The country café
In nearly every small town in America you will find the local gathering spot. It may be a drive-in, a burger and malt shop, a bar or even a coffee shop. But here in the heartland we have something even more special. We have the small diners, cafes and breakfast joints that are the hub of the community. These local delights serve as more than just a place where they serve a hot meal and a good cup of coffee. In many towns they are the source of local news, often gossip, meeting places for 4-H clubs, business meetings, and a place where if you are the male spouse you will be jokingly asked if it was your day to cook.
The country café in many towns is likely to be the spot where you will find a table full of farmers and ranchers drinking coffee and lying about how much rain they received the night before. It’s the spot where parents, athletes and spectators will gather after the game on Friday night to celebrate their hometown victory, or to strategize and over-analyze about a loss. Whether the gathering be joyous or simply needed to be with friends, one thing is certain, the coffee will be hot, the conversation plentiful, and you are bound to leave with a to-go-box with enough leftovers for tomorrow.
The country café is often the mainstay in small town America. The walls are often decorated with the colors of the local high school, or adorned with pictures of past hometown heroes. They are much more than friendly faces behind the counter. The cafés in rural America are the ones that sponsor the new warm up jerseys for the high school basketball team, make sack lunches for firemen that have been up all night long battling a range fire, or keep your ticket behind the counter when you forget your wallet at home and need to pay the next time you come in.
There is no doubt that when you enter the doors, you are going to be greeted by everyone you walk past, and be prepared to spend your fair share of time visiting with the locals if you are an out of towner. You’ll be filled in on all the local happenings, whether you want to or not. Depending on the time of year, the conversation will vary from the amount of rain someone got, to how good the wheat crop is or isn’t, to who bought a new pick up. There will be no shortage of joking, a fair amount of bull to go around and the only arguing you might hear is over who is going to pick up the tab.
In the country café, there are always the locals that will have their usual, but one fixture of the café is the waitress. She makes sure your coffee cup never runs dry, and she can dish the bull right back to all the local wise cracks who comment about their eggs being too runny. The waitress knows them all by name, she knows when they will be in, what they will order, and if they miss a day, she may even phone them to make sure they are ok.
Now I know that all the big cities have their mom and pop shops that have a cozy feel, but personally give me a country café filled with locals who like their eggs over easy, their coffee hot, and their conversation warm and friendly. Next time you pass through one of these little towns, stop in and say hello. That’s all for this time, remember to be kind to your neighbor, enjoy the Sunday special after church at the café, and keep tabs on your side of the barbed wire. ❖
Meinzer is a fourth-generation rancher raised on the southeastern plains of Colorado. He and his family live and ranch in Oshkosh, Neb.