It’s early. I don’t want to say how early. Men talk about getting up early like they talk about hard work, lifting weights, and bass fishing. If I tell you what time it is, some schmuck of a friend will say something like, “Why’d you sleep so late? Why, I done loaded 14 tons and drove halfway to Mobile by the time you opened your eyes.”
Men are competitive like that. We will compare notes on about anything. So, I’m stumbling around the kitchen comparing notes in my head on breakfast.
There’s a bowl in my hands with dry oatmeal in it. Hot water is running into the bowl from the sink. A couple spoons of sugar. Stir. And in the microwave it goes. This is not instant oatmeal out of a packet. It’s the Quaker one minute kind that is ready in the microwave in 1 minute and 40 seconds. I wonder if anyone has ever sued for false advertising.
The coffee pot is already gurgling and spitting. The bowl is going round and round in little circles inside the little nuclear box machine. I am in a trance thinking about what breakfast could be. What breakfast used to be.
I grew up in a house where breakfast was considered to be the most important meal of the day. I can’t swear to what happened after I left home, but as long as I was there, Mama got up at 5:00 every morning and cooked breakfast. And she wasn’t spinning a bowl of oatmeal inside a box.
She pulled down the flour bowl and sifter and made buttermilk biscuits. Bacon or sausage on the stove in the cast iron skillet, followed by eggs scrambled up in some of the left over grease. Grits by the bucket-full. Homemade jellies and preserves. She would ask me to take off the wax seal. Gulf Wax melted and poured over the top of perfect blackberry jelly.
I ate my share of Captain Crunch as a kid, but I loved waking up to the smells of breakfast that wondered into my bedroom in the dark of the early morning.
The microwave dings. I add a little butter and milk. Stir. Slice up a banana to cover the top. Just a touch of brown sugar. And I’m thinking, “This is not my Mama’s breakfast.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I am NOT saying, “Why isn’t my wife up at 5:00 AM cooking me a breakfast like Mama used to make?” I am NOT SAYING THAT! I AM NOT THAT KIND OF HEARTLESS, SIMPLE-MINDED FOOL OF A MAN.
I’m just shuffling around the kitchen comparing notes. In fact, I kind of like the quiet solitude of my early mornings. It gives me time to think.
I’m thinking about The Greystone. This is a restaurant on US Hwy 80 in Selma, Alabama. Or, it was. One of the things I loved about all the trips we took to Selma to visit Beth’s family was eating out for breakfast. We ate at home most mornings, but at least one morning we ventured out.
The Greystone was a small diner with a tile floor and wooden tables and white plates and white coffee mugs and waitresses with names like Doreen and Eula Mae who called you “Sugar” and “Darlin”. There used to be a motel attached to it.
Breakfast at Greystone was an event for us. There would be a dozen of us roll through the front door. Beth’s Mama and Daddy were like Royalty.
“Well, morning Marshall. Miss Gloria. Who you got with you today?” Nearly every patron at nearly every table would have something to say. “Is that little Beth? Lawd, she’s all grown up and got a family.” As the son-n-law, I got nods and handshakes and suspicious looks.
Doreen and Eula Mae scooted a few tables together. Coffee cups were flipped over and filled. We ordered things like pancakes and country ham. Smoked sausage. Eggs over medium. Grits. Biscuits and gravy.
The whole place was alive with chatter. Dishes clattering around in the kitchen. The little bell over the door would ding every time someone walked in or out. An old man walked over to talk to Pop. His ticket crumpled up in the hand he used to lean against his cane. Miss Gloria whispered, “Lord, I haven’t seen Mr. Jack in years. I didn’t know he was still alive.”
Sadly, The Greystone is gone, now. I take a few bites of oatmeal and slurp on my coffee. Max shuffles on the floor.
The Mayflower is on East Broad, downtown Athens, GA. They have been “putting the south in your mouth” out of the same kitchen, in the same location since 1948. That’s 72 years of breakfast being rolled out and served hot and simple. If I’m ever in Athens overnight, I do my best to get there early. It’s an experience you don’t want to miss.
When I took a look at their website to make sure I had the date right, I saw a review that was critical of the food and service. I could hardly believe it. What ding-dong would say something negative about The Mayflower? “I won’t be going back. They ran out of hash browns by 11:30.”
Look here. If you’re eating breakfast at 11:30, you got no business complaining. Why, I’d already loaded 28 tons and drove to Savannah and back before you ever opened your eyes. Get up early and eat breakfast like a man.
Dick Russell’s is another place that I make sure to visit for breakfast any time I’m in Mobile. I’ve never seen strips of bacon as thick and fine. The pancakes are the size of a Frisbee. The coffee flows steady and hot. The waitress is happy to see me.
“You got everything you need, Honey?” She could be my Aunt. She looks and sounds like she’s been waiting tables her whole life. “Yes Ma’am. I believe I’m set.” And for the next 20 minutes I am lifted up to heaven with visions of Jesus eating breakfast with his disciples. But I’m guessing they didn’t eat bacon.
The one thing that all of these establishments have in common is a table of old men sitting together with nowhere to be except right there. Retired men, who love breakfast and who chose to eat it with old friends. They come in so often and sit at the same table that they have claimed their spot on this earth. They don’t order. Doreen and Eula Mae just know what to bring. It’s a choreographed dance of plates and cups and conversation and stories shared by a fraternity of guys who have earned the right to be there.
One of my simple ambitions in this life is to sit at that table one of these days.
I’m rinsing out my bowl at the kitchen sink. I lean on the counter and take another sip of coffee. Breakfast is over. It wasn’t “that” breakfast, but it was just fine. It’s given me an opportunity to remember sitting with my folks in the kitchen at home. Spoons tingling in the coffee cup. I’m especially fond of my seat at The Greystone. I’ll never forget that place.
The sun will be up soon. I gotta get moving. I don’t dare want to be the last one to the farm. Not that I’m competitive about these things.