By Stacey Patton Wallace
During the last 12 months, the pandemic has affected all of us in different ways. Back on March 13, 2020, Mike and I were teaching in our 30th and final year at Long Cane Middle School in LaGrange, Georgia. We, along with all the teachers in the Troup County School System, were told that all schools were being shut down for two weeks because of COVID-19. We were instructed to remove everything from our desks and our students’ desks because our rooms would undergo a deep cleaning during this time. The third nine weeks had ended the day before, and we had no idea that school would be permanently closed for the rest of the year; we didn’t even get to tell our kids goodbye or hug their necks. However, God has blessed Mike and me during this frightening year more times than we can count, and we are forever thankful.
Mike and I really love to travel, but of course, COVID-19 also brought any trips to a complete stop, especially for “Pooh-sized” adults like us who have pre-existing conditions and who will have our first vaccines on March 30. (Thank You, Lord!)
Please understand, Mike and I love us some Lee County, Alabama. I’ve told family and friends that if you can’t go to Heaven yet, Auburn/Opelika is the best place to wait. However, we hadn’t been on an overnight trip since September 2019 when we traveled to Orange Beach, our favorite beach in the world. (Seeing the date in print makes it seem even longer.) Since we began getting cabin fever and became more than a little stir crazy, we decided to start taking day trips in Sweet Home Alabama.
I had purchased the book “200 Places to Go: A Celebration of Alabama’s Bicentennial,” written by Kelley Walker. The book lists Alabama’s 67 counties alphabetically, pointing out various sites to visit.
For our first trip, Mike and I chose Chilton County, known for growing peaches and pecans. Clanton, the county seat, is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from our home in Auburn. As we traveled up U.S. 280 and U.S. 22, we enjoyed the beautiful, rural scenery.
When we arrived in Clanton, we visited the Heaton Pecan Farm. The family had sold the farm; however, there was an attractive shop that sold a tantalizing variety of pecan candies, including: milk chocolate and white chocolate covered pecans, pralines, divinity, buckeyes, milk chocolate and white chocolate pecan bark, pecan pies, tarts, peach cobbler and ice cream. Also, the shop had a lot of pretty displays with great gift ideas, reminiscent of Bubba’s Medicine Shop in Opelika.
After Mike and I selected our goodies for later, we asked some locals for recommendations for a great place to have a Southern dinner (not lunch). Several of them directed us to the Kountry Kitchen of Clanton. We arrived there at 1:30, apparently beating the lunch crowd, so social distancing wasn’t a problem; there were only about two or three other people in the restaurant besides us.
Our waitress, who sounded like a good Alabama girl, was actually from Germany and had moved to Clanton in 1982; her daddy was in the military. She and the other waitresses were so friendly and funny.
There was a buffet, but we decided to order from the menu. Entrees included chicken, steak and seafood; there was a variety of sandwich selections as well. Mike ordered a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and I chose fried chicken, my absolute favorite. Now, I love chicken fingers, but I’m an Alabama girl, and to me, nothing can compare to good, old-fashioned fried chicken on the bone.
Do you remember when you first heard the term, “chicken fingers?” I do; I was a teenager, and I remember thinking, “Chickens don’t have fingers; they have feet.” Ah, youth.
Mike’s sandwich was delicious; it had very thick, succulent ham, hot off the grill. Also, my chicken on the bone was absolutely wonderful. Our food was cooked fresh; they didn’t just take my chicken from the buffet.
After we finished eating, we visited a store that had canned items, so we bought some fig preserves; they sure tasted great on our biscuits on Saturday morning. On the way home, Mike, an excellent photographer, took more pictures of the lovely, rustic landscape.
The Kountry Kitchen of Clanton and the Heaton Pecan Farm make the grade with an A+ from this retired English teacher. Remember, “Pooh-sized” people NEVER lie about food. Enjoy!
Stacey Patton Wallace, who retired from teaching language arts for 30 years, is a professional diner. Her column, “Making the Grade,” will appear each week in the Observer. Stacey may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.