Rick Bragg is Looking Forward to the Little Things in 2021

A slice of pie and better times ahead.

Blueberry pie at diner
Photo: Getty Images

This past yearis not something we will soon forget, and I guess it should be that way. Southerners, as much as any people on earth, understand loss, conflict, ghosts. As 2020 ground painfully, even hauntingly to a close, the South—fighting itself like a bunch of cats tied up in a sack—was one of the most worrisome pandemic hot spots in America, and we were praying for this awful time to be over.

As we staggered into the New Year, a vaccine offered hope, at least for our physical ills. As to the other ills, I believe we'll go on fighting them for a long time. It's practically our birthright here—that and kudzu.

But for now, we will settle for a vaccine, a therapy. Maybe soon, all the signs that read "Curbside Only" and "Closed Indefinitely" will just vanish from the storefronts and the need for masks will slowly slip away and…well, that is what I am holding onto.

I believe that someday before too long, I will get in my pickup, drive into town, and see whether anyone there remembers my face.

The other night, I sat with a notebook and a No. 2 pencil and made a list of all the things I will do when that time comes. I would like to say that I will tuck a $100 bill in my sock and find myself a raucous juke joint or a backroom poker game and a bottle of whiskey, but the truth is, I am a little stooped over for such bacchanalia. What I have missed, mostly, are the little things.

I think I will go get my brother, Sam, and drive to Gadsden, Alabama, to eat at Pruett's barbecue. Monday is meatloaf day. It is always packed then. The Coosa River is right there, across Rainbow Drive, and we will talk about the winter we put his bass boat in that water to take a freezing, wide-open joyride and didn't even pretend to fish.

Maybe I will drive on down to New Orleans, stroll into the crowded French Market, and buy myself a mango. I will eat it off the blade of my pocketknife while sitting on a bench near St. Louis Cathedral and then watch the daytime drinkers list left and right as they walk along the riverfront.

I could head the other way, east to South Carolina, down into what people there call the Lowcountry, where the shrimp boats glide through gaps in the marsh like they are sailing across some flat, waving prairie. I think I would like to sit at a table on an old street and enjoy a good, real breakfast—something that is not passed to me through a take-out window.

Or I might wander up, up toward Lookout Mountain and on into the Smokies and stop in every diner I see and have some pie—just pie. I will sit at the counter, elbow to elbow, and talk about the weather, about ice on I-59. And as I drive, I will watch the roadside because, at least once more, I would like to see a bear.

Maybe I'll just drift down to my old house in Fairhope, Alabama, walk the pier, and ask someone how the trout are biting and—them being fishermen—not even care if they lie.

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