldn’t take two bites without someone asking if they could get me some more water, “honey,” and if I was enjoying my food, or “Sweetie, can I refill that tea for you?”
When I went to the cash register to pay, an ancient woman with more wrinkles than a wadded up linen shirt was behind the register. I mentally stereotyped her, no doubt slow and fumbling, as she handed the change to the couple in front of me. When I stepped up to pay she briskly took my money and started ringing me up. “Sweetheart, did you have a good supper?” she said. “Can I interest you in some of this hand lotion? It smells so sweet. Oh and you really ought to try these caramels – they just melt in your mouth!” Not only was she quick, she wasn’t taking “no” for an answer until she up-sold me something from the gift shop.
With the drive ahead of me, it was going to be late when I arrived at my Aunt Mary Ellen’s house, and it was already way past dark, but I eased down into one of the wooden rocking chairs on the front porch and felt myself rock back and forth like the pendulum in a grandfather clock, listening to the soothing sound of wood rolling over wood, remembering the taste of that good southern food, the smell of the fresh-baked cornbread, and the sounds of families exchanging stories all around me as they visited at the Cracker Barrel on a Saturday evening. I mentally willed myself to slow down to Tennessee time.
I’d come back “home” to take a little break from life and get centered – and as I sat there rocking, I knew it was going to be a perfect trip. A couple walked slowly out of the restaurant, holding hands. He grinned at me and said, “How y’all doin?” There are no strangers in Tennessee – but there are some strange people. I’ll tell you about one of them next time.