Sunday, February 5, 2012
Soul Food: Sausage, Eggs and Gossip
I took a break from the morning blog posts yesterday and my husband and I went out to an early breakfast. We like to go to a little place in Columbia, a Gold Rush house transformed into a restaurant called Billy Whiskers. The house is owned by a old local family the matriarch of which was one of my mother’s best friends. My parents decorated the place for her when she decided to make the space commercial, so my father’s woodwork and my mother’s wallpaper and lace curtains are still there, despite the fact that all three are now gone. The business is owned by Karen, the daughter of one of the oldest families in Columbia, and her husband. He cooks, she waits tables and they both love to talk. And since she and I both grew up in Columbia, there’s plenty to talk about.
David and I were the sole customers that early in the morning, so while the coffee was being poured we all started right in chatting and we gossiped away, right through ordering, being served and eating. The delightful part of this gossip is that most of it is over 60 years old! Ancient scandals are resurrected, familial intermarriages and feuds reviewed and town characters remembered. It’s like working a jigsaw puzzle together – she fits in a piece, then I know another bit of the story and together, we sort out the Columbia of our mutual childhood.
Yesterday we reminisced about our dentist, the local version of Dr. Mengele, a portly man who, once he had us kids in the chair, would pin us there with his huge belly. Then he would bend over us, breathing like a bulldog in short gasps through his teeth, while he worked the ancient drill with a foot peddle. It would grind away with agonizing slowness and thoroughness and, since he believed that Novacaine was for sissies, we got to experience every turn of the drill bit maximally. This, he claimed, was to teach us to take better care of our teeth. I would go home with plum-colored and –sized bruises along my jaw, from the death grip he had had on me, and Karen swears that her teeth used to smoke from his ministrations! Both of us still suffer from the trauma and neither has ever been able to relax in a dental chair, since.
Other health notes included their former waitress whose femoral artery, after being pieced together for years with plastic tubing like an old water system, finally became so leaky that it had to be replaced. She called just before breakfast was served, to inform Karen that a cadaver artery is now in place and she’s recovering nicely. In an additional notes, I learned that my childhood mentor, Bill Taylor, ended his life in the county hospital in a room padded with old mattresses and that one of the boys pictured in a framed and faded newspaper photo of the elementary school baseball team of our youth had ended his life tragically in a fire.
Of course, the weather is always a topic, especially with the continued drought and the sighting of the first manzanitas already in bloom. Then we moved on to one of our elementary school bus drivers, a rough old cob who would doubtlessly be sued by irate parents, these days. I was able to add a new piece to his puzzle: my parents had heard rumors that he was a retired Mafia hit man. This lead to an hilarious stint by Karen’s husband, shouting in a perfect Tony Soprano voice, “Hey, you in the back! Sit down and shut up or I’ll break your legs.”
That’s small town breakfasting at its best: eggs and sausage served up with a salsa picante of tragedy, gore, salt and laughter. Hillman says that the soul loves gossip. It affirms our deep roots in community and keeps its web connected. It delights with interesting stories and reminds us that there is no such thing as privacy in a small town – or perhaps, on the planet. We know full well that, somewhere else in town, over some other breakfast table, we are the subject of the gossip. It’s a reminder, as my father used to say, to keep your nose clean.
For instance, my friend Pam just told me that she mentioned my name in her yoga class and some woman whose name she didn’t know exclaimed, “Suzan Still! Why, she’s not even a Christian!” What? Who says? Where did that puzzle piece come from? I think it’s from another jigsaw altogether and got into this box, by mistake! But there’s no rectifying it now. That rumor will go on and on and grow until, who knows, I’ll be accused of witchcraft or of using Communion wafers for casserole topping or who knows what. That’s life in a small town – everyone, willing or not, gives a piece of him- or herself to the salsa that anoints the soul.