I’m in Dothan, Alabama, eating at Annie Pearl’s Home Cooking Restaurant. They tell me this is the only spot in town where you can get a decent liver covered in respectable gravy.
They were right.
I’m in a good mood. Not just because of the liver. But because earlier today, an eighty-six-year-old woman with Parkinson’s hugged my neck. She said in a weak voice, “Your daddy sure is proud of you, young man.”
It unsettled me.
Daddy’s been dead for two thirds of my life. Nobody’s ever told me that.
Let alone a stranger.
So we went out for smother-fried liver. I’ve already eaten fifty pounds of the stuff. Also: butter beans, turnip greens, and enough biscuits to qualify as a misdemeanor.
This restaurant is empty, except for a few camouflage hats and their wives.
Our waitress is Kendall. She’s a breath of fresh air. She visits every table, speaking to customers as friendly you’d talk to your cousins.
I overhear her say things like: “How’s your sister doin’ after her divorce?” Or: “Lordy, girl, did you see So-And-So’s engagement ring?”
Or: “Congratulations, Dalene, I heard your nephew made bail last week.”
People say sweet things in this town.
It’s not a small place—this is the New York City of lower Alabama. But it’s rural.
There’s a Feed and Seed next to the Piggly Wiggly, muddy trucks in the movie-theater parking lot. At gas stations: old men in ten-gallon hats who can’t figure out pump card-readers.
I spoke at the Houston County Library today. It was a small crowd. I met good people. Men like Fletcher Moore—an old man who talks so loud it makes you grin.
I got introduced to white-haired women who grew up barefoot, who still remember handpumps on kitchen sinks. I met ladies with antique names like Delphinia, Eugenia, Thomisina, Betty Sue, and Viola Ann.
I shook hands with a man in a neon orange cap who gave me a frozen Ziplock bag of venison. I met a handful of teachers, a few Auburn fans, one horse farrier.
And an eighty-six-year-old woman.
The little lady hugged me so hard I felt her tremble. She delivered a whispered message. Then, she planted a shaky kiss on me.
I won’t lie, I’ve lived most of my life wishing things had turned out another way. I’ve spent too much time wondering if the dead fella whose name I share would be proud of me.
Today, I ate liver for supper and smiled. Today, my waitress refilled my sweet tea and called me, “baby.” Today, an eighty-six-year-old Alabamian, who shakes like an oak leaf, gave some kid a message from the Other Side.
I never even caught her name.
But I’m sure as hell glad I came to Dothan, or I might’ve missed it.