Tuscumbia

I know people who pay big money to sample the finest Bordeauxs, or eat at five-star restaurants. They can have it. Give me homemade cornbread any day.

TUSCUMBIA—Momma Jean’s is a sleepy cafe out in the country. They serve hoecakes here. Not plain cornbread, but the stuff your granny made in a skillet.

It looks like a pancake, and tastes like a home run feels.

This is the kind food that would’ve made my uncle lick his lips and shout, “Go ahead on!”

Which is country talk.

My father would sometimes holler “Go ahead on!” at a preacher who was on a roll. It’s also a phrase that people shout at Little League games when cheering for their kids.

Sometimes, we shout it at wedding receptions when our eighty-three-year-old aunt is shaking her moneymaker to “Viva Las Vegas.”

And we say it when a cook has blessed our heart. It is an all-purpose phrase.

Momma Jean’s is your all-American joint with fried food, good veggies, and paper towels on the table. And I am so hungry I could eat a Presbyterian.

The old man in the booth behind me has tall hair. The elderly woman beside him has hair shaped like a helmet. They are saying grace. The man does the talking.

The woman chimes in, saying, “Yes, Lord.”

I overhear them praying for someone named Maria. Their prayer lasts a long time. Whoever this Maria is, these elderly people are not letting her be forgotten.

On the other side of the restaurant are a few men wearing neon work vests and boots. They are covered in dust and drinking iced tea.

When their food arrives, they hold hands and bow heads. After the prayer is over, a young Hispanic man makes the Sign of the Cross.

I’ve never seen so many people saying grace in one diner before.

I’m scanning the menu. This restaurant has it all. They serve pintos, collards, cabbage, catfish, chicken, and lemon icebox pie.

Lord have mercy. It’s been a hundred years since I’ve had lemon icebox pie.

The food on this menu is a trip backward on the timeline. It reminds me of a period in my youth when the greatest thing in life was supper.

My mother’s table was the highlight of every day. The Corningware dishes, steaming. The mashed potatoes. The chicken. The casseroles. And my mother, telling everyone to, “Go ahead on.”

And this is why the doctor is perpetually concerned about my HDL and LDL.

At a table beside us, a woman is with her three kids. She is feeding the baby while her other kids play with crayons

When the waitress delivers her food, the woman hushes her children. Then, she takes everyone by the hand and lowers her head. Everyone closes their eyes.

Finally, our food arrives. The smells make me lose composure. My wife looks at her plate with a smile. The hoecakes couldn’t look any better.

I know people who pay big money to sample the finest Bordeauxs, or eat at five-star restaurants. They can have it.

Give me homemade cornbread any day.

The waitress asks if there is anything else we need. We shake our heads, and I am about to dig in when I am interrupted by my wife.

“Look,” she says, pointing to the menu.

On the top of the menu’s page are the words: “PRAYERS FOR MARIA, FIGHTING LEUKEMIA.”

And for a moment, I have forgotten all about my food. My wife reaches her hand across the table, palm up. She says, “Let’s say few words for Maria.”

I let my wife do the honors because I’m not very good at public prayer.

We finish eating in record time. Lunch is exceptional. I have officially eaten the best meal I’ve had in weeks. My wife uses her hoecake to polish her plate. I am considering unbuttoning my pants to alleviate the pressure.

When I pay my bill, I notice a donation jar sitting beside the cash register. For Maria.

“What can you tell me about Maria?” I ask the cashier.

“Oh,” she says. “I can tell you she’s the mother-in-law of your waitress, and she has leukemia.”

“How’s she doing?”

“Heard she’s doing much better. They say she’s actually responding to treatment, getting around again, and it’s a miracle. Lotta people praying for her.”

I look around at the average customers in this American eatery. The table of men in work vests, laughing. The couple with the helmet hair, eating lemon icebox pie. The mother of three, feeding her toddler with a spoon.

Today, I counted fifteen people who folded their hands and said a few words before lunch. I don’t know these people, I don’t know what they believe, and I don’t know what their prayers were about. But I think I have a good idea who they were praying for.

Go ahead on, Maria.

Go ahead on.

47 comments

  1. Cathi Russell - May 18, 2019 9:52 am

    Maria, you’re getting another prayer. Life should be filled with them, if it’s to make any sense whatsoever.

    Reply
  2. Janie F. - May 18, 2019 10:20 am

    PERFECT! May God Bless Maria!

    Reply
  3. Meredith Smith - May 18, 2019 10:35 am

    Prayers up for Maria. Go ahead on.

    Reply
  4. Jean - May 18, 2019 10:54 am

    The Cajun chef Justin Wilson used to say Go ahead on…and I had not ever heard it before You have eaten at a place that is what food to me is all about….I hope Maria is on her way to recovery and Go ahead on!!!

    Reply
  5. Amanda - May 18, 2019 11:31 am

    God has blessed Maria! And you have blessed Tuscumbia! I wondered about your take-away from visiting the Shoals area. As a fan of Momma Jean’s, I know there are other stories there, too. If you could only write one thing about this pocket in Northwest Alabama, you definitely captured an essence. The place is like a multi-layered fragrance and you experienced a couple of the “top-notes”! BTW, I don’t live there….I’m a neighbor on the north side of the Tennessee River.

    Reply
  6. Steve Bailey - May 18, 2019 11:49 am

    beautiful.

    Reply
  7. Carol Heidbreder - May 18, 2019 12:02 pm

    Prayers starting fight now for Maria. Leukemia came fo my family up close and personal. Maria I am holding you up to the Lord. Sean, you are like a stone tossed in a pool of water. Just look at the ripples you make and how far they go! What a blessing you are! And now I am really hungry too!

    Reply
  8. Brenda Gipson - May 18, 2019 12:38 pm

    My daughter in law told me about your blog and I am really glad she did. Blessings to you Sean!

    Reply
  9. Margaret Koch - May 18, 2019 12:52 pm

    I grew up in Tuscumbia. My mother made corn pone. In a heavy black cast iron skillet that was polished, never scrubbed. This column was a gift. Thank you. And I hope Maria is having a good day, and has a complete remission.

    Reply
  10. Karen - May 18, 2019 1:06 pm

    I love Mama Jean’s. It was so good to see you here in the Shoals. Prayers for Maria.

    Reply
  11. Dalton S. In Tuscumbia, Ala. - May 18, 2019 1:23 pm

    My wife and I live in Tuscumbia. Your thoughts dont say much about this wonderful town but at the same time tell you everything you need to know. Well done sir, well done.

    Reply
  12. Robbie Rainer - May 18, 2019 1:29 pm

    I love it Sean! You go ahead on!

    Reply
  13. Joe Patterson - May 18, 2019 1:32 pm

    Thanks again I have eaten there numerous times don’t go as much now food is to good and I have been on a diet all my life just said a word of prayer for Maria

    Reply
  14. Carol - May 18, 2019 1:36 pm

    If one more prayer will help , then add mine !
    Go ahead on!!
    Love ya!

    Reply
  15. Shelton A. - May 18, 2019 1:42 pm

    God bless Maria and I’m glad to hear she may be on the mend and headed for remission. Lord, give healing to Maria and the strength and peace to continue the fight. In Christ’s name-Amen. Community prayer is a very powerful thing…I know. But all the Presbyterians in your reading audience are now very nervous.

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - May 19, 2019 6:56 pm

      LOL !!! 🙂

      Reply
      • Janet Mary Lee - May 19, 2019 6:59 pm

        That is LOL for Shelton’s comment!! Sorry!!

        Prayers for Maria, and your whole post is so touching, Sean..once again!

        Reply
    • Jim Sturges - July 25, 2019 11:50 am

      Those Presbyterians are destined to feel nervous

      Reply
  16. Jeanne Butler - May 18, 2019 1:45 pm

    Beautiful story. And I used Go ahead on today in a FB post for a friend who is running a 5K. Love that saying.

    Reply
  17. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - May 18, 2019 1:58 pm

    And now, even more people are praying for Maria, thanks to you!

    Reply
  18. Connie Havard Ryland - May 18, 2019 2:53 pm

    Well, two things happened here when I read this. I immediately wanted to drive to Tuscumbia and eat at Mama Jean’s (that’s only about 8 hours from me) and instantly prayed for Maria and her family. Since I am not up to driving north today, I think I will plan a great dinner for my kids tomorrow. Thank you for your constant reminders that love is still out there. Be safe.

    Reply
  19. Mack B. - May 18, 2019 2:55 pm

    Lemon icebox pie, Mmmmmmm. My grandfather use to ask me, son you know how my hand is like a lemon icebox pie? Cause it’s got ma-rang on it! Thank you for another good story, Sean.
    Saying a prayer for Maria, and you.

    Reply
  20. jstephenw - May 18, 2019 3:19 pm

    Once again Sean, you have made me mist up. Thanks for keeping it real. I’m glad Jamie challenged you to put your stuff on Facebook. We have all benefited. I did what probably everyone who read today’s piece did, I said a prayer for Maria. But I went a little further.

    I also said a prayer for you and Jamie.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  21. Kathy Smith - May 18, 2019 3:46 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  22. AJ Jackson - May 18, 2019 4:54 pm

    I’m from The Shoals area! It’s a wonderful place and I hope you enjoyed your visit!

    Reply
  23. Cynthia Russell - May 18, 2019 5:15 pm

    Thank You for your articles.. Love them.. praying for Maria… never had this type of food.. my Mom’s Mom died when she was 12… she never learned to cook so we ate out of cans.. can’t imagine this food.. but I can imagine how good it is.. Thank You!

    Reply
  24. Linda Moon - May 18, 2019 5:25 pm

    On behalf of all us cancer fighters and survivors, just let me add my “Go Ahead On”! And, by the way, were those pants you considered unbuttoning by any chance JORDACHE JEANS?

    Reply
  25. Luis - May 18, 2019 6:16 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  26. Chasity Davis Ritter - May 18, 2019 6:57 pm

    I have multiple times seen the Facebook post that reads “lots of us are only still here because of our mother’s prayers”. I pray Maria is still here because of all of yalls. Praying for Maria in Oklahoma

    Reply
  27. Peggy Murdock - May 18, 2019 8:55 pm

    I grew up in the Presbyterian church, Sean, and I don’t think Presbyterians would make very good eating. Just a tip. Thanks for another heartening message. Makes my day!

    Reply
  28. Diane copeland - May 18, 2019 10:07 pm

    I’m from Talladega! Now living in Sarasota Florida. My husband and I will be praying for Maria’s full recovery.

    Reply
  29. Susan Kennedy - May 18, 2019 11:43 pm

    Believing for Maria’s full recovery. God hears those prayers. And now I want cornbread!

    Reply
  30. Nancy - May 19, 2019 12:16 am

    We eat at Mama Jean’s whenever I am in Alabama visiting my sister. It’s a favorite of theirs and it makes me feel at home. There’s nothing like it in California.

    Reply
  31. Edna B. - May 19, 2019 12:49 am

    Beautiful story, Sean. I’m adding my prayer for Maria too. God Bless you and Jamie, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  32. Bill T in Florida - May 19, 2019 1:27 am

    I’m a bit confused about the Hoecake. Where I grew up hoecake was biscuit dough cooked on top of the stove in a cast iron skillet and was eaten like a pancake with butter and syrup. But that was in Chambers County AL 70+ years ago. Guess it’s a regional thing.

    Reply
  33. Suzanne Thompson - May 19, 2019 2:01 am

    I am a home grown Tuscumbia girl. And Momma Jeans was one of my dads favorite places to eat. He died of leukemia almost a year ago. Thanks for bringing this full circle for me-I miss him everyday.

    Reply
  34. Jack Darnell - May 19, 2019 2:03 am

    Love the entry my friend. I’m with Bill except mama’s hoecake was a replacement for biscuits. I love fried cornbread however, no matter what it is called. Now I want some cornbread and milk!
    Thinking of you and Maria along with prayers.
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  35. Rebecca Brey - May 19, 2019 3:20 am

    Such an excellent story!

    Reply
  36. Charaleen Wright - May 19, 2019 4:53 am

    Reply
  37. Lee Taylor - May 20, 2019 12:53 pm

    Dang Sean. Thanks for the daily cry!

    Reply
  38. Mary - May 20, 2019 2:35 pm

    Thanks for the observations. This world would be a lot better place if more people would just stop and say “Thanks!”. Go ahead on, Sean.

    Reply
  39. Pat Finley - May 20, 2019 3:43 pm

    Listen, you!!! You, there, with the pen and paper or word processor or tablet or computer. Yes, you. You almost always make me laugh, you always make me smile. And, you, you there, wherever you are, make my mascara smear when I read some of your columns. When tears come into my eyes and I try to wipe them, I smear my mascara. But hey you, you can smear my mascara any time. Your thoughts and scribblings mean that much to me. So go ahead on, Sean, smear my mascara. Make me smile, make me laugh, make me cry. I cherish each emotion you bring forth. Go ahead on!!!

    Reply
  40. Donnie - May 23, 2019 5:52 pm

    Oh, Sean, go ahead on! Well done.

    Reply
  41. Patricia - June 18, 2019 6:40 am

    God bless Maria and complete healing. Thanks for sharing Sean😘

    Reply
  42. Chip Plyler - June 18, 2019 12:31 pm

    Prayers for Maria, and an unspoken comment on how much better this old world would be if we all held hands and prayed for each other… all we need is Love – ok, guess I spoke it after all

    Reply
  43. Joe Patterson - June 18, 2019 8:15 pm

    Thanks again close to home way to much good food for me

    Reply
  44. rondatedder - June 18, 2019 8:32 pm

    There is still goodness in this frightful world. Thank you for sharing. Saying a prayer for Maria..

    Reply

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