I’m not so sure that The Ghost of Café Past is the best title for this post, but it rolls off the tongue a little better than The Ghost of Lunch Counter Past. But please bear with me.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to take me to Clark’s Drugstore. To me, it was one of the most exciting places ever. (She also took me to the post office where she’d let me turn the tiny knob right and left to the corresponding numbers and then take her mail out of the narrow slot. Grandmother knew all the happening places to take a seven-year-old.)
Clark’s Drugstore was a magical place—part pharmacy, part general store, part diner. It had glossy magazines, greeting cards, candies, toiletries, makeup, pantyhose, over-the-counter and prescription medications. In addition, there was a lunch counter along the wall to the left of the store. Along the counter, there were orange stools where a little girl could sit and spin until she was dizzy. And no one would tell her to stop.
It seemed to me that the same woman always took our order at the lunch counter. I can’t remember her name, but I know she had gray hair—big gray hair. She was warm, friendly, and always smiling. She served up the best cheeseburgers and French fries. I’d get my cheeseburger with mustard, mayonnaise, and pickle, and that flavor combination always takes me back to sitting beside Grandmother in that small-town drugstore that was part of a strip mall on Main Street.
There were some strange characters who also frequented the drugstore. Some seemed harmless. Some not so much. One man would try to touch me when I strayed too far from the safety of Grandmother’s side. I was terrified of that man and can still remember what he looked like. Fortunately, most of the characters who hung out in that Main Street strip mall were harmless. There was the man who walked the streets either whistling or singing, had a friendly nod for everyone, and who poured his coffee into a saucer to let it cool before slurping it up. And there was the guy everyone thought was “a little off” because he walked around all the time holding a transistor radio up to his ear. Looking back, maybe he was just a trail-blazer. How many people do you see walking around these days without an iPod or phone up to their ear?
In Silence of the Jams, the Down South Café exemplifies that small-town feeling. The café is in a rural part of town. There aren’t a lot of businesses nearby. And there are several eccentric characters who patronize the café. The owner/operator, Amy Flowers, tries to incorporate the best of the old with the new. She continues to serve her customers their favorite comfort foods while encouraging them to step beyond the tried and true and to expand their palates.
While there aren’t any café regulars portrayed by the creepy man from my childhood, there are villains. In Silence of the Jams, Amy realizes life isn’t as idyllic as it seems when a man is murdered in her café. Now she must try to determine which of the new people who’ve come into her life are trustworthy and which one is a killer.