Many years ago, when the kids were still little and it was a huge deal to leave them, the school & library director at my publishing house asked if I'd be willing to participate in an event in Birmingham, Alabama.
I had no clue how hard it would be to be to get there (very), or what participating in this event would entail (uh...breakfast?).
Yes, it took all day (and 3 planes) to get to Birmingham, and the following morning after breakfast with a small group of librarians, I went back to the airport and flew home.
"I am never going to Birmingham for breakfast again!" I told Mark (and the kids and the dogs and the dishes). And when other questionable invitations would came along, Mark would say, "Wait. Is this another breakfast in Birmingham?"
After all, it had been a colossal waste of time, and for what?
Well, the funny thing is, about a year after the infamous Breakfast in Birmingham, librarians from a group of middle schools in Homewood, Alabama invited me to come visit all their schools. As in, paying school visits.They had a bunch of them lined up.
"We met you in Birmingham!" they said, "At the breakfast!"
Well, this was an invitation for much more than scrambled eggs, so off I went again to Birmingham, where the ladies picked me up and drove me to nearby Homewood. This was in 2001, and it's when I learned what Southern hospitality is all about. It's when I got my first taste of real "swaeet tea." It's when I learned the secret to fixin' lima beans (bacon, and lots of it). And it's when I learned the phrase "swear to howdy."
I loved everything about that visit. From the kids at the schools, to the people who taught them, to the way food was always on the table, to the humorous phrases they used, to the way the whisked me into a second-hand store after I told them my little Edgar dress story. (Have I told you my Edgar dress story?)
In fact, I was so charmed by it--by all of it--that I took notes.
Notes that would become the voice and the flavor of Swear to Howdy--a book I wrote with Alabama in mind; one I had those same librarians read and weigh in on before publication.
Clearly, I got much more from my breakfast in Birmingham than I could ever have imagined. (I was in Tennessee earlier this year and a woman came up to me at a conference and said, "I'm sure you don't remember, but I met you at a breakfast in Birmingham years ago..." I about hit the floor.)
In 2006 my "Southern belle" friends had me back for more school visits, and we have stayed in touch since. I've tried to "explain them" to Mark, but really, their hospitality is something you more have to experience than can explain.
So I let them know we were embarking on this wild road trip tour, and that we would take a little detour into Homewood if they wanted to have a reunion. Almost right after I sent the message, one of them messaged back, "I'll cook!"
So after speaking at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery, we'll head to Homewood to meet up with the ladies. And the next day you know where I'll be dragging Mark, right?
Into Birmingham for breakfast!