A reader who is a pastor in the Deep South writes:
I took my lunch today at a local country buffet. It’s a popular spot with working class people, and it’s usually very crowded, so I make a habit of waiting till about 1:30 to go there — when it’s still crowded, albeit a little less so. I also try to go there when I don’t have any visits to make and consequently I’m not wearing clericals. I often wear a camouflage hat. You get the idea.
Anyway, today I filled my plate with fried chicken, corn bread, green beans, field peas, collard greens, and some raw onion slices, then found an empty table. Fox News was showing coverage of GHW Bush’s funeral. On one side of me was a table at which four black women sat. As I was shaking some pepper sauce onto my field peas, I couldn’t help but overhear snippets of their conversation. They were probably in their 60s, well dressed, with pretty heavy, old-fashioned, black southern accents. They were talking about the life of their church, and about their bewilderment over certain back-sliders from their congregation, and what to do about them. Their conclusion was that there was nothing anyone could do for them except fast and pray. One of the women repeated it twice: “Fast and pray, fast and pray,” shaking her head ruefully as she said it. There was a bit of coda on the absolute centrality of forgiveness, in imitation of our crucified Savior. God bless them.
They got up and left. Just behind them was an elderly white couple. Someone the couple knew walked by and greeted them and they remarked on how tasty and convenient the food is at this particular restaurant. The woman (probably in her 70’s, very upright, hair done properly, etc.) said that she grew up on a farm, and how different everything is now. “Meat is so expensive now! When I was growing up, we had chickens and hogs, and we hardly ever event went to the grocery store. Sometimes Mama would go on Saturday. But we grew vegetables and put up peaches and things in the summer.” And on and on. Her interlocutors nodded in a agreement. They grew up in the same circumstances, they said. “How times have changed!”
Remarkable. I am also struck by how diverse and tolerant the crowd in that restaurant always is. No one thinks about it, let alone “celebrates” it. It just is. There are whites, blacks, and (now, lately) Mexicans – in short, representatives from every ethnicity that inhabits our little town. Everyone getting along, all eating the same food, all being polite to one another. No one self-conscious about it.
It might be the case that if there’s any hope for our country, it lies in places like my town remaining backward enough, far enough behind the times, to allow our neoliberal cosmopolitan overlords to go ahead and get this civilizational collapse over and done with – so that the good, normal people in towns like this (mostly Baptists, of course), my neighbors, can pick up the pieces and start over.
The image above is from Mr. D’s restaurant at the Old Country Store in Lorman, Miss. Notre Dame architecture professor Philip Bess and his wife Barbara introduced me to this gem of an eat place. Here’s a clip of owner Arthur Davis talking about his restaurant: