Taking a deep breath
Growing up, our family did two things almost without fail. Both followed other anchors in my life, as if that was that natural order in our home. Following basketball games, we often went out with other coaches’ and team members’ families for dessert. My standard order was hot fudge cake at Shoney’s. That succulent tower of chocolate cake, ice cream, fudge and whipping cream is still my all-time favorite dessert. The second thing we did rather dependably followed Sunday morning services. We went to eat at a local restaurant, known as The Varsity. Growing up, I didn’t much appreciate this second one, because I wanted to go eat at some hip cool fast-food restaurant rather one that served good ol’ Southern cooking. At that time in my life, I wanted to venture on the edge of dining, and not be stuck in deeply entrenched ruts. Right now (older and wiser), I wish The Varsity was still open, and I could force (I mean, take) my kids to eat there.
There are several things that I vividly remember about both of those old hang outs. First and foremost, each time we went there I was surrounded by people who loved Jesus (and who loved us). I don’t know that I can adequately describe that feeling. Growing up the way I did, there is just something about Southern people who love Jesus. They have an air to them – full of life, hearty talks, and bellies full from all the tables piled with food. It’s true what the Bible says about Christians having an aroma. Then and now, my soul senses want to soak up every molecule. Another thing that defines those memories is the ease of Southern hospitality. I miss “Yes ma’am’s” and “No sir’s”, and I really miss being called, “Shug or Honey” by just about everyone, including the waitress. Formal rituals dot every rhythm of society in those memories, but yet those rhythms come with ease. Finally laughter punctuates every memory. Next to salvation and creation, I think laughter was one of God’s finest masterpieces.
The flavor of my childhood is not something I experience often these days. It’s not that I live among heathens who also happen to be curmudgeons. Quite the opposite, I live among wonderfully vibrant and caring people (who also love Jesus and who love to laugh), but that Southern hospitality (and sometimes craziness) is seldom found in my neck of the woods.
Following my talk to the sweetest bunch of Sunday school ladies ever, a group of us decided to high tail it over to the Cracker Barrel for lunch. There were six of us at our table, but seated at the table directly behind us were fellow worshippers from that morning. We created such ruckus at our table that one gentleman from the other asked if he could be re-seated . . . with us . . . because we were having too much fun. His proclamation reminded me so much of some of Granddaddy’s friends that I wanted to jump up and hug him.
I’ve eaten at Cracker Barrels from Florida to South Dakota, but that day surrounded by new sisters is one I will remember. A biscuit is a biscuit no matter where you eat it; so, it wasn’t the food that made the lunch memorable. It was the essence. There were stories swapped, tears shed both in laughter and in awe of God’s amazing grace in trials of life. There were hands held and prayers shared.
Somewhere in that crowded restaurant, God reminded me that the things longed for aren’t always that far away because I took a deep breath and inhaled the precious air of my childhood.