Writing “fiction” is hard to get back into after you have stopped to party and drink for several nights from Florence to Charleston. Still, you think about writing because it all you know, but do not write anything out of fear you will surely mess up so instead you sit nervously and knit.
The truth is it happened. You drank too much in Charleston at Dudleys, The Darling and you were an absolute bitch to that waitress/cashier in the pizza parlor on King Street. She, too, was a bitch because she had simply had it up to here and back with drunken tourists and college students coming in and out of the parlor all night and you were one of them. It was you she let have it and you let her have it right back and your acquaintance/best of friend you let him have it harder for taking her side and not yours. So you can’t change a thing about what happened because it did. It is now in the past and you can move on if you believe enough in yourself. So you forgive yourself and hope they have too...
So on an up day after depression subsides, you start all over again and began picking up the pieces one piece at a time and promising in the back of your mind to never to drink that much again (though, really, you laugh about it now because it was great fun! yes, for you! but perhaps not at all for them--the victims of your madness and destruction).
En route to Charleston with a good old friend in town from San Francisco, who really is the best of a friend and has helped me out of jams plenty of times and yet never brings up the hurts, we were hungry and stopped by a country restaurant called Shady Rest. Shady Rest is a family restaurant in Johnsonville on South Carolina Highway 41 also known as Georgetown Road.
The city of Johnsonville is a small rural town with a population of no greater than 1,600 people in the city limits and by the looks of it there really isn’t much there...except they do have two chain grocery stores--Piggly Wiggly and IGA/Kroger, a chain McDonalds and Subway shop, a Mexican restaurant on Broadway Street, a BBQ joint also on Broadway, Fred's Dollar Store across from Piggly Wiggly, Wellman Country Club and the Shady Rest Restaurant the most authentic and unique of all of them.
We were fortunate to miss the Sunday rush crowd since we spent that time exploring an old mansion and slave house we discovered somewhere on Old River Road outside of Florence city limits. There we spent hours walking through an old abandoned plantation built in 1846 and photographing it, particularly the former one room slave house (or kitchen?) in back of the main house and other buildings and a barn that have since fallen down. In the little house I walked through it and touched the walls and the old brick fireplace and saw that in modern times some developer had tried to turn the quarter into a studio adding a modern bathtub that is now rusty and from the back of the tub a flimsy back door opens into the woods. For a long moment though I just stood there inside of the slave quarter or slave kitchen (kitchens, I believe, were not apart of the main house back then and were built in the backyard to avoid cooking smelling up the main house) and silently I imagined what it was like to be a slave to be taking care of completely with free healthcare, food, shelter, family but without freewill except only to serve the master and his family.
In Shady Rest we were told by our kind waitress, a big girl, with a sweet Southern accent and the prettiest smile and her brown hair pulled back into a ponytail that on Sundays after church, Shady Rest is the busiest place in this part of Florence county after church services let out and all of the natives came to Shady Rest to eat dinner and not a table or the counter in the restaurant is left empty during that time.
As we were late arrivals and new to the Shady Rest it was calm with only a few local people left inside including an African American church woman who sat behind us all dressed up in her Sunday best. The woman wore a big beautiful Sunday church hat that was wide-rimmed and reddish in color. Her blazer a checkered black and white and the long dress black and wide at the tail and it swung when she walked. Her pumps and purse and scarf were the same color of the hat. A pretty woman she told us she was a pastor’s wife, the 7th child of nine children and her husband, the paster of a church in Hemingway the next town after Johnsonville, was also the 7th child of nine in his family. She had a thing about the number 7 and good country food in a place like Shady Rest.
As we waited for our order--the daily special--she, Ms. Weston was her maiden name, told us more about her family history whether we wanted to hear it or not. The Westons were a big family of nine children (six girls and three boys) and their father was Weymond Weston, whom she loved to death, left them 63 acres of land in Georgetown County when he died and where they still held family reunions. The family name is Weston, not Western, she reminded us since most people get it wrong thinking she said Western...but it is actually Wes-ton and she wanted us to remember that.
What we truly learned though from Ms. Weston as she ate the last of her chicken all the way down to the bone and to the marrow as she sternly pointed out to us that she and her brothers and sisters were raised entirely by their father alone without help of any kind from their mother. Most importantly, she was a proud daughter of her daddy and not of her mother who apparently had left home (for some reason she seemed a bit bitter about her mother and I understood...) when they were little girls but daddy did not leave his children and took care of his own and what he created. Most fathers leave the children and it's the mother who raises the children, she told us, but it was the father who stayed. Her daddy raised her and her siblings and left them 63 acres of land. A fact she is most proud of.
Finally our daily special arrived. Two specials of Country Fried Chicken, which came along with three sides we selected: gravy and rice, string beans ( or broccoli as WW ordered instead of green beans ), and sweet iced tea. And yes, yams the woman, Ms. Weston, demanded we must have the yams because she loved it so along with a slice of chocolate cake that was very yellow with chocolate stripes. She had decided to have a piece for dessert because it was Sunday.
Shady Rest's fried chicken was out of this world like nothing I've ever tasted anywhere. We both selected dark meat: two pieces of the thigh. The seasoning was perfect and nothing over salted. The skin crunchy without being too oily, delicious, and inside the meat tender with a flavor that made me tap my feet and want two more pieces. The best chicken I have ever had on planet earth is right there in awesome Shady Rest Restaurant in little old Johnsonville, South Carolina.