We finally got our new camera — an early Christmas present. Mr. and Mrs. Santa sneaked into the pack and removed it so upcoming holiday pictures could be taken without hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth. (Our old camera was afflicted with just plain old uncooperative cussedness).
So here we are in LaGrange, Georgia, trying it out. Even with this fine new instrument, the going is not easy. The weather is uncooperative. It’s one of those brightly overcast days that hurts your eyes because the light is everywhere and nowhere at once. The heat is high and hangs heavy, with a low cloud ceiling seeming to hold every ounce of moisture in a mushy grip.
Fortunately, we get here at lunchtime and wend our way to the luciously cool restaurant Mike has scoped out online. It’s the Fried Tomato Buffet, and at noon it doesn’t lack for hungry customers. I seldom eat fried food, but love fried green tomatoes. As I wind around the buffet tables I choose the fried tomatoes, one slice of fried squash, some broccoli casserole and cooked cabbage, and for dessert, bread pudding. Mike and I both have the iced tea.
Mike focuses on the fried chicken, which he claims is so hot that ten minutes later it’s still cooking in his mouth. Apparently he’s a glutton for “punishment” because he keeps going back for more. I mean, where can you find hot, juicy fried chicken, anymore. We certainly don’t stand over a hot stove and cook it anymore, do we, ladies? Okay. I don’t. Okay?
When we sit down with our plates we notice something else unusual. We can carry on a normal dinner conversation. The background music stays in the background and politely unobtrusive. Mike goes back for more chicken and a second helping of green beans, topping everything off with banana pudding. My bread pudding is excellent, but the banana pudding is just okay. (I tasted his). Doesn’t stop Mike from finishing it off, though.
Then Mike shows me the bill, which is already paid because you pay first and eat second. For the entire buffet, which includes desserts and salads, plus our drinks — the bill only came to $15 bucks. Yeah. We were impressed.
When we get outside I want a picture of the place just for remembrance. It’s in a strip mall and nothing special. I just want a picture of the overhead banner. But the camera lens is fogged over. Mike polishes and waits in the outdoor sauna, on the wrong side of the traffic. But, after one filmy shot, the next and next ones take.
We don’t have time for a tour of the town, so we choose a quick run of LaFayette Park. LaGrange (meaning “The Farm” in French), which is the county seat of Troup County, is named for the country estate near Paris of the Marquis de la Fayette, who visited the area in 1828. In the main thoroughfare, the traffic is routed about a picturesque square with tree-bordered gardens, a fountain, and a statue of LaFayette. In the distance, the spire of a church rises over his right shoulder.
Mike parks himself on a bench while I check out picture angles and get to know the new camera. Mike’s valor in this case takes the better part of discretion. In other words, he stays out of the way. Learning my way around a new mechanical thingy in the muggy heat is dangerous for everything around me, not the least of which is the camera. I don’t do heat. Even in air-conditioning my body temperature can make a thermometer sweat. But, by George, I want some beautiful pictures if I have to lie down on the wonderfully cool stone walk to get them. Oh, that sounds so good. I think about taking off my sandals, but . . . nah . . . too much physicality.
While I’m getting my pictures, we’ll ruminate over another interesting snippet of information about LaGrange, which is that during the Civil War the city was defended by women. Yep. They were an actual military unit of about 40 women who drilled in arms and learned basic infantry tactics. They called themselves the Nancy Harts after a Georgia heroine of the Revolution. It was the Nancy Hart Confederate Military Unit that marched out and formed ranks, ready to do battle with Federal troops still flush with victory from West Point, Georgia. At the head of the Union troops was — you won’t believe this — Colonel LaGrange, herding Confederate prisoners of war in front of him.
But these spunky gals — ready to defend their homes and families at all cost — actually formed a line of battle, arms at the ready. This was before a captured Confederate major intervened and set up a white flag meeting between Col. LaGrange and Capt. Nancy Morgan. Between them, the Nancy Harts negotiated terms of surrender in which no LaGrange homes were burned, including that of Senator Benjamin Harvey Hill. In an even stranger twist of fate, it turns out that Colonel LaGrange had been a prisoner of war and was exchanged. During his time as a POW, his wounds had been dressed and cared for by Confederate doctors, and he had been nursed back to health by Senator Hill’s niece. You know, you really can’t make this stuff up. For more on this fascinating story check out this site http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nancyharts.html
Meanwhile, back at the park, I’m in and out of bushes and trees and flora getting pictures, which is hard because the light’s not right. But I get a few that I’m partially happy with. Then I start looking for Mike. Can’t find him anywhere, so I think he’s gone back to the truck. Suddenly, I hear a voice behind me, but it couldn’t be Mike because the park is open and I would have seen him because I looked. I really looked. But there he is. In the flesh and grinning.
I always told him the Indians of old would have loved him. (And, in fact, we have a picture of his ancestral Native American great-whatever-grandmother.) He can sneak better than anybody I’ve ever known except my brother-in-law Randy, who is 6’5″, with a full head of white hair and a beard, and my sister still loses him in the grocery store until he walks up and says something. She even loses him in Dollar General and that’s REALLY doing something. What is it with these men? And these two don’t even wear camouflage. And they’re not hunters.
Anyway, on the way back to Alabama in the late afternoon, we see the most awesome thunderheads. We’re headed west and the lowering sun lights them up in a kind of other-worldly glow, like we’re headed toward some enchanted place that stays just beyond reach, like the end of a rainbow. They pile up in bizarre and beautiful formations. I really want to take pictures, but Mike and I are both too tired to find a place to stop. LaGrange was not just a pleasure trip. For Mike it was a work trip.
As we roll along, watching the light change and those wonderful cloud configurations, I notice one that looks familiar. But I can always see forms and patterns, not only in clouds, but in the moon, in wood grain, and in flooring designs, that other people can’t see but is plain as day to me. So I casually mention to Mike that the cloud formation up ahead looks just like Abraham Lincoln. For a change he doesn’t snort, but he actually sees it himself. It is. It is old Abe. And he’s not just jerking my chain because he points out all the outlines I see. Then he goes a step beyond.
“A blind man can see that’s Abraham Lincoln sitting in a Lazyboy recliner!” he exclaims. I eye him askance. Now that’s just a little bit weird, don’t you think?