Some writers have a knack for capturing the essence of a place with just a few words. You can hear, feel, and smell the place almost as if you were sitting there. This was brought to mind early this chilly, spring, overcast SLC morning when I opened the local paper to the opinion page where I always count on finding master story teller, Garrison Keillor. In a flash I was taken with him to Columbus, Georgia with these simple words:
“…sat on the porch of a little shotgun house on 7th street in Columbus, Georgia, and breathed sweet and spicy air of magnolia and camellia and honeysuckle, the whole orchestra of Southern fragrance out and about, comforting the afflicted, and I thought of words I’d never ordinarily use, such as “suffused” and “redolent,” and listened to Georgia friends talk about ancestors and their recipes…”
“…was taken to Minnie’s for fried chicken, collards, butter beans and slaw, and to a barbecue joint in an old bus station…”
“All I had to do was throw in a phrase or two, like “Well, bless their hearts” or “Don’t mind if I do.”
I don’t specifically remember being in Columbus, Georgia, but I’ve been to other Georgia towns and cities many times, and for all intent and purpose much of Georgia could serve as sister cities (or brother if you insist) for the part of northern Florida where I grew up. Keillor made me long for the food of my childhood days and wonder if an intensified google search might just turn up mail order souces for some of those good old speckled butter beans, field peas, or sticky okra pods that are either scarce as toads toenails here in the near-desert, or about the price of gold per pound. But no matter–even if I did somehow miraculously find them, they’d never quite match the succulent bounty indelibly inked from childhood memory into my heart and soul.
Some may wonder why I would ever leave a place that I continue to rhapsodize about after all these years. The feasible answer would have to be that I left because I fell in love and decided I could and would be happy anywhere in the whole wide world as long as he were there too. (Still true.) But again, Keillor answers more accurately for me as he relates a conversation with country singer Chet Atkins who confessed how lonesome he had been in his teenage years…
“What he (Chet) remembered about Georgia was snake tracks curving in the dust of a dirt road on a hot afternoon and a strong urge to go somewhere else as soon as possible.“
I remember having those same feelings too. So I’ll be ready to leave Georgia and the south again (mentally) just as soon as I find something even remotely southern to eat. Maybe some instant grits will do it.