Monday, October 03, 2005

On Sundays We Drive on the Road Back from the Coast

On this Saturday morning we drove seven hours to Wilmington North Carolina to visit our youngest son at college and to see where he lives this year, the bottom floor of a magenta-painted bay front house at Wright's Beach.We spent the eight hours that was an unexpected gift of time for a sophmore, got up early and shared a nearly empty dining area at the Ramada Inn with a half dozen portly men on a weekend golfing gambit, and then went back on the road home. The route takes us through the Carolina coastal plain, down 95 and its miles of nearly empty cotton and then full tobacco fields, and back onto interstate 20 toward Georgia.We turned off around 10 a.m. a few miles past the 20-95 junction, when we saw a sign for a home cooking cafe located adjacent to a gas station just off the highway. We had broken our usual covenant to only eat at non chains when we ate breakfast at a Waffle House the day before. Our nod to righteousness on the Christian sabbath was to redeem ourselves with something more local.The place we chose only opens from 6:30- 2 p.m. weekdays, 7:30-11 a.m. on Saturdays,and 10- 2 p.m. on Sundays. There was only one other table occupied, six men and women in neon colored racing t-shirts, who ate quickly and piled into a couple of pickups. We were, after all, nearby to a Nascar speedway, my husband told me. In the front of the room there was a steam table, empty when we came in, but by the time we left filled with a lunch buffet familiar to us after more than a dozen years in the South: iceberg lettuce, cucumber and pickle slices, canned peaches and cottage cheese for a salad bar. In the pans and over the sterno, fried chicken, slices of ham and pineapple, a green bean dish, macaroni and cheese, and some kind of cobbler. A chain-smoking middle aged African American cook and a very young waitress spent much of their time fussing with the lunch offerings.It seemed sacramental to me somehow, the bringing in of the creamed corn and squash cassserole and gravy for a ritual meal as old or older than the church services it follows.If there was a love offering in the mid-day meal, the breakfast was an indifferent sacrifice: flat, lukewarm and pale scrambed eggs,inedibly over-salted and buttered grits, greasy biscuits, and dry toast. As if to remind us that at that hour on Sunday only godless race car fans and heathens would be sitting down to eat.