Southern Sides

Life in the South is like a Southern cafeteria—one of the remaining vestiges of history that is a one-stop sampling of this place.

Frequent trips to S&S Cafeteria on East North Street pepper my childhood memories. My grandmother would gently help with my tray as we neared the long metal bar. We’d start at the cold salads, perky and overflowing with chicken, tuna, and fruit—a congealed cocktail of peaches, pears, and grapes, followed by the zinging red, green, and yellow of Jell-O cubes. Before selecting our main courses and sides, we were faced with our dessert selection—which at the time I never questioned, though now I grasp the clever marketing gimmick: Start with pie.

The steaming options of meats, starches, and vegetables would come next. I’d usually go for the mac and cheese, green beans, and fried chicken. I cannot remember the first time I tasted these, or where—they are like my own blood, so close to who I am and the essence of my Southernness.

The cafeteria is a microcosm of life in the South, with foods, heavy and rich (cornbread made with lard), and with patrons of all walks. You’ll hear the usual pleasantries: “yes, ma’am,” “no, sir,” “thank you, kindly.” On Sunday, you’ll spot a spectrum of fashion, from dresses and suits to attire suitable for couch lounging.

I am attached to this place, and this land, and these voices, and these hands. They move within me, around me, through me—they are my own. To be from the South, of the South, to live in the South is to know a place of history, to walk the land of our forebearers and know the depth of their toil, the devastation of their decisions, the retribution and redemption and revelation that linger like ghosts. The air is heavy here for a reason. It’s not without shame and resign, and it’s not without death and life and sweetness. The heady scent of honeysuckle, the chorus of summer crickets, the long evening rain. Southerners may be stubborn and dramatic—but we lead with our hearts.

And we live for the story, which—like the buffet—is never boring (particularly with a bourbon by the fire).

Blair Knobel, Editor-in-Chief, blair@towncarolina.com