Book Clubs, Ukuleles and other Chestertown Stuff

February 23, 2015

The book club that I’m in meets once each month at The Lemon Leaf Café. We call it a “slacker book club” because although there are no slackers in it, we’re not there to prove anything or to go down in history as the most profound thinkers in the town. It’s just a way to be encouraged to read books that we might not read otherwise, then meet together with women who are fun and nice. Pretty simple, right? (And the Lemon Leaf management has made it so easy for our group; they couldn’t have been any more welcoming! I can say with authority that they’re really doing more right there at the restaurant than just the food, which we locals really appreciate!)

Tonight’s selection is our second Fannie Flagg book, with the first being Redbird Christmas in December. Since it was the holidays, those attending the December meeting decided to make things easy and so just chose another Fannie Flagg for January, which was just fine by me. I like her. Only problem was that they chose a recent publication not yet available at the library, and I was too busy to request in time, so I just went to KCPL a couple of days ago and took one of her earlier books from the shelf. Not so hard getting a book written in 1987: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.

The book is the story of lots of people in Whistle Stop, Alabama, in the 20’s, mostly, told in the 80’s by an elderly woman in a nursing home to another resident’s visitor. (Getting to know Smokey in the story was where the ukulele – in the blog title – came in; I’ve come across several Woodie Guthrie songs with my uke and could picture Smokey and his buddies pretty easily). But playing a uke isn’t a prerequisite to reading this book. It’s an easy read, but is not fluff:

This morning, Smokey Phillips was on a mixed train from Georgia, headed for Florida. He had not eaten anything for two days and remembered that his friend Elmo Williams had told him that there were two women running a place right outside of Birmingham who were always good for a meal or two….

…’Excuse me, ma’am, I was wondering if you had an odd job, or something I might do. I’ve had a run of some bad luck, lately.’

Idgie looked at the man in the worn-out dirty jacket, frayed brown shirt, and cracked leather laceless shoes and knew he wasn’t lying.

She opened the door and said, ‘Come on in, fella. I think we can find something for you.’

…Idgie pointed to the men’s room. ‘Why don’t you go in there and freshen up, and then come have a bite to eat.’….

The bathroom was big and had a light bulb hanging down from the ceiling, and when he pulled it he saw that there was a big stand-up claw-foot tub over in the corner, with a black rubber stopper on a chain. On the sink, already laid out, was a razor and a dish of shaving soap with a brush.

As he looked at himself in the mirror, he felt ashamed that they had seen him so dirty, but he had not had more than a speaking acquaintance with soap for quite a while now….He had not had a drink in twenty-four hours, and his hands shook so bad he was not able to get a clean shave, but he did the best he could….

He sat down to a plate of fried chicken, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, and iced tea.

He picked up his fork and tried to eat. His hands were still shaking and he was not able to get the food to his mouth. He spilled his tea all over his shirt.

He had been hoping they were not watching, but in a minute the blond woman said, ‘Smokey, come on, let’s take a walk outside.’

He got his hat and used his napkin, thinking he was being thrown out. ‘Yes’m.’

She walked him out behind the café, where there was a field.

‘You’re a pretty nervous fella, aren’t you?’

‘I’m sorry about spilling my food in there, ma’am, but to tell you the honest to God truth…well…I’ll just head on, but thank you anyway…’

Idgie reached in her apron pocket and pulled out a half-pint bottle of Old Joe Whiskey and handed it to him.

He was a mighty appreciative man. He said, ‘God bless you for a saint, ma’am.’ and they sat down on a log out by the shed…..

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Fannie Flagg, 1987,The Random House Publishing Group, pp. 17 – 19.

Told you it wasn’t fluff.

Location, Location, Location.

You might notice the WAC Administration Building cupola out of the corner of your eye as you walk onto Simply Bed & Bread's brick path, since our house is just a stone's throw away from the college. Or it might be the ...
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