When I was younger I remember that, on any given night of the week, my father would decide that we should “go visiting”. I was born and raised in the small town of Lodge Grass; and when I say small I mean that if everyone were home in a twenty mile radius you could maybe, muster up about 400 people. The town of Lodge Grass has eight streets, four running north to south, four running east to west. We don’t have stop lights nor do we have stop signs. There always was, when I was growing up, a general sense of courteousness. People waited for you. People held the door. People said hello when passing on the sidewalk, they waved hello when driving down the street. This was what you did with your neighbors, but more importantly, you talked. You actually took the time to visit with someone because you had the common connection of being from a very small town.
Now being from a small town, everyone already knew everybody else’s business. You knew who had gone where. You knew what they had done. You knew why they did it. Nothing much was left to question. But the experience of said business, that’s what was interesting. So you visited with people. You found out what their experience was first hand instead of gathering the information second hand. And really, how else can you generate gossip to give out second hand if you don’t have the first-hand account in the first place? The cornerstone of all of this was communication though. And communication is what happens in a community.
Where I grew up, everyone was your neighbor, that’s what we all called each other; despite distance. Our closest neighbor to the north was my uncle Dale and uncle Kenneth, our closest neighbor to the south was the Walds. They were each at least one mile away. Our furthest neighbor was almost 22 miles away, and still we called them neighbor. As I had said, on occasion, when my family wanted social interaction, we would call on these neighbors.
By call on them I don’t mean call them on the phone, I mean we would literally drive down the lane to their house and knock on the door. Were they home, they’d let us in and we’d sit down to talk. Were they gone, we’d drive down the road to the next neighbor to talk. Walds, McClearys, Millers, Stevens, Grahams, Howes, Schicks, Lawrences, the list went on, and if one wasn’t home you just kept going. My parents would sit down to coffee with these neighbors and talk about crops and weather, trips and travels, brandings and balings, and whatever else came to mind.
Sometimes the discussion would last an hour or two, sometimes it would go late into the night. Nor was this specific to us alone, we were on the roster for all of those aforementioned names as well. As the winter blues or the autumn doldrums began to weigh on them, they too would seek the solace of their neighbors and travel the road to go visiting.
It was an era when people talked and the funny thing about it, it never died where I came from. To this day, my family will sometimes drive up the creek or down it and see who’s available for a chat. This is a part of the country that frequently misplaces their cell phones. Doesn’t turn on a computer screen for days at a time. Who still sends letters, actually talks on a land line telephone, and communicates verbally with as many as three or four people in a day! This is how I was raised, and consequently, the battery life on my phone can go for a week.
I vividly remember being young and going to visit at some neighbors who lived about 12 miles up the road. We stopped in after dinner, since that hadn’t been a formal invite, and we just sat and talked. My sister and I joined their kids and we ran around in the yard til it was too dark to see and even then we simply played within the glow of the porch light. Going inside to do anything was unheard of. The adults would talk and the kids would play and the only time the two interacted was when there was a firefly or a bullfrog that demanded attention. But it was all about interaction, about community, and about visiting.
When the evening was done my sister and I would, reluctantly, climb into the family vehicle and head for home; asleep mere minutes after we left the driveway. We’d wake when the diesel engine stopped rumbling and we were parked in front of our house. But the next time the event would occur was not weeks out, or even several days out. This was a common occurrence.
I had mentioned that coming before dinner was uncommon because there was no formal invite, but it was not unheard of. Many was the time neighbors would show up at our door before dinner and, with the magic inherent in the grimoire of all ranch wives, there would be enough food to feed the extra attendees. People are regaled by the miracle of the fishes and loaves, I can assure you it wasn’t as fantastic to my mother who did it with roasts and potatoes on a frequent basis.
Just as often was the invitation to a dinner where you were the honored guest. It was at these dinners that you’d be treated to a new recipe picked up from another friends’ house. You could discuss its finer points, decide if it deserved a revisit or needed a reinvention, and then the recipe traveled to the next home to make its appearance at another gathering.
This approach to food inspired my cooking from an early age. The idea of magically producing quantities or unique creations of dinner that you fed to happy, welcomed guests allowed me to see joy in the faces of people we held near and dear. It’s a trait I wanted to carry on and have manifested into a career. When the restaurant is full, when everyone is smiling and dining and visiting; you are all my guests at that point. It’s the beauty of what food and friends can do. And while it’s on a grander scale than what I grew up with, it’s really no different. There is love and magic in each dish because it’s what made up my history.
It’s a vivid part of my upbringing, this idea that one can “go visit”. It makes the world a little happier, a little brighter, and a little more special. And that’s my biggest invitation to my restaurant. You come in to visit. With your spouse or your partner, with family or friends, in large groups or small, everyone comes to put aside the outside world for a minute and be a part of a community. That’s what we are here to facilitate.
So when you want to see your “neighbors” and you want food to be a part of that, you have a place that you know has you in mind. I am a very quiet individual, and frequently so busy that you may not see anything but my back as I face the stove, so visiting to me was always the gathering of many people who loved to talk. And every day, I get to relive what I was brought up with.
So if you’re free, and can manage your way through the weather, come visit. I can promise you, dinner is ready.