A Single Southern Guy In America

July 31, 2003

Silver Linings

Gentle readers I am very saddened and inspired.

I have written on occasion about my favorite BBQ place, Young’s. Young’s is on my way to the office and I pass it every morning. Normally, I don’t even glance as I drive by, but this morning I had run some errands in town, and I decided to glance over as I passed to see if the owners were already there cooking up the barbecue. When I looked, I immediately gasped. The front windows were black with soot. Being the son of a firefighter, I immediately knew what had happened. I slammed the brakes on my Jeep and whipped into the bank parking lot next door. Towards the side of the building I saw the fire chief’s truck and the police chief’s cruiser. At the back of the building stood Mrs. Sharon with the fire chief, the police chief, and the mayor. Mr. Billy was further back, inspecting some of the damage. Young’s burned last night.

I quickly parked and went up to Mrs. Sharon, ignoring the city officials.

“I’m sorry Adam, but you can’t have your table today—there’s ceiling all over it! “ she said and laughed as she saw me walking to her.

Continue reading to learn about silver linings

I hugged her, told her how sorry I was and asked how she was holding up. She was fine and taking it in much better stride than I could imagine. I don't know if she had already done her crying or was holding out to do it later. She is a much a stronger woman than so many people I know. I went over to Mr. Billy and spoke with him a bit and offered my help with anything they needed. They told me they intended to rebuild and be up and running in two to three months. I listened as the mayor told Mrs. Sharon that if there was anything the city could do to help to let him know. Knowing there wasn’t much that I could do right then, I greeted the city officials, gave Mrs. Sharon another hug and went on to work.

Young’s was the first restaurant I ever ate at in this town. When I first came down to see if I was interested in the position here, the woman who recruited me took me to Young’s for lunch. Mrs. Sharon was introduced to me that day. When I started the job a couple of months later, Mrs. Sharon called me by name. I’ve been a regular ever since. At some point, my eating at Young’s became as much about the place and the people that worked there as the good food and BBQ.

Young’s BBQ started as a Ben Young’s grocery by Mrs. Sharon’s father. It was Ben Young who first developed the secret recipe for the BBQ sauce I’ve written about previously. I don’t know exactly when Mrs. Sharon and Mr. Billy took over the place and just operated a BBQ, but I’ve often wished I could have met the original Mr. Ben Young. I would have loved to talk with him about barbecue sauce and what it takes to make a good barbecue (besides pork, of course!).

As lunch approached, I pondered more and more about just where I was going to go eat lunch. The ladies in my office know that almost every day, I go for my daily dose of BBQ at Young’s. They teased me a little and offered suggestions for alternatives—McDonald’s, one of the Mexican restaurants, the Chinese restaurants, the dairyette, etc. They all sounded fine and good, but I wanted my Young’s. Then one of my co-workers suggested that I could go help clean up Young’s. She had seen folks out there when she had come back from lunch.

It came time for me to go to lunch and I got in the Jeep and pointed it to town, not knowing where I’d eat. Young’s restaurant is in the same building as the old Ben Young’s grocery story. There is a covered area by the front doors and a concrete island where gas pumps used to sit. It is just like so many old groceries that used to dot the American byways in the days before interstates and expensive gasoline changed the way the world looked. As I came up on Young’s, I saw Mrs. Sharon, her mother, and her granddaughter, Laura, sitting out front under the old awning that stretched from the front of the store to the old gas pumps on some chairs that had been salvaged from the fire. Mrs. Sharon waved as I drove by and I waved back. It saddened me to see the three of them sitting there watching over their burned business. I decided to pull into the Big Jax gas station that includes a deli, a personal pan pizza, and a smorgasbord of fried foods. I opted for a cheeseburger and was about to get a slice of pecan pie, when I had an idea. I might not be able to eat Young’s BBQ, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t go back and eat at Young’s BBQ.

I grabbed a half dozen ice cream sandwiches, a bottle of Lipton iced tea-southern style, and my cheeseburger and headed back to Young’s. I pulled up to a slightly surprised Mrs. Sharon.

“Mrs. Sharon, I decided that just because I couldn’t eat Young’s food, didn’t me I couldn’t eat at Young’s!”

“Oh, Adam, that’s so sweet of you. Here, hon, take this chair while I run in here and get another one.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Sharon and since y’all are having to work in all this heat I brought y’all a treat. Y’all like ice cream sandwiches?”

We sat and chatted while we ate our ice cream sandwiches, Mrs. Sharon’s mother, Mrs. Young, took a picture of Mrs. Sharon, her granddaughter Laura, and I eating our ice cream sandwiches. I told Mrs. Sharon that my bottle of Lipton ice tea-southern style just didn’t measure up to Young’s sweet tea. The four of us talked and I finished my lunch. Every so often, a well-wisher stopped to express their condolences and to offer whatever help they could. Mrs. Sharon told me what had happened.

Last night, the fire department had a small fire at one of the manufacturers. On their way back, the driver of the fire truck noticed a little more smoke than normal coming from the pit area of the restaurant. They called in and advised dispatch that they ought to call Mrs. Sharon and Mr. Billy and let them know that they probably needed to come down and check on the barbecue and maybe reduce the temperature. The driver grew up just a few doors down from Young’s and knew when too much smoke meant the barbecue might be too hot. The driver then turned his fire truck around and waited and watched.

The police were able to reach Mrs. Sharon, and they headed down to check the pit. The dispatcher let the firemen know that Mrs. Sharon and Mr. Billy were on their way. They acknowledged and advised that they would wait for them to get there in case they needed any help ventilating the pit area. The time was 9:30 p.m. Between the time Mrs. Sharon hung up with the police and was en route, the fire exploded through the building. The firemen still on post outside the building and looking in went into instant action. By the time, Mrs. Sharon and Mr. Billy arrived the fire fight was on and slowly but surely won by the fire fighters.

Now, I don’t know how many of my gentle readers who live in big cities can fathom a fire truck driver stopping, asking dispatch to call the owners of a restaurant, and then deciding to wait around until they arrived. My daddy is a firefighter at a station that at times has been listed in the Top 100 busiest fire companies in the nation. He would never be allowed by department regulation to take the actions that this fire truck driver did last night. Sure, if there was clearly a fire, he would have stopped and they would have begun to control it. But this fire fighter just noticed a little more smoke than usual from the pit. By his own admission he didn’t think there was a fire. It’s almost as if he was worried about Mr. Billy having a bad batch barbecue, not that the building had caught fire.

However, let me share with you some of the other unique things the firefighters did. They specifically removed the cash register before flames reached it. They bagged up the various antique decorations that Mrs. Sharon had on shelves and hanging from the walls. On her request, they retrieved the credit card machine before it could be damaged. They were able to salvage many irreplaceable items because they were swift in their response and because they cared. They helped Mrs. Sharon retrieve her various written records of charge accounts and other financial records. Everything great or small that they could salvage or save from the fire, these firefighters did.

As Mrs. Sharon finished telling me the story, I finished my lunch. Mrs. Sharon introduced me to her mother, Mrs. Young, who looked vaguely familiar. Another well-wisher had stopped by and little Laura had taken on tour guide duty. Armed with her yellow flashlight, she took me back to see the damage. The first thing I noticed was my table. Just as Mrs. Sharon had said earlier, it was covered with debris from the firefighters opening up the ceiling to get at the fire. The buffet was destroyed, the menu board had fallen behind the cabinets. Soot and smoke damage covered the walls. A plastic Dr. Pepper bottle had melted but never broke and looked almost like a syrup bottle. Laura led me back into the kitchen and pit area. The walls were charred and black with soot and burn. Plastic dishes had melted where they sat. The floor was covered in an inch to two inches of ash and debris and was still wet from the water the firefighters used to extinguish the blaze. The smell of a structure fire and a barbecue pit hung heavy in the humid air. Laura took me back to one of the coolers. Inside, the cook had placed a tub of raw chickens in marinade for the evening. The heat had been so intense the chicken had roasted in the marinade within the cooler. The icemaker still held ice, but it was tinged with an almost golden brown color. A stack of plastic coolers had almost melted into one tall structure. The original brick BBQ pit had survived rather well.

I was simultaneously broken hearted and fascinated. How quickly a fire could destroy and alter the fates of good people is amazing and tragic. More incredible and valuable is the resilience and strength of Mrs. Sharon and Mr. Billy. I know they must ache and hurt with this loss, but they don’t show it and instead focus on their plans to recover. And they will. Within a few months, you’ll hear about me eating at Young’s the day they re-open.

The point of this story is not about a fire, but about how people treat each other in a small town. Though you’ve seen me complain about the small town gossips in this space recently, the story of Young’s fire illustrates what is great about small towns like this one. Firefighters who go the extra mile when they haven’t even been dispatched to an alarm. A mayor, a fire chief, and a police chief stopping by at 9 in the morning to see if they can help, well-wishers pulling in to see if they can help in anyway, three generations of women from a family dedicated to watching their shop and cleaning up after a tragic loss--all of these are just small parts of what makes a small town like this wonderful in its own way. Though at times it may seem like living in a small town is one big dark cloud with few silver linings, I am convinced otherwise. I’m certain that it is a rich collection of silver linings occasionally interrupted by a dark cloud.

The story is also meant to illustrate the story of good people who face down challenges. Mrs. Sharon showed more strength today than a heavyweight boxer. Mr. Billy went right to work this morning, pulling down boards and checking the damage. They both assured me that they’d be back in business within a few months or sooner if they could. And this less than twelve hours after the fire. That kind of character is often hard to find these days. I’m glad I got to know Mrs. Sharon and Mr. Billy so that I could witness such character and strength of spirit first hand. They are an inspiration for all that find themselves in a challenging and tragic situation. Thanks for the barbecue Mrs. Sharon and Mr. Billy. Thanks so much more for the example you set for us all.


Epilogue

As I finished viewing the damage, I returned to the front of the store to say my goodbyes and head back to work. When I turned to say goodbye to Mrs. Young and express my pleasure in meeting her, she said to me, “We’ve actually met before, Adam.”

“We did? I’m so sorry, I’m terrible with names. Where did me meet?”

“Well, a couple of years back, when Ben was still with us--we lost him last December you recall--I took him up to some kind of patriotic event at the county courthouse and you were there.”

“I vaguely recall it. Which event were we at?”

“Well, let’s see, it was one of those patriotic ones with all the vet—“

“Yes, maam! It was Veteran’s Day two years ago.”

“That’s right. And I had brought Ben up there and he was in a wheelchair and you helped me with his wheelchair. I remember telling Sharon about it and she said she knew you, alright.”

Sharon adds, “She remembered the name Adam and that was it, but I knew who it was.”

“I do remember that know. I offered to help you with the wheelchair, and we made our way up to the ceremony.”

“That’s right, son. So, we’ve met before.”

“Yes, maam, we have. I’m sorry I didn’t remember right off. It’s always funny how one small thing will lead back to you some of these days.”

“That’s right.”

Sharon says, “It’s a small world and getting smaller.”

I reply, “yes, maam, that’s right.”

As I drove away I realized I had got to meet Mr. Ben Young after all. I may not have got to know him or talk barbecue or BBQ sauces with him, but at least, I had got to meet him. It’s funny sometimes, being in this small world.


Posted by Adam H at July 31, 2003 05:39 PM ~ Link Cosmos | Trackbacks (2)
Wizbang linked with Small Town Goodness
Tales from a Yeti Suit linked with Our common humanity
Comments

Wow Adam, this is a very moving story. It's amazing how things happen isn't it. ((HUGS))

Posted by: Tam at July 31, 2003 07:49 PM

I live in a fairly small city in the South... and your story makes me feel a little less like ranting and raving about how things 'don't happen' around here. I'll have to count my blessings. *hugs*

Posted by: Sweetpea at July 31, 2003 11:45 PM

You're one hell of a fella to know Adam. And you thought you could quit blogging.

These are the stories that make up America.

Posted by: TheYeti at August 1, 2003 09:48 AM

You are wise to have seen the value of a small town while you're still living in it. Wonderfully written!

My first job out of college was in a small southern town, even more quaint than the small southern town I grew up in. The coming together in tragedy (or even in celebration) is universal in those little places, I think. People around here still get excited about high school sports, parades and the annual small-town rodeo. But when there's a death, tornado, fire, etc., they unfailingly help each other. I miss that very very much.

Posted by: Texas T-Bone at August 1, 2003 10:38 AM

I'll add that Texas is so in love with its beef barbecue, that the succelent, juicy and oh-so-delicious shredded pork I grew up with isn't even on the radar. Is Young's going to rebuild?

Posted by: Texas T-Bone at August 1, 2003 10:40 AM

Thank y'all for all the kind compliments. I handed a copy of the story to Mrs. Sharon on my way home yesterday. They were still at the restaurant cleaning up. The adjuster was there and their insurance man who I visited with for a bit.

T-bone, yes, they are planning on rebuilding. And, your first comment and Yeti's post that trackbacked reminded me of what we did in this town on September 11th. I'll have to write about that day soon.

Posted by: Adam at August 1, 2003 10:47 AM

Very nice post. Both my parents grew up in small towns in the South. It lends a very specific flavor to your life. You honored it well.

Posted by: Miss Bliss at August 1, 2003 11:12 PM
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