Friday, December 31, 2010

The Liar's Table - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

Back in 1986, I was a senior at Hartselle High School. Our class was much like most others, as we had the gamut of personalities and potential. One group of my friends heard about a breakfast ritual at the Corral Restaurant, called the Liar’s Table. The Corral Restaurant was a throwback to the early sixties, as the d├ęcor consisted of wagon wheels everywhere. All of the light sconces on the walls were wagon wheels, the chandeliers in the ceiling were wagon wheels, and the walls had faded Conestoga wagon images in a repeated pattern from one end of the place to the other. It was the only “quasi-formal” sit-down restaurant in town and all of the civic clubs met there. A schedule was worked out, so the Kiwanis Club would meet one night, the Jaycees another, the Civitans another, and Lions Club yet another. Holidays made for chaos as the meeting nights would get mixed up and Kiwanians would show up at Jaycee meetings, etc.

It seems that a group of men, who moved and shook our town, all sat down at the same table and ate breakfast every morning at a big table in a meeting room at the back of the restaurant, called the Liar’s Table. These guys were judges, the mayor, most of the city councilmen, realtors/developers, lawyers, doctors, and of most importance to us, many of our teachers from school. I am here to tell you that stuff got done in town at that table. Deals were worked out, policy was discussed, and of course, good old-fashioned gossip could be heard. There are very few secrets in Hartselle, Alabama.

Being precocious teens, and having more ambition than vanity, we decided to meet at the Corral every Friday morning for breakfast, dressed in slacks, dress shoes, and dress shirts, and ties. We would have our own Liar’s Table and discuss things that we were interested in and see if we cold overhear the power brokers in the special room. If I recall, the membership was not exclusive and was always in flux. Brian White, Brian Taylor, Donald Rand, Tim Roden, Anthony Light, Bob Bryan, and many others were all included at one time or another. We had a great time and got to speak with everyone at the Table as they came and went. After many weeks, the novelty wore off and the staff got used to the kids dressed in Sunday clothes and treated us like we were as important as the older men in the big room. The menu was sparse, but after awhile they memorized what we ordered just like they knew what the men ordered. We said hello and joshed with the guys going to the big table, but never presumed to sit back there, as we were not members in the unofficial and exclusive organization. There was a seating order back there and everyone knew who sat where. Little did we know that the fates would change for us…..

One day in the Spring, my Mom, Glenda Greene, burned up the kitchen in our home on Washington Circle. The fire department came and saved the house, but we were without a kitchen for weeks as the repairs were being done. As a result we had to eat out. Being that there were few alternatives in town at that time, we ate at the Corral, a lot. Friday rolled around that week, and my Dad went to the Corral for breakfast, like he had done all week. We arrived and sat in our usual place, when Dad, apparently a welcome seat holder, extended a “Wonka-style” golden ticket when he came up front and invited us back to the big room. It appears that there were extra seats that were not widely discussed outside of the power room. The four of us got to come inside and see the magic kingdom. We were welcomed and got to participate in discussions of timely importance in town that week. William Booth, our favorite teacher was there, and he heaped ridicule and his usual caustic humor at us as we had a great time. He was a teacher we respected and getting to see him out of his element at school was a lot of fun.

Time came to leave, we were invited to come back anytime, which we did, but now it just wasn’t as exciting anymore. The curtain had been drawn back, and the machinery was laid bare for us to see. The magic was gone from the speculation and innuendo of what happened in the big room. The meeting room wasn’t even that big. After a few months, high school graduation came and we all went our separate ways. A few years later, the venerable old restaurant closed, then burned, and now exists as a concrete slab on the east side of Highway 31. While I was at Auburn, I heard about the Corral closing, and I asked Mom to secure a wagon wheel light sconce from the building after they closed, but she was too late, the fire had happened, and the icons of the wagon wheels were lost forever in time.