By Virginia Dawkins
The Meridian Star
Ask any native of Savannah, Ga., where to eat lunch, and one of the first suggestions you will hear is Mrs. Wilkes’ restaurant on Jones Street.
The old boarding house is a landmark in the middle of a charming nostalgic city. It nestles underneath ancient live oaks, alongside a vintage brick-paved street. If you get there before eleven on a weekday morning, you will find tourists and local folks in a long waiting line scrawling down Jones Street. At 11 o’clock sharp the door opens to the historical old Brownstone and lots of hungry people file in.
My Savannah friend, Keith Howington, once took me to this restaurant. Big round tables were spread with platters of crispy fried chicken, ham, bowls of beef-stew, creamed potatoes and gravy, collard greens, squash, black-eyed peas, fried okra, cornbread, and numerous other southern delights.
As we made our way to one of the tables, Keith instructed, “No one eats until Mrs. Wilkes comes, then we will hold hands around the table while she says the blessing over the food.”
It’s been several years since my visit to Savannah. The last time I spoke with Keith he told me that even though Mrs. Wilkes had passed away, the old tradition of “grace” before meals was still taking place in the heart of a very sophisticated city.
In Sevierville, Tenn., several years ago, Jim and Lill Katzbeck carried on the same tradition in their charming Bed and Breakfast, located on top of a tranquil mountain. Each morning when the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air, a long pine table was laid with hot biscuits, crispy bacon and sausage, eggs, grits, pastries, fruit, and homemade jellies.
Jim and Lill invited their guests to hold hands around the table while Lill asked God’s blessing upon the food. In her prayer she said, “And please Lord, provide for those who have no food.”
The last time we ate at Peggy’s, in Philadelphia, Miss., we served ourselves and sat at a boarding-house style table. As I glanced across the room to another table, I saw a black man extending his hand toward the white man across the table, and together they asked God’s blessing upon their food.
Once in a local restaurant, my husband and I bowed our heads for a quick blessing. Just as we concluded the prayer, another voice joined us with a rousing “Amen!” We looked up to find our waitress standing beside the table. This opened a conversation about faith in which the young woman began telling us of her prayer needs.
I believe that the practice of joining hands around the table in honor of God is a true picture of the heart of America. It gives me comfort to believe that in the midst of the mindless, and often godless, sophistication of cities and towns across the land, there remains a core group of believers who continually offer up simple prayers of thanksgiving to our Father in Heaven for His provision of the means by which we live.