Savannah, GA – April 12, 2013
The line stretched two blocks by a quarter to noon, not single file, thick, filling the sidewalk three or four people wide. I joined the back and waited. It inched ahead. More people came behind me. Some rotated in shifts to stretch their legs, marveling at how their partners had moved just a few feet after a ten minute walk. When it rained, we squeezed under overhangs, shared umbrellas, or just got wet. No one left.
After an hour I’d moved about halfway and made friends with a couple from Atlanta and a group of folks scrambling to find enough quarters for an under-fed parking meter. A man came out from the back in an apron, sweating a bit from the heat, and whistled as he caught a breath of air.
“You got enough for all of us in there?” someone asked.
“Don’t worry about that,” he said, smiling. “We got plenty ready for you.”
Just past one, my friend Nancy joined me after getting off work. We still had a ways to go, but we could see the entrance now, a small door on the side of an old brick building.
“It used to be a boarding house where workers would stay and get their meals,” Nancy told me. “But the food was so good that everyone wanted to eat here and it became famous.”
People filed out of the doorway with giant smiles, hobbling a bit, moving slow and lethargic past the tiny sign out front with “the Wilkes House” painted on it.
“It’s worth it,” they promised again and again.
We waited. Inched closer and waited some more. At one thirty, we reached the door and stepped inside.
There’s two rooms filled with a handful of large tables, each with ten chairs. A man led a group of us toward the back, Nancy and I sat next to each other and the rest of the table filled in with people from the line.
Bowls and plates crowded the center of the table. Fried chicken, cornbread, green beans, dressing, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, BBQ pork, squash, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet corn, everything you can imagine coming out of a southern kitchen.
We sat and ate, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, passing dishes across the big table, tasting everything, spooning out seconds and thirds, telling stories, connecting with one another until the last bit of blueberry cobbler and banana pudding disappeared.
Then we brought our empty plates to the dishwasher, just like it’s been done for years, paid our tab, and walked out through that small door, our stomachs full near bursting, past the long line of people waiting outside with hunger in their eyes.
“It’s so worth it,” we said.