It’s Christmastime in Gulf County. And I’m lost in a rural place. Another era.
This is small-town living.
A brick courthouse that would make Barney Fife jealous. A small Presbyterian church. No traffic lights in town, not even a caution light. At least, I didn’t see one.
And even if there were any, I don’t see the po po anywhere.
“Oh we got deputies alright,” one local remarks. “Ain’t like when we’s growing up. Back then, we had ONE city cop. His name was Preacher. And he was mean.”
Here, there are three main places to eat: Hungry Howie’s, Subway, and the Corner Cafe. I don’t do Howie’s.
The Corner Cafe is your quintessential local joint. Good breakfast. Burgers fit for self-respecting Southern Baptists. This place doesn’t keep regular hours.
“You never know when he’s open,” someone says. “He only opens when he feels like it.”
I love it here.
There’s an ACE Hardware. It’s small. The sign reads: “Christmas Trees, ammo, hay, huntin’ stuff, tupelo honey.”
This is the tupelo honey capital of the world. The honey here is not just a big deal. It’s a denomination. This town has more bees than Birmingham has Polo shirts.
Today, I bought six jars. In fact, I’m chewing honeycomb right now.
They also have the Dead Lakes—the Eighth Wonder of the Southern World, ranking somewhere between the Everglades and Talladega Speedway. A magnificent lake with two billion swollen cypresses.
Downtown has the sheriff’s sub-station. It’s a two-room deal. Years ago, the building was a donut shop.
You might want to read that last sentence again.
There’s the Dixie Dandy—a grocery-store-slash-gas-station which sells anything from hot food to WD-40.
An old woman tells a story.
“Once, there was this gentleman, a’comin’ through town,” she explains. “He was just a’driving to court. His fuel light started a’blinking, had to stop for gas…”
So, he a’stopped at the Dixie Dandy.
She goes on: “BUT his bank card had been a’stolen, he didn’t have no money. No NOTHING.”
The Dixie Dandy let him pay for gas by personal check. That might not sound remarkable, but it is. The last time I bought gas by check, people were still a’using the telegraph.
The IGA is a rural grocery store. You have a few brands of mayo. George Jones on the overhead radio. In the front: fifty-pound sacks of corn, deer feed, and elderly cashiers who say things like, “Y’all just passing through?”
“Sort of,” I answer.
“Glad to have you,” she says, smiling.
And for some reason, I believe her. Her face is sincere. She bears a striking resemblance to my granny, who smoked two packs of Winstons per day for good luck. I miss that woman.
And I’m lost.
Not lost on the map. In my head. Old courthouses and Dixie Dandies do this to me. I miss old America. I miss senior classes not big enough to form a Bible study group.
I miss Christmas parades with homemade floats on flatbeds. Corner cafes. Old men who fish. Boys who say, “Yes ma’am” to girls their own age. I miss Daddy.
I drive past the city-limits. The town’s behind me, I’m already homesick for a place I had never visited before today.
This is the best honey I’ve ever had. And it sure as Shinola ought to be.
It came from Wewahitchka.