Miss Mayhayley

Miss Mayhayley

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One sunny Saturday afternoon, Stephen and I struck out to find the grave of Miss Mayhayley Lancaster.  We followed the directions, as only directions can be given in this town, “you know that first road right outside the county line with the two gas stations?  Turn right there and it’s pretty much a straight shot.”

I get a kick out of hearing people give directions here.  “Turn at Jeff’s Exxon,” yet another gas station reference that sounds simple but is slightly more complicated as the gas station is no longer an Exxon, nor is it another gas station called Jeff’s, but a BP that used to be Jeff’s Exxon.  Got it?  Neither do I.  That’s why Stephen does the country driving and I do the city driving.

Miss Amanda Mayhayley Lancaster is a local legend in West Georgia.  There’s a healthy mix of curiosity, fear and lore that still surround her even 60 years after she passed.  Me? I’m a sucker for quirk and a story.  My interest has been piqued since the day I first heard the name.

Miss Mayhayley was born in Georgia in 1875 and had a pretty impressive career path.  Midwife, lawyer, teacher, politico and, you know, fortune teller/oracle.  She never married, dressed in military jackets and hats, had a marble eye and stuffed all kinds of cash in the backyard of the small shack where she lived with her dogs and sister.  Stephen said if you were alive during 1875 to 1955 and lived around here you had a Mayhayley story.  Lost items?  She could tell you where to find them.  Missing persons?  Yes.  Aaaaand dead bodies?  Yep, them too.

Miss Mayhayley was a witness for the prosecution in a big murder case that was made into a TV movie, Murder in Coweta County, which starred Johnny Cash and Andy Griffith.  June Carter Cash played Miss Mayhayley (it’s on Amazon Prime if you want to check it out.)  She was able to tell the prosecution where to find the body.  The body, or parts of the body, eventually led to the conviction of a local landowner/bully who had taken over an entire town.

I’ve heard teenage stories of going to visit her grave where you cross over three bridges and only come back over two.  People have been in car wrecks after defacing her grave.  There is a great, local “swamp, gypsy, rag-time band” called Mayhayley’s Grave in town.  And now I have my own story.

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One sunny day, we went out to pay our respects to Miss Lancaster.  We turned right on the road just outside the county line by the two gas stations and parked in the quiet parking lot of a pretty white church.  We left $1.10 on top of her grave stone, which was what she charged.  $1 for her and $0.10 for her dogs.  Her gravestone reads “for neither did his brethren believe in him” but I have a feeling people still believe in Miss Mayhayley far more than she thought possible.

(Mayhayley Lancaster Photo Source)

Neighborhood Joint

Neighborhood Joint

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There is a diner in town known for their pancakes that come with only two options:  one pancake or two and the warning “don’t even try three.”  The pancakes take 20 minutes to cook, are the size of a dinner plate and the height of a quarter.  Smeared with butter and doused with syrup it’s a nap waiting to happen.  Ergo, I love it.  Two of my favorite things, breakfast and naps.

It’s in my blood.  For years my Gam and I would have breakfast on Monday mornings at The Huddle in San Diego’s Mission Hills.  We’d meet at her place on Ibis Street, walk the few blocks to Goldfinch and pull up a stool at the counter.  After a while we were no longer given menus, they’d just start cooking the moment we entered the door.  A bagel and an egg for Gam. Eggs, bacon and hash browns for me.  And coffee.  Lots of coffee.

Gam delighted in aesthetics and adored The Huddle’s tall coffee mugs.  She complimented them every morning and was so sweet that when the restaurant updated their dishes they held aside a few of the tall mugs just for her.

When Gam no longer remembered what day it was, she’d still walk over to The Huddle every morning for breakfast.  On Mondays they’d send her back home knowing I’d be meeting her at 8 a.m.  until eventually I’d just walk into The Huddle on Mondays and greet her surprised “Becky!” with a hug and smile.

We’d take long walks afterwards with Paul, a retired teacher we befriended over the years.  Nasturtiums flooded the canyons, front yards bloomed with hydrangeas and a sweet little black cat would get fawned over whenever we walked by his house.

When I moved to Seattle I started going down the street to the Stone Way Cafe.  The Stone Way Cafe now serves beer in the evenings and has a menu that includes frittatas and enchilada stacks but at the time they were a greasy spoon where the most adventurous entree was Eggs Benedict.  I’d warm my hands on mugs of hot, rich coffee while sitting next to commercial fishermen, the only other people up that early.  Eventually I found the highly rated (top five in the country!) Maltby Cafe and, along with the rest of Seattle, would make the hour long haul for their local eggs and biscuits.  Who knew it’d be a primer for living in the south?

When I asked Stephen if there was a bagel place in town he gave it some thought then said “why would anyone need bagels when there are biscuits?”  And so, the first time I came to Georgia to visit, we met up with his close friends for biscuits before heading to Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival.  The biscuits were so big I ended up eating mine with a fork and knife.  (Which, for the record, is not how you’re supposed to eat a biscuit.)  (Everyone was too nice to say anything.)

Maybe it was all of the Alice I watched as a kid…or the disturbing, yet somehow charming, diner lingo.  Where else would “burn the British and draw one in the dark” get you a toasted english muffin and cup of black coffee? But there is something so comforting knowing that right now in the cold dark mornings of fall, in towns all across the country, there are people pulling up to small diners.  Warm light pours from windows onto dark sidewalks, bells ring as doors open, seats are taken at tall counters and laminated menus dropped off with hot coffee poured in just the right mugs to let you know that you’re home.

With Love from the Kitchen

With Love from the Kitchen

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Do you read cookbooks like they’re novels?  At the moment I’m curled up with Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home and have already teared up:

A good home should gather you up in its arms like a warm cashmere blanket, soothe your hurt feelings and prepare you to go back out into that big bad world tomorrow all ready to fight the dragons.

I can’t sleep.  The world seems full of too many dragons.  It’s not even 4 a.m. and I did the only thing I could…put a loaf of banana bread in the oven.

I spent part of last week in Minneapolis and was around the corner from where Mary threw up her hat for the opening sequence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  I left the city for my new small town and got in last night, taking only two (long!) country roads home from the airport.  I passed by cows and horses, small ponds and groves of Georgia pines, before pulling into the driveway.  I was met with hugs and kisses, a cold drink, and Fisher’s wagging tail.

Fisher couldn’t sleep either and padded out to the kitchen to keep me company while I whipped up my favorite banana bread.  It’s the banana bread I started making in Georgia to take to neighbors, family and friends, all of whom I’ve been thinking a lot about this week.

I used the measuring spoons I got for high school graduation, a set I’ve carried alongside the battered red gingham covered New Basics Cookbook they came with. From San Diego to Seattle and back again. To Portland.  And now, Georgia.

I used the same measuring spoons to whip up one of the first recipes I learned how to make in the dark galley kitchen of my Seattle apartment–a dutch baby pancake.  I was both angst ridden and elated to live on my own.  To be able to take a little butter, milk, flour and sugar and come up with something not only delicious but impressive seemed like a secret to adulthood had been unlocked.

In San Diego we started a Sunday Night Dinner Club.  There were about 10 of us who all liked to cook and wanted to push our culinary boundaries.  So we’d rotate houses, try new recipes and cook three course meals for each other.  There was wine.  A lot of wine.  I frequently wondered on Monday mornings why we hadn’t made it a Saturday Night Dinner Club.

In Portland cooking became simpler.  A slice of toasted baguette with a heavy smear of fresh pesto topped with a round of goat cheese.  Hearty soups.  A loaf of homemade bread.  Roast vegetables tossed with a raw mixture of tomatoes, garlic and basil the moment they come out of the oven.

The kitchen has always been the heart of the home.  And so this morning I measure and whisk.  I butter the pan and pour the batter.  Humble ingredients come together and make the house smell warm and sweet.  I may not know exactly how to slay those dragons just yet, but I have hope, measuring spoons and the sense of connection that comes from a warm loaf banana bread cooling on the counter.