Washington County

But today is different. Today, I'm at a small-town soda fountain. I rest my elbows on cold marble. I eat. A woman named Miss Penny hugs my neck.

The sun is setting in Washington County, Alabama. The gnats are out. You can hear crickets downtown. This place is a fleck of ketchup on the map.

It’s something else.

I’m at the Courthouse Drugstore. This is a real soda fountain. Marble counters. Knee-high barstools, vinyl cushions. I’m eating a sandwich that tastes exactly like shaking hands with the Risen Savior. I forget which decade I’m in.

Miss Penny sits beside me. She’s got gray hair. Feisty. She smokes a vaporizing cigarette that smells like butterscotch and Lysol.

“Sixty years ago,” Penny says. “Folks used’a come here to drink Ko-Cola floats, they’d watch people get off at the train depot. It was something else.”

Not much has changed here—except there’s no train anymore. People are rural. Some folks drive seventy-five miles to Mobile for groceries.

“After the drugstore shut down,” says Miss Penny. “Only place to get a milkshake was your own kitchen. It was something else.”

The Courthouse Drugstore reopened last November. The town threw a party. Washington County showed up to christen it.

For nearly four decades, the building sat vacant—complete with overgrown parking lot and plywood windows.

This restoration was no business venture. It was a resurrection.

“Chatom’s in my blood,” says Holly, who restored the drugstore. “My ancestors founded this town, least I can do is try to keep it going for my kids.”

So, she reopened the landmark. Chatom’s soda fountain is a one-of-a-kind, even for the Old South.

Out-of-town visitors have already been coming to see it. Not long ago, tourists from Germany stopped by to experience the authentic American tradition. They ate chicken salad. It was something else.

Tiffany keeps the place running. She says, “I make chicken salad the old-fashioned way. The other day I tore apart seventy-five pounds of chicken by hand. Worked so hard, I strained a muscle in my neck.”

In the short time I visit, the place is buzzing. In the parking lot: trucks with mud on tires. Economy cars, carrying families of four. Old men, young women. High schoolers.

People are here to spend an afternoon in an old-fashioned drugstore. The same room their ancestors once haunted.

They’re rubbing elbows with spirits who built this town out of the pines across the street. That’s something else.

It might not seem like much, but it’s everything. Because this world is a vicious place. Yesterday, I heard about a man who tied a dog to his bumper and dragged it to death. I read about a woman who suffocated her son with a pillow.

Gas prices climb. Hate sells for rock-bottom prices. Another day, another Walmart comes to town.

But today is different. Today, I’m at a small-town soda fountain. I rest my elbows on cold marble. I eat. A woman named Miss Penny hugs my neck.

“Next time you’re passing through,” Miss Penny says. “You’re welcome to stay with us. Got plenty’a room.”

Four others make the same offer before I even finish my sandwich.

Four.

It was something else.

15 comments

  1. Marilyn - April 23, 2017 8:45 am

    Loved this. Not only the restoration of an old landmark, but your comments….’It was something else’…..remind me of the nursing home where my husband just passed. There is a gentleman there who has been there 17 years and to anybody who will get close enough for him to grab your arm, he will tell of some things that has happened and will always end it with, ‘It’s a mess, I can tell you…beats all I ever seen.’……He runs out of people to whom to talk so he tells you the same stories because no one ever visits him……

    Reply
  2. Bobbie - April 23, 2017 1:02 pm

    Thank you for starting my day off right.
    I wish I could tell you what a blessing your “gift” is…..well, I think I just did!

    Reply
  3. Sam Hunneman - April 23, 2017 2:44 pm

    Ha! And there you are, guitar and all, in pictures on FB. Your sandwich description knocked me out. Keep ’em coming.

    Reply
  4. Clint - April 23, 2017 2:57 pm

    Rise Agrarians. “The time has come.”.
    Great post. Gave me chills.

    Reply
  5. Clint - April 23, 2017 2:59 pm

    Rise Agrarians. “The time has come”. Great post. It gave me chills.

    Reply
  6. Clint - April 23, 2017 3:00 pm

    Sorry about the double post. Phone wouldn’t cooperate.

    Reply
  7. Floyd white - April 23, 2017 3:57 pm

    Brought me back to Atmore in the 50’s. triple dip cone for 15 cents. Escambia, Rexall, and Bristows drug stores. Great sandwiches, shakes, and my favorite was the cherry smash at Bristows.

    Reply
  8. Sara Shepherd - April 23, 2017 4:42 pm

    If only……if only we could go back to those days of soda fountains, drug stores where people knew your name, and when people truly cared about and for others.
    Love reading your blog every day since I found it.

    Reply
    • Bobby - April 29, 2017 5:39 pm

      That’s not just the best anwrse. It’s the bestest answer!

      Reply
  9. Kathleen - April 23, 2017 5:18 pm

    Story Brings back memories!

    Reply
  10. Nancy - April 23, 2017 5:32 pm

    Ko-cola. 🙂
    Your writing is something else.

    Reply
  11. Kay Keel - April 24, 2017 3:33 pm

    I’m on the other side of the state, but I feel a road trip coming on!

    Reply
  12. Christy - April 24, 2017 9:48 pm

    Loved reading this! Chatom is my hometown and where all my family still live. I remember going to Courthouse Drug as a child and was so excited to see Holly take this project to heart. I got to make a visit to the newly reopened store at Thanksgiving and can’t wait to make it home during the summer so I can visit the soda fountain as well. Great read about a great place!

    Reply
  13. Carol - April 24, 2017 10:37 pm

    Sweet reflection of small town life… sadly,Gone With the Wind.

    Reply
  14. Annette - April 27, 2017 5:18 pm

    Your stories bless my day. Thank you

    Reply

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