"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 2"

The days of that summer flew swiftly by. Autumn Belle divided her time between her daddy's four palatial homes - the horse plantation at Louisville, the Florida house at Clearwater Beach, the brand new condo at Princeville on the north shore of Kaua'i, and of course the family's home place near Alpharetta. When September rolled around, Autumn was NOT ready to assume her duties as the new Assistant to the Society Page Editor for her daddy's newspaper, the Atlanta Journal. "To be a socialite, sweetie pie," Rhett Hamilton had explained, "you gotta' pay some dues." Autumn's "dues" would be to write about the very people that she would one day take her place among. With Labor Day falling on that Monday, her start date was set for Tuesday, September 6th, 1977.

On her first day, Autumn Belle did what she had been accustomed to doing for most of her life - she overslept. Getting up far too late for breakfast, she breathlessly announced, "I'll find something on the way in," as she kissed her folks and made a mad dash for the new Jaguar waiting in the breezeway. As she fumbled for the keys, she remembered her father saying something about a local diner near the newspaper offices that served down-home, southern breakfasts. "Maybe they'll have a pastry or doughnut," she thought, "but what I really need is some coffee."

The parking lot was full that morning at the Silver Skillet on Fourteenth Street. All the locals went there. The owner, George Decker, had served the business community of Atlanta its breakfast and lunch in that little diner since the 1950's. He was a fixture behind the register, and greeted all the customers as if they were family. "Well, looky here," George smilingly said as Autumn walked through the door, "you must be the Hamilton girl that everybody has been talking about." He hurriedly began helping the busboy clean the dirty dishes off a nearby booth so Autumn could sit down. "Oh, no sir," she said, "it's my first day at work and I am really late already...Could I just get something to go?" Though Mr. Decker protested her haste, Autumn persisted. "Well then," he said, "you'll just have to start gettin' up a little earlier so you can come and sit a while and visit with old George in the mornings...Deal?" "Deal!", she nodded and smiled as they firmly shook hands.

Before Autumn could order from the to-go menu, Mr. Decker shouted back through the rectangular portal where the hot food was served by the cooking staff, "Gimme' a sausage biscuit, a cinnamon roll, and a cup of coffee with cream to go!" Before Autumn could say a word, a male voice came back through the portal, "Roger that...one sausage biscuit and one cinnamon roll to go." She could not see the actual faces of the workers behind the grill, but Autumn Belle KNEW she had heard that voice before. She was still a bit woozy from having overslept and very much in a hurry to get going - it was already past nine o'clock and this was, again, her very first day on the job. In just a few minutes a brown paper bag appeared on the portal shelf and THAT voice rang out again, "To-go order UP!" Autumn hadn't ordered the sausage biscuit and cinnamon roll - Mr. Decker had taken care of that for her. She didn't really care about the food as long as the coffee was hot! George Decker refused payment from her, saying that her first breakfast would be on the house. "We're also open for lunch, little lady," he said, winking, "come back and see me whenever you can."

As Autumn Belle turned to leave she happened to glance at the inside front wall of the old diner. It was covered with pictures. Autographed pictures of politicians, actors, musicians, celebrities from every corner of public life - Marilyn Monroe, Nipsey Russell, Dean Martin, Laurence Welk, Robert Redford, Billie Jean King, Lyndon Johnson, and even John Wayne. Autumn had no idea that she had been standing in a place where so many famous people had eaten. As she got in her new Jaguar and drove away, the image of those famous names and faces, though, was not as prominent in her prissy little mind as was the nagging question, "where HAVE I heard THAT voice before?"

With the morning Atlanta commute having subsided somewhat, Autumn was able to make it to the Journal parking lot in record time. As she gathered her purse, along with the hot cup of coffee and the brown paper sack full of food, Autumn Bell Hamilton locked her car, quickly checked her appearance in the reflection from the Jaguar's driver-side window, and hurriedly galloped through the front revolving door. Her focus should have been on the fact that she was a full half hour late on her first day in a new job, as well as on meeting and making a good impression on her new bosses and co-workers. However, all she could think of was the voice from behind the Silver Skillet grill. Her rabid curiosity was growing by the second. This little magnolia was GOING to figure out the mystery behind the identity of that voice if it was the last thing she did - even if it meant retracing her path back to the Silver Skillet before the sun went down.

As she got on the elevator, her focus shifted back to her appearance - she made one last check in the elevator's mirrored interior doors. She was finally ready to face the "real" world.

But, was it ready for her?