PART III of the Bannister Histories
By R.T. Dickinson
July 1876, Bamberg, South Carolina
Men on dust streets walked past stores, restaurants, and banks with green awnings. They spoke in hushed voices about when Union Army occupiers would leave. Soldiers had stayed in towns around the Low Country, and restaurant owner Joey Langston—the man from Minnesota—welcomed them before Southerners into Joey’s Lunchroom.
White men of North Railroad Ave. beat their fists on tables outside city hall. The newspaper editor printed paid, anonymous editorials about the opinions stated in their meetings. The same men—who had retained their wealth and restored their houses across the from the railroad track—wanted to take back the state legislature, where the unfortunate colored majority ruled the state with help from the Yankee Caesar.
The only part of the politikin’ that concerned Joey’s Lunchroom first cook, Oliver Bannister, was if Papa Langston would shift his focus to Southern clientage. Oliver and the other two cooks—both women—prepared South Carolina food: Low Country broils on Saturdays, fried catfish, and fried chicken. Joey cared less for the aristocratic Southern families. He was born in a backwoods cabin, but North Railroad’s residents dictated his future as much as Papa Langston.
“Look, old man,” Oliver said, “those Yankees is leaving within the next year. You serve second lunch to Bamberg folks. You think they’re going to forget when the government’s boys are gone?”
“My only son served the Union,” Joey said through his teeth. “Those rebel bastards blew him to shreds. I never got to bury him.”
“And, my daddy was killed by Yankees, and I still serve Yankees … You’s running a business, and those soldiers ain’t going to be here too much longer. Every Southern man will be telling you, ‘Go back to the North.'”
“I’m sorry I blew up at you. War doesn’t bring good feelings to anyone. You lost your daddy, and I lost my son. You’re my boy now. I know what those rebel rousers think of me. Once they get first pickings, they won’t eat anywhere else.”
In a slow hour, Joey went to the garden. He picked from the tomato plant. Plump, fat, and red, the plants shined in the breath-sucking humidity. The summer heat never bothered Oliver. Everyone needed to eat, and he was the only cook to tend the gated garden behind Joey’s Lunchroom.
“Shame you’re a cook,” said a voice demanding enough to steal the sun’s essence.
Oliver stood from his basket of tomatoes. He lifted his hat and wiped sweat off his forehead. The girl wore a green dress with tassels on the back of her bell curved dress. She wore a white bonnet and held a light green parasol over her head.
“A lady like you ain’t supposed to be out here in this heat.”
“I can handle the heat as much as you,” she replied.
As she turned her head, the woman’s pinewood shaded curls bounced. Green around the rims, Oliver knew those eyes.
“What is some girl from Minnesota going to do is this heat. Faint?”
“I work a garden as good as you any day.”
“Well, come on then. I got these beautiful tomatoes waiting for your sweet, gentle fingers.”
Oliver walked to the gate. Adelaide Langston smiled, and he wrapped his arms around her. Oliver kissed her as if war would come and shatter lives again.
Will Oliver make a major change at the restaurant? How long has Adelaide known Oliver?
A good book deserves attention. I think of it as building a strong relationship. In June, my manuscript Sons of the Edisto turned six-years-old.
Due to the professional deadlines of a second book, I have been unable to edit Sons of the Edisto as much as I’ve wanted in 2011 and 2012. While it is in the editing stage, I share stories inspired by the book’s back stories I wrote long ago for Sons of the Edisto’s characters and families. The last entry was The Boy with No Mother.
The Bannister Histories follows the family story of JD Bannister—a central character in Sons—and his father, Andrew. Oliver Bannister is the unlikely patriarch of what will later become a family fighting for power within itself.
© 2006-2012 by R.T. Dickinson. All rights reserved. No part of this blog post or material related to it may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of R.T. Dickinson.
Writer’s Note: The stories take place from the 1860s to 1924. You may find what we in the twenty-first century call politically incorrect terms—as Lisa See said in the beginning of Shanghai Girls. The word used in regards to ethnicity is true to the era.