Country Roads and Casseroles

On Sunday we drove out to Port Royal, Kentucky, a well-known little town because of one of its inhabitants, agrarian Wendell Berry. He’s oft-quoted here at Texas Schmexas, and a lot of other places these days, so I’m sure you recognize the name. I promise you, however, that Mr. Berry was not the reason for our drive (though I am pleased to have seen “the long-legged house” with my own eyes).

Port Royal is in Henry County, a little over an hour from here with nary an interstate between us–lots of tobacco, though, hanging in old black barns decorated with colorful quilt squares (and “Mail Pouch Tobacco”) painted on the side, and fuzzy brown cows, and trees getting ready for winter, and a smattering of houses masquerading as towns. In fact, I only remember two or three little “towns” in that whole hour of driving, but one was called “Gratz,” reminding me of beloved central Pennsylvania and warming my heart. We wove our way around the country roads, carefully keeping track of road signs, when there were road signs to be kept track of.

Port Royal, population of 79 in recent years according to Wikipedia, is home to two churches, a post office, a farm/feed/food store (which may or may not be a restaurant), and little else. We were in town for the Baptist church, where friends of our were preaching.

We were greeted as we walked up the steps and were encouraged to join in teasing an older fellow as if we were old friends. He ended up sitting in front of us (or, I’m sure, we sat behind his regular pew and it was coincidental), and from him we learned the history of lots of folks around town–the young pregnant couple who ran an organic farm and farm stand, the former interim preacher who won the “outstanding Henry Countian” award, his grandsons who were in from Florida for hunting season… you name it, we heard it.

Just before the “greet your neighbor” portion of the service, the gentleman at the pulpit announced that “we want to especially welcome our visitors here today,” and looked right at us. (I know we literally “stick out” in normal circumstances, due to our massive heights, but still, it made me chuckle to be called out from the pulpit.) This was a classic country church experience, though with a larger choir than expected, and I’m not sure what else to say.

Glimpses into other people’s otherwise normal communities, especially churches, can do a lot of good for one’s soul–it can help you realize what you appreciate about your own community. Or, let’s rephrase that: it can help me realize what I appreciate about my own community. I don’t often appreciate it, truth be told, even as I sit in front of my computer on a (somewhat) regular basis and write about it.

After church, we were welcomed into the home of a beautiful Henry County couple with an amazing view out over the trees. We ate lunch and we talked–about church, about people, about Henry County, our families, recipes, books, and, of course, Mr. Berry, who lived just over the hill and had known these folks since elementary school. We ate way too much casserole, stewed apples, bread, salad, broccoli, and oh-my-goodness pecan pie. And they tried to make us eat more. I wasn’t sure I could move. In fact, I wasn’t even hungry nine hours later as I was getting ready for bed (and not eating a bowl of cereal right before bed is not like me).

It was a good day with good folks in a good place.

Yes, you know it’s coming: it was community.