The weather was overcast with a frequent light rain driving from Charleston, S.C. to Camden. The next day driving to Lynchburg, V.A., the weather cleared gradually becoming more beautiful. But both days were a pleasure. We lived most of our lives in the North and experienced the joys of spring, but somehow the flowers seemed brighter than ever. The red bud trees were fuller and more brilliant. The dogwoods were more gorgeous than ever. Who knew that blue lupine was “ice cream for deer”?
I am an artist preferring to paint in a realist style, but if I painted the fields of winter wheat, in their natural intense green, others would say I must have the color wrong: it could not be that bright and even.
On a whim, we stopped at the Town & Country Restaurant in St. Mathews. The hand-written sign at the door said they were closed from Good Friday through Easter. It was Saturday, but the proprietor came to the door and said he had to come in to fill a big order, so we could come in and he would feed us.
When he came to the table to ask us if our food was okay, Alie admired the restful decoration of the place and asked him about the lovely wall hangings. They were from Syria, his home country.
We expressed sorrow about the current war, and asked if he had family there. He did, including his parents. Some had fled to Turkey, some to Egypt and others were still there. He used to go back every two or three years, but could not do so now. For the next forty-five minutes, we had the most interesting conversation as we talked about business, community development, his experiences and philosophy.
He came to Miami after high school to go to college and then went to St. Louis where he met his wife, a South Carolina girl. For many years, he operated a restaurant in Orangeburg. Then the St. Mathews Town Council advertised for someone to open a restaurant in an abandoned building the town owned. It had been a clothing store; I imagine at the time it was built, it would have been called a “dry goods store.”
That was 17 years ago this May. He fixed the place up himself and was rightfully proud of it. He was proud to be an American and said he told other immigrants that America was the land of opportunity but “you have to work hard to make it come true.”
His youngest child, a son, was still in high school. He beamed with pride when he talked about his oldest, a girl who had just been admitted to medical school in Charleston. But while it was clear he loved his middle son, he said the boy had “lots of big ideas” but wanted “someone else to do the work,” something that obviously did not mesh with his immigrant work ethic.
We have eaten in many long-forgotten restaurants on our travels, but we won’t soon forget the Town & Country.