Molino, Florida. Population 1,306. It was 1,307, but I heard Miss Carolyn’s mother went on to Glory last night.
You’re looking at hayfields, cowhouses, and a church every sixty feet. A night on the town would take four minutes.
The sky is cloudy. The foraging grass has recently been cut. It’s late autumn, a sweet fragrance hangs in the air because the papermill is in full bloom.
I once dated a girl from Molino. Her father worked at the mill in Cantonment. Every time I showed up to her house for a date, her father happened to be cleaning his Remington on the porch.
Jimmy’s meat-and-three sits off Highway 29. You can’t miss it. Jimmy’s Grill is just up the road from the feed and seed. Just look for all the trucks.
I am meeting my longtime friend and surrogate older brother, Steve, for lunch.
It is an average Friday afternoon. The parking lot is slammed with Fords and Chevys. You will not find a Tesla in Molino.
I open the door. The bell dings. There is a wait. We are greeted by a line of guys in boots, waiting for a table. They are wearing neon safety shirts, covered in mud, and they smell like hard work.
“We love Jimmy’s,” they say. “Only place around that serves real tomato gravy.”
Soon, we are waiting alongside a gaggle of people. In line beside us is a group of women with frilly white hair. I ask what brings these women to Jimmy’s.
“We’re in a sewing circle,” the spokeswoman says. “One of us has low blood sugar, so we all piled into Rhonda’s car and came straight to Jimmy’s because Jimmy’s peanut butter pie cures low blood sugar.”
“They have great butterbeans,” adds one woman.
There is another lady in line who overhears our conversation. She is from Canton, Ohio, just passing through. “What the heck is a butterbean?” the woman asks.
“Oh, honey,” says sewing-circle lady. “You’re heart will be blessed.”
We finally get a table. Steve and I are sitting in back. Our waitress is a gal in her forties who calls us “sweetie,” and she does this non-ironically.
A few tables over is an old man in overalls. He dines alone. His cap features a Browning Buckmark logo. He is leaning over his plate, “sopping.”
I’ll pause here, for any newcomers who don’t know what “sopping” is. Allow me to explain:
Sopping is a traditional American culinary artform, wherein you take leavened bread (usually biscuit or yeast roll, cornbread will do in a jam), you pinch off a piece, then mop your plate dry.
Traditional sopping is done in large circular motions, with the power coming, primarily, from your shoulder and elbow, wrist locked. Always moving clockwise. Never counterclockwise. The idea is to clean your plate until you can, at minimum, see your own reflection.
I order the chicken and dumplings. Steve orders the roast beef.
Before I eat my dumplings, I do the Spoon Test. My mother taught me that dumplings are not worth a spit if your spoon won’t stand up in the bowl. The Spoon Test proves successful. The dumplings are thick, rich, with actual chicken-bone fragments, so you know this is handmade fare.
I am in Heaven.
Steve and I finish lunch. After we pay our bill, we visit Jimmy’s Country Store. The tiny mercantile is done up for Christmas. They inventory all manner of knick-knacks and novelties.
Fresh-made pies. Homemade cakes. Yoder’s Good Health Herbal Tonic. Pickled Eggs. Chutneys galore. T-shirts that reads, “It’s Time to Ketchup With Jesus.”
They also have a hook-and-ring game on display. Also known as the “Bimini Ring” game. This game was supposedly—legend claims—invented in Florida, by pirates in 1716. It is our state game.
The premise is simple. A steel ring is fixed on a string, participants swing the ring until either the ring is caught on a hook, or someone passes out from alcohol poisoning.
Steve and I try to conquer the ring game, but we are deficient in our skillset. A young woman employee named Kinsley tells us, “Y’all are trying too hard, it’s easy.”
“It’s not easy,” says Steve.
“Pssht,” says Kinsley.
Steve is incensed. “Prove it.”
“I don’t have to prove it.”
“I’ll give you $10 bucks if you can hook the ring.”
Steve removes his wallet because he is not about to be shown up by a girl.
Kinsley accepts her summons. The young woman takes the ring in hand. She assumes the stance. She hooks the ring on the second try. Steve pays up, and we are sufficiently emasculated.
And it is within this simple moment that I am realizing something. Something profound. Something that makes me warm all over.
I am a Floridian. I am Southern. And today, I with my people.
Last year, doctors thought I had cancer. One medical professional told me to “get my affairs in order.” But he was wrong. Because this year, I am in the all-clear. I am in Molino, Florida. I am with my older brother. And I am loved.
And I swear to myself, no matter how long I have left on this planet, no matter how brief my insignificant life may be, I will never take magnificent places like Jimmy’s Grill for granted.
Not ever again.