It is years later and I can still remember my first visit to Lou's Cafe. Stopping in to see if anyone could tell us where to locate the turn we had missed, my dad and I received a large dose of culture shock. It seemed as if we had opened the door to a place where time stood still.
Miss Lou Dixon owns and runs that restaurant in the middle of Small Town, USA. Miss Lou has been in business at that location since 1954. Even though the place looks a little squalid, it is not for lack of care; in fact, Lou is proud of how clean she keeps her place. She has often been heard to say, with the strongest East Tennessee accent, "It don't matter how pore a body is. They can be clean." She is proud of her "A" rating and prominently displays it.
It is not a fancy restaurant. The hundreds of booted loggers, railroad workers, and oil field roughnecks trekking through have worn the carpet thin. Chunks are missing from the carpet at the favorite tables of the workers. The hardened veneer on some of the tables is missing a notch here and there. The paint on the walls has cracks and there is a perennial smell of hamburgers permeating the air. The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking the place is about to fold financially; instead, what we found that night was a well camouflaged center of social activity and the finest, most accurate, information available.
When entering the door at Lou's, two things are immediately noticeable: the place is rarely empty and seems to consist of a maze of rooms. The first room, through the door, is the main part of the restaurant. There is another, rarely used, dining room off to the right....
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...ast for tomorrow's lunch special, a cake someone asked Lou to make, the spices of an apple pie, or the ever present odor of hamburgers, it is a well known fact, it will taste as good as it smells. The best part of being at Lou's is not her food, however; it is the feeling of being part of her extended family, being part of a tradition, when traditions are hard to come by.
The last time I was in Lou's, I experienced another trip through time's door; it was as if nothing had changed, nothing, except the amount of gray in her hair. Some of the old men had passed on; they have since been replaced by two or three of the "young 'uns" they used to keep their eyes on. The phone still rings constantly, the women still gather their news, and a new bunch of kids take over at night. Everything is the same, everything is different.
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