The funeral had ended, we had said our goodbyes and there was nothing left to do but go back home. Home for a southerner is the south. Even though I receive my mail in New York City, home will always be below the Mason-Dixon line.
Uncle Jerry and Aunt Lynn suggested I ride with them back to Memphis --- and I gladly accepted the offer. It was a seven hour trip, but I figured the down time would do me some good. It had been a pretty hectic week and the Atlanta cousins (the pride of the family) had just about worn Cousin Todd plumb out.
So there we were --- sort of modern day pilgrims --- wayward at times. Uncle Jerry driving, me navigating, and Aunt Lynn regaling us from the back seat with passages from her latest Fannie Flagg novel.
Our journey back home took us along the back roads of Georgia and Alabama and Mississippi --- to out-of-the-way places like Iuka and Sand Rock. Once well-traveled towns, now long abandoned for the convenience of the interstate.
And that's how we ended up in the northern Mississippi metropolis of Corinth, home of the Daily Corinthian newspaper.
We drove past the green city limit sign just as the lunch bell started to chime. My cousin Clint, the firefighter, recommended a small, mom and pop diner on the main drag called Abe's Grill. Twelve red vinyl topped stools, more southern kitsch than you can shake a hound dog with, and Abe himself, serving up burgers behind the grill.
It's the kind of roadside diner that makes the south worth living in -- a place where a fellow can get a good meal and good conversation.
The conversation on the day we showed up --- was about the drought. Not much rain in these parts. The corn seems to be taking it particularly hard --- not much more than knee -- that's what the milk man told us. He was stocking the cooler with fresh Turner milk --- said his pappy's garden was faring much better though. A fine crop of pinto beans, purple-hulled peas and speckled butter beans. The garden is apparently in close proximity to a spigot near their farmhouse. Makes sense.
Abe takes pride in his establishment. He'll sell you a t-shirt and coffee mug along with your burger. It's the oldest diner on Route 72 still operated by the original owners --- not counting the Dairy Queen down the street --- but since it's address is technically not on Route 72, Abe can truthfully claim the title. And for you Civil War buffs, the diner happens to be located right smack on top of Corona College, which happens to be a Civil War landmark. I'm sure the Sons of the Confederacy are none too pleased with that bit of trivia.
He's apparently best known for breakfast --- home of the mid-south's favorite homemade biscuit (that's what his business card said). It's gotta be pretty good because the mid-south is a fairly big area --- on a good day it can stretch from St. Louis all the way down past Memphis. Abe' serves up breakfast biscuits from about the crack of dawn until they run out (which is usually about 10:30 at least that's what the sign says.)
As we enjoyed our burgers, one of the local boys came in, his coveralls splattered with grease and the evidence of a hard day's work. He was about to order when he realized he'd forgotten his wallet. "No problem," said Abe. "You're good for it. Just bring it in the next time."
I found myself half-listening to their conversation, my thoughts interrupted by the milk man. "You really from New York City?" he asked with a drawl that mimicked that salsa commercial.
"Yes," I told him.
"Sure must be lots of folks up there," he said as he resumed his work, letting out a part hoot, part whistle. "Yessiree. Lots of people. But I bet they sure don't have a place like Abe's, do they?"
I thought about that for a moment, put down my burger, and smiled. "No sir. They sure don't. They sure don't."