"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.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 8"

As she sipped the tea and savored each butte-filled bite of the croissants, Autumn gazed out the window at an ever-growing Atlanta skyline. She thought of how much the city had changed since she was a little girl. She remembered going to Hurt Park at Five-Points at the age of five and dancing barefoot in the big fountain there. She thought of the day that her parents took her to the Atlanta Zoo for the first time, and of all the Friday night high school football games she used to enjoy so much.

Growing up in Atlanta had been a sweet life for Autumn Belle Hamilton. Now, here she was with a career and a new, exciting life in front of her. She slowly scanned the many pictures of the couples on the dining room wall and thought about the romantic times each must have shared in this quaint little dining area. And, she couldn't help but wonder if SHE would ever find, "Mr. Right." Those few solitary minutes were like the scene from a movie. Autumn's thoughts filled with so many sentimentally charged images. She felt the tears as they began to fill her eyes.

Just then, George Decker came through the door with a stainless steel platter of food. Each dish was covered with a silver domed lid. The napkin folded on the side was linen, and the silverware was obviously a cut above the standard restaurant grade. In the middle of the platter was a single rose, lying on its side. Mr. Decker carefully placed the platter on the table in front of Autumn. "Here we go," he said, "I apologize for this taking so long...I hope you are still hungry after the croissants." Excusing himself as he hurried back to help with the rest of the lunch rush, Mr. Decker said, "Someone will check on you in a few minutes to see if you need more tea...I hope you enjoy the meal...I'll be back in a little while." With that, he disappeared through the door.

Not knowing quite what to say or do, Autumn began lifting the silver lids from the plates. Her expression was a lot like a child's at Christmas. On those plates was a feast of all her favorite foods - fried chicken, mashed potatoes, okra, peas, fresh garden corn, sweet pickles, and a mixture of onion rings and fried green tomatoes. Just like any young lady her age, Autumn had consumed her share of hamburgers, french fries, and other fast food. But, her real love was "down-home" southern cuisine. Her extended family used to kid her about her passion for "soul food," as her college dorm mates often called it. Her uncle John used to say that she was going to come back in her next life as a share-cropper's wife.

Autumn dove into the meal like a death-row inmate's "last supper." Her petite figure hid well the fact that there was a ravenous piglet underneath. In no time she had cleaned her plate - everything except the chicken bones. She was about to pop, and wondering how she was ever going to get her bloated little body out of that booth, when Mr. Decker came back in. He was carrying a dish laden with THE largest piece of homemade lemon icebox pie she had ever seen.

"How did you know about all my favorite dishes?," she asked. "Just lucky, I guess," he replied. "Here's another one of our specialties," he said, as he sat the large dish of pie in front of her. "I couldn't eat another bite," she protested. George Decker shook his head, picked up the fork, and as he placed it in her hand he said, "Now, Miss Hamilton, kings and queens have crossed continents, actors and actresses have delayed their love scenes, and politicians have forfeited elections just to get a piece of George Decker's famous lemon icebox pie...I just happen to know that it's one of your favorites...Take just one or two little bites for old man Decker...Would you please?"

As gorged as she felt, Autumn couldn't turn down such a charming plea. She forced herself to take the first bite. It was by far THE most delicious bite of pie she had ever tasted. She wound up wolfing down the entire piece. With a last gulp of sweet tea, Autumn felt more like a "fattening hog" than a young, twenty-something, hard-body. Though she tried with all her might, her most strenuous effort to suppress a hearty burp was unsuccessful. She barely got her mouth covered in time.

"That-a-girl," Mr. Decker chided, patting her on the shoulder.

Pouring himself a cup of coffee, George Decker slid into the seat opposite Autumn. He offered her a cup. It smelled heavenly. But, coffee was her morning drink, exclusively. Autumn pulled out her notebook, and said, "No sir, I will pass on the coffee, but may I sit here with you and chat a while?" He readily agreed. "Fire away, Miss Atlanta Journal," he said, leaning back in the booth.

For the next hour, George Decker talked about buying the Silver Skillet, and about the twenty plus years he had spent running it. He told stories about the scores of famous people he had hosted for a meal. He reminisced about his kids growing up, and about how they had resisted being made to work in the restaurant. He revealed to Autumn that he had actually been friends with her father for many years, and that they had even partnered on a short-lived business venture during that time.

He complained about the rising costs of doing business in Atlanta, and about how he loathed having Jimmy Carter in the White House. He willingly answered Autumn's questions about his personal and business life, and about his staff at the Silver Skillet. Mr. Decker bragged about two of his waitresses and their long tenure with him at the restaurant. He almost came to tears as he shared some of the highly-personal family struggles of one of his busboys. And, he lovingly recounted stories about some of his former staff members who had either retired or left the Silver Skillet to start their own businesses.

The one person that George Decker didn't seem to want to talk about was his cook. Autumn hinted several times in Beau Jackson's direction. When the interview slowed, she wondered aloud if they were forgetting someone, or some other detail about the Silver Skillet. George Decker shook his head, "No, I think that about covers everything that folks would want to know about this place," as he playfully winked at Autumn and sipped from the thick, white coffee cup.

Autumn Belle's little body was not the only thing being fed during her afternoon with George Decker. His hesitancy to reveal any details about Beau set a flame under Autumn's curiosity. She grew, by the second, more and more determined to find out at least SOMETHING about him. If George Decker thought he was going to get by Autumn Bell Hamilton without giving her the information she craved, he was gravely mistaken.

In a final gesture to get to the bottom of her mystery man, Autumn sat up straight in the booth, dabbed the linen tablecloth to the corners of her mouth, and looked George Decker straight in the eye. "Mr. Decker," she said, "there's just one other thing I'd like to ask you."

The moment of truth had come.