I took a car trip through the South last week. Driving along a two-lane Alabama road, my companion and I passed something called a Pecan Farm. We decided to stop in.
I have never been to a Pecan Farm, or, for that matter, any farm for nuts, although as kids we thought that was the “funny farm.” Upon entering, my companion (who lives and works in New York) shot me a glance.
Inside was a tidy combination of candy store/curio shop/cafe/ice cream counter, highlighted by inspirational books, knickknacks, and things having to do with pecans, such as pralines, salted pecans, crushed pecans and pecan pies.
We took our place in line, anxious to taste the goods. There was one woman ahead of us.
Ten minutes later, we were still in line.
Alas, we had made an assumption northern people should never make while traveling through the South.
People from up north expect pace. They have internal timers. A bus or subway should come within 10 minutes — or we get antsy. A waitress should show up at your table within three minutes — or we get antsy.
There is no antsy in the South.
Ants, but no antsy.
Instead of pace, the South has — as I was reminded while we stood in line at the Pecan Farm, eyeing the cinnamon-dipped delicacies, drool spilling over our lips — flow.
Sometimes, this flow involves you; often, it does not. You may be patiently waiting, but the woman behind the counter is intent on swatting that fly by the oven, or adding a column of figures, or trying to get an earring unclasped. It’s part of the flow. You don’t interrupt it. It is polite and accompanied by, “I’ll be right with you,” which translates into, “Why don’t you take a lap around town and see if we’re still open when you come back?”
Your time will come. But not until the flow comes your way.
In our case, the woman ahead of us desired to first pay for lunch, followed by searching for her credit card, followed by the sudden impulse, “How about some strawberry-pecan ice cream?” followed by the woman behind the counter going to the back room.
Meanwhile, to my left, sat a middle-age southern woman and an older woman in a hat who appeared to be her mother. They were intently reading a menu.
“Pecan chicken salad,” the daughter said.
“Mm-hmm,” the mother replied.
“Or a regular salad.”
“Tomorrow, they have corn soup.”
“Oh, yes. Mm-hmm.”
Why they would concern themselves with tomorrow’s soup, I don’t know. Maybe that’s when they expected to be served.
As we waited, two other customers entered and stood behind us. This had no effect on the one woman behind the counter, nor did the customers seem to mind. If a line forms up north and the pace isn’t quick enough, you hear sighing, annoyed groans, maybe a mumbled, “This is ridiculous.”
There was none of that at the Pecan Farm. Time passed. Drool dripped. When the woman happened to pass by the cash register, she made eye contact with a regular customer, lined up behind us.
“Haaa-ey,” he said, in a long drawl.
“Haaa-ey,” she said.
“You’re slammed, huh?”
Nobody moved any faster. But it was nice to hear “slammed” applied to a line of four people.
Eventually, our turn came, along with our birthdays and world peace, and we ordered some pecans, which, although sitting on plates in the counter below us, had to, for some reason, be gathered from jars across the store. I noticed several Christmas trees, decorated.
“You think they’re early?” I whispered.
“Might be from last year,” my friend said.
The thing is, because we had to, we slowed our rhythm, too. After all, we weren’t falling behind. No one else was going faster. We exhaled deeply and by the time we left the Pecan Farm, we’d been taken down a notch.
The pecans, by the way, were delicious. They reflected time and effort in their roasting and seasoning. And I came home having learned an important life lesson:
Pace is a relative term.
And the almond is being disrespected.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at: Detroit Free Press, 600 West Fort Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via email at malbomfreepress.com.