There is a local restaurant that I frequent when I want to feel surrounded by people who actually care about me. It used to be the “Dairy Queen” but the owners decided to drop their contract and run their business as a local ice cream shop/lunch grill under their own names. I love everyone in that family; they are a part of my extended family and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for any of them.
When you walk into the restaurant, you are immediately aware that the people who frequent this place are workers – all of them - the customers and the owners. There are: farmers with mud caked to their boots; horse people wearing jingling spurs as they stride across the tile floors; and ladies in their finery and diamonds who are the “Steel Magnolias” of Arab. Those are the women I can sit with for hours and never feel like I have to leave. They are the matriarchs of their families and they run their businesses with a gentle but firm hand. I have learned a lot from these ladies. There are also local businessmen and politicians. It’s the happening place in Arab (if there is anything happening here).
What has always amazed me are the farmers. Chickens, cows and horses – the talk of the day. I have learned a lot from these fellows; generally men who most would dismiss as common laborers…until you hear them talking about their latest ski trip or their million-dollar RV that they are having serviced out in Washington state because that’s where they had the thing specially made for them. They drive old, beat up pick-up trucks held together by baling string and Duct tape. These guys are businessmen who don’t wear suits – they wear mud-caked overalls and straw hats. Lesson – never judge a book by its cover. I have learned over the years that if I have trouble, these are the guys I can call whether it’s a sick horse or I just ran the tractor off into a gully (true story by the way) and need helping getting it out before hubby discovers it, banning me from farm machinery. One guy in particular came to my sister’s rescue (I was on vacation) when my koi pond started pumping water out and the fish were lying in three inches of water. He didn’t know much about “fancy fish” but he knew about pumps. Saved the day and a few thousand dollars worth of fish. He’s still shaking his head over it.
I love to sit with the ladies and learn little tidbits about everyone in town. They are like the information-central on the who and what is going on. They know who’s sick (because they took food over before they came to eat lunch); who’s in the hospital (because they went visiting with them last night); who’s in trouble with the law (because they talked to the police who had come in earlier for lunch); who’s getting a divorce (because the wife came in without her wedding ring on); and who’s going on vacation (they saw them loading up one of those RVs). There is not a vicious bone in any of these ladies but they do like a good story and a good audience (me). The only problem I have is that most of these ladies are TIDE PRIDE ladies who never miss a ballgame. During football season I (who am a card-carrying member of Tigers Unlimited – the equivalent of Tide Pride) have to live with an uneasy truce and gentle ribbing underlying most of the conversations. I walked in one day wearing a very orange sweatshirt with Auburn Alumni on it and they asked me if I was working with the State Highway Department – I told them yes and I was directing all traffic away from Tuscaloosa because of the inherent hazards of the place. That earned me a good a good-natured laugh and an orange traffic cone on my car the next time I came in. We love each other and have learned to live with our foibles and our differences.
We used to call the place “The Queen”, even when I was in high school. The locals still do even though it’s no longer got the big red and white sign out front. “The Queen” is my oasis in town when I can go, feel welcomed and pass the time in good company. If I’m feeling down or lonely, it’s the place I head for in order to feel better. Do you have any place that you go to for comfort? Is there a local restaurant where, like “Cheers,” everybody knows your name?