Just home from World War II and finding himself alone and lonely, Alan Woodward travels southward hoping to find a new and happy life. Along the way and stranded a few days from car trouble he is offered work and a place to stay where he is introduced to a new culture during his first Southern breakfast:
Alan joined the Wheeler family in a tantalizing meal of bacon, eggs, biscuits and white gravy. But where were the hash brown potatoes? Then he remembered where he was. That other white stuff… grits – that’s what it must be. He’d heard grits made fun of much of his life and the Southern boys in the service had been teased when packages from home contained grits. To be polite, he put a tiny amount on his plate.
Birdie noticed his hesitancy and grinned as she asked, “First experience with grits?”
“Well,” answered Alan, trying to be diplomatic, “I guess there’s a first time for everything.” He hoped the grits wouldn’t be as nasty as he’d heard.
“You can try different ways until you find your favorite but actually I think you’ll find the taste is akin to your mush,” Birdie said.
The boys stared with wide eyes. This man had never eaten grits?
“Yeah,” said Frank. “Some folks eat grits with butter, some with gravy, some mixed with their eggs and some with butter, milk and sugar like cereal.”
Alan felt better with the helpful hints and said, “I’ll try all of them. I’m trying to make a new life for myself and I suppose that means making adjustments in little ways as well as big ones.”
“Well,” Frank laughed heartily, saying, “Down here grits is a big one! Over in Georgia there’s a little town of Juliette that used to be called ‘The Grits Capitol of the World’ its mill turned out so many.”
Alan was relieved he could honestly compliment Birdie on the good breakfast as he thanked her, taking the scraps she gave him for Quest. The little dog devoured them, not caring if a bit of grits was mixed in. But, of course, she was from just up the road in North Carolina!
Later and miles farther on down the highway
Leaving the cafeteria food counter the next day, Alan hurried over to his same table, feeling a twinge of disappointment when he found it empty.
What had he been thinking! He silently kicked himself for having been so dumb to think she’d be there.
Five minutes later while engrossed in his lunch of fried fish and hushpuppies he was startled to hear the voice he’d been hearing in his mind over and over since yesterday. It was a tad stronger and had a humorous note to it as it said, “Is this seat taken?”
Alan looked up to see the young lady, looking even more beautiful than he remembered - if that was possible. Jumping to his feet, he stammered, “W-well, hi. No, it’s just been waiting for you.”
Rushing around to pull the chair out for her, he thought how trite that sounded, not at all like him. He didn’t think he’d seated her smoothly either. Dumb, dumb, dumb, he thought. What was wrong with him?
If she’d noticed anything, she didn’t give a hint, just said a simple, “Thank you,” and proceeded to eat her soup. Alan felt he should say something so asked if everything had gone well the day before. Had she gotten the course she needed?
She looked up with those big beautiful blue eyes. They didn’t appear quite as sad and held just a trace of a smile as she answered, “Oh, it was easy. I finished college in June and after a few weeks at home with nothing to do I wanted something to occupy my time. I’m not studying for another degree so I just chose anything that appealed to me.”
Alan couldn’t imagine anyone having that much idle time but immediately followed up to keep the conversation going by asking what had appealed to her.
“Well,” she said, “there’s a special American Literature course being offered this summer with an emphasis on Southern writing by Joel Chandler Harris. I grew up on his works.”
“You must really like to read,” Alan said, making a mental note to see who in the world Joel Chandler Harris was.
“Oh, yes,” she said, “Sometimes I don’t know what I’d do without a good book.”
By the way she expressed herself, Ann led Alan to believe she read as much to escape as to enjoy.
Before he could keep them talking, a glance at his watch caused to him exclaim, “Oh, please excuse me. I’ve got a class in a few minutes. I want to hear more about what you like to read and what other courses you’ll be taking. But that’ll have to wait until next time.”