I haven’t written much about my Southern Scamp from last year. It was an interesting trip, with plenty of beauty and kitsch and hospitality. (And barbecue. Obviously.) But there were also some odd moments. Creepy, even.
One of them happened at Graceland Too in Holly Springs, Mississippi. It’s one man’s personal shrine to Elvis, and since I’d just been to the original Graceland and was suddenly – very late to the party, I realize – obsessed with Elvis myself, I decided to drive south from Memphis and have a look.
I found Paul McLeod’s house which, despite being well known, wasn’t noted in any way. No sign, just the street number indicating I was in the right place. The windows were blocked, and the afternoon I was there the neighborhood was as quiet as a tomb.
I walked up and knocked on the screen door – there was no doorbell – and waited on the front porch. And waited. I knocked again. A car drove slowly toward the house and pulled up to the curb, an older man waving to me from the driver’s seat.
I approached the passenger side and he rolled down the window. He asked if I was there to take the tour.
I said I was, and asked if he was Mr. McLeod.
He wasn’t. Then he asked if I was there by myself.
“Well, since you’re a single person, I’d be careful if I were you.”
I thought he was a friend of McLeod’s and was about to burst into laughter, telling me he was pulling my leg. I asked if he was joking.
No smile. “No, ma’am, I’m not.” He repeated that I should be careful.
Again, I asked if he was joking. Again, no, he was not. I said, “Are you saying I should be concerned for my safety?”
He paused. “It’s just that he’s been known to do things.”
I didn’t ask him to describe those things. I thanked him for his concern, and stood on the sidewalk as he drove to the end of the block and stopped, idling, in the street. This was all too strange, there was no one else around, and I was alone, so my intuition decided I wasn’t going to visit Graceland Too that day. I got back in my car and watched in my mirror as the man waited for a moment, then drove on. As if he needed to be sure I was following his advice so he could go on with his day and not worry about me.
I’m not embarrassed to say I was a bit freaked out by the whole experience, and what better way to calm oneself than with some “home cooking just like Mama made”? That was the promise at Annie’s Restaurant, just down the way.
The website’s claim of an elegant atmosphere is a bit of a stretch, but no matter. The food was served cafeteria style, and I got a plate piled with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, and a cornmeal muffin. I devoured my food at a tippy table while a soap opera played behind me on the TV on the wall. Annie was tall and friendly with an appealing lavender coif, and greeted every table of diners personally. She asked me, “How you doin’, baby girl?” and I fairly beamed, basking in the glow of her welcome.
As I was scraping the last delicious bits off my plate a woman came by and offered me pecan cobbler, and despite the fact that I wasn’t even an inch hungry, I took it with gratitude. That cobbler was like warm candy in a bowl. After I reluctantly left the table and my empty dishes I paid Annie at the cash register, and she expressed concern that I was traveling alone. (She said she’d seen me getting out my SUV in the parking lot.)
Internet, after the day I’d had I was seriously considering asking Annie if she’d bring herself and her homecookin’ ways with me, so I could feel safe and loved all the way home. Instead I smiled, told her I’d be fine, and added a big tip to the total.
That was last year. Last week, I saw this in the New York Times. I don’t regret not waiting around for Mr. McLeod to open the door, and am reminded how kind strangers have been in all of my travels. The man in the car, Annie, and so many others I’ve met on the road. But trusting your gut is a good thing. And rewarding it with pecan cobbler is even better.
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