This morning I ate at Waffle House for the first time. My uncle insisted upon it, “a rite of passage,” he said, for anyone sojourning through the South. It’s probably the most ubiquitous brand I’ve seen down here; there’s at least one restaurant in every town large enough to deserve a population sign. And they’re all open 24 hours. The food is cheap and homely and greasy and the decor minimal. Even the Waffle House logo, plain all-caps black lettering against a mustard-yellow background, seems like an attempt to cut down on costs.
But as far as cheap diner food goes, it ain’t bad. I had a waffle with eggs, biscuits and hash browns. The eggs and biscuits were okay and even the waffle itself didn’t blow me away, but the hash browns… man do they nail that food. An impeccably refined balance of greasy and crispy. This is not something to be dismissed; hash browns are the cornerstone of any greasy spoon breakfast. They can make or break the dish.
My breakfast left me full and satisfied but the carb-heavy meal came at a price. Within an hour I crashed, and no amount of coffee could keep me from feeling “low-energy,” as Donald Trump might put it. I’m sure it didn’t help that I had fatty brisket barbecue last night (with a side of fried pickles, a brilliant culinary concept that hadn’t heretofore graced my awareness). Most of the meals I’ve had have been so, so delicious and so, so unhealthy. It’s starting to catch up. I can see why this region has some of the highest rates of heart disease and diabetes. When I get back I think I’m going full paleo.
For a blog called Ghost on the Highway, it’s a bit of a shame that I went nearly a month without visiting an actual ghost town. It’s not for want of opportunity; there were plenty of them in Montana and other parts of the West. It just didn’t happen. But almost by accident I discovered a place called Scull Shoals in the Oconee National Forest about an hour and a half from where I was staying. According to Wikipedia, this historic site houses the remains of 19th-century paper mill town abandoned after a flood in 1897.
I simply had to go. The thought of walking over the ruins of a once-thriving community tickled my imagination. Even the name Scull Shoals was so delightfully ghostly. Why was it called that? And why did they spell it that way?
As I turned off the highway into the forest I began to regret my decision. The access to Scull Shoals is several miles of rough, narrow, gravely road, far better suited for horses than cars, and of the cars that could traverse the trail my Chevrolet Impala was horrendously ill-suited. Plodding along at 5-10 mph I was convinced that I would blow a tire and have to call AAA (if I could even get reception) with my tail between my legs.
“Okay, sir, and where are you exactly?”
“Out in the middle of the Oconee National Forest.”
“Uh huh… why?”
“To see a bunch of dilapidated brick foundations from the 1800s.”
My car did make it, though, and the site was indeed quite fascinating. The centerpiece is the large brick structure you see above, with other smaller brick ruins nearby. It’s not a well-maintained tourist site by any means; one gets the impression that hardly anybody comes here. I myself was alone for nearly an hour until another couple showed up in an SUV just as I was leaving. The grass is wild and tall, the vegetation sprawls aggressively over the decrepit bricks. Mosquitoes, spiders and dragonflies reign supreme. The town has been gone for 120 years but it feels closer to 400.
The whole site is a testament to nature’s power to re-assert itself over humanity. The mill workers and wives of Scull Shoals are gone but the vines, the roots, the mosquitoes do not miss them any more than the Scull Shoals founders missed whichever Indians were displaced at the town’s founding. Life simply trudges along.
Today is my last day in Georgia. I’ve been here for 4 or 5 days (I really can’t keep track of time anymore) and have enjoyed it more than I expected. Things don’t necessarily move slower down South, as I’d been led to believe, but people seem to tread more carefully. The past is alive out here, the region is full of ghosts. My uncle claims he and some visitors once saw an apparition, a four-foot-nine black woman in maid’s clothing, in the 200-year-old house they live in. Just once, when they first moved in, then the spirit vanished for good. He said this almost matter-of-factly, without fear or reverence.
One day during my stay I was shown this:
It’s some kind of manuscript entitled “Christianity Succeeding Judaism, or God’s Redemption of Mankind.” The author was Frank T. Edwards, my uncle’s grandfather and my great-grandfather. My uncle knew very little about Frank Edwards and I knew even less, and neither of us had any clue what this manuscript was supposed to be or when it was written or why. He discovered it while sorting through the scattered possessions of his late mother. Anyone who could shed light on its origins and purpose is presumably dead.
I read the entire manuscript, some 72 pages of single-spaced typewritten prose. It showed signs of repeated editing, with margin notes written in different pen colors, and a few pages glued over others. The content is essentially a treatise on some of my great-grandfather’s ideas concerning Christianity. Although I’m not religious I know my mother/uncle’s side of the family was devoutly Baptist, and the manuscript, though undeniably fundamentalist and to some degree anti-Semetic, reads like the work of a very passionate man sincerely concerned about his religion.
I devoured the treatise with morbid fascination. It was, after all, a part of my history. If God forbid I somehow end up with descendants, perhaps one day they’ll read the words of this blog with similarly befuddled sentiments.
For the next two nights I’ll be camping and hiking in the wilderness of North Carolina. You probably won’t hear from me until I re-emerge into Civilization on Monday (if that). I’ll miss the Mayweather-McGregor fight and whatever national scandals erupt over the weekend but so be it. My only ambition is to imbibe the Appalachian splendor, and to not die except (potentially) by Bear Attack, because that’s arguably the coolest way to die.
See you soon, ghostlings!