Greenville, Alabama—downtown. This bakery is a no frills joint with glass deli cases and plain tables.
Help yourself to the tea. Have a seat wherever you like.
“Try the chicken salad,” says Miss Ann. “It was my husband’s recipe.”
Miss Ann is wearing a blue apron, bouncing her grandbaby on her hip. She’s standing behind the deli case, smiling.
There’s a ghost beside her. Nobody can see him. He’s tall. White-haired. He has a happy face. He wears an apron.
“Ozzie died back in two-thousand fourteen,” Miss Ann says. “He used to make every dish on our menu, this whole deli was his baby.”
The ghost nods.
Ozzie Judah. He was Greenville’s own Chicken Salad Genius. I know this because my sandwich tastes like summer lunches on a Baptist lawn. The only ingredient missing is the out-of-town Gospel quartet, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
There are newspaper clippings, hanging on the wall. They bear pictures of a white-haired man in an apron.
The ghost taps one frame, motioning for me to read it.
They all read the same, more or less: Ozzie Judah will be sorely missed.
He was a cook’s cook, a family man. A good soul. A workhorse. He spent his final years behind this deli counter, single-handedly helping his community gain weight.
To Ozzie, this place was more than a deli-bakery. It had been a childhood thing. Everyone has dreams, I guess.
Ozzie’s was pimento cheese.
“His pimento cheese recipe,” one customer says. “It’s SO good, you’ll keel over.”
“And Ozzie’s red velvet cake,” another woman says. “Christmas wasn’t Christmas without his cakes, they were incredible.”
The ghost helps keep this place running, even though he doesn’t do any cooking.
And when he’s not floating in the kitchen, he’s busy watching over his grandbabies—being guardian angel is a full-time gig.
The toddler in Miss Ann’s arms smiles. Maybe she’s smiling at him. Maybe he’s smiling at her.
“We were closed for a little while,” says Miss Ann. “Didn’t know if we’d ever reopen. Didn’t know if I’d be the same without Ozzie. He was my life.”
She did reopen. One sleepy Monday morning, Miss Ann peeled herself out of bed and fired up the ovens. She unlocked the front door and propped her “open” sign in the window.
She wondered if anyone would come. She wondered if anyone would care.
The Men’s Coffee Club cared first. They arrived at nine in the morning. Then, a handful of elderly women in pearls. More followed. Then more. It was an honest-to-goodness lunch rush.
The deli line got so long the local newspaper showed up, looking for a fire.
“There’s no way I could just let this place dwindle, die, and just walk away,” says Miss Ann. “I’m trying to make Ozzie proud.”
Proud. Well, I’m a nobody from nowhere, ma’am. And I have no right to speak for the deceased.
But you ought to see this ghost.
He’s looks so proud it hurts.