Inspired by The Cornbread Man…
If you follow me on Facebook, you may remember photos of our visit to a local grist mill. The Atkinson Mill website is reasonably slick. Along with picturesque photos (see the one below) it mentions tours, a store, etc. We drove in expecting a spiffy, sanitized “learning experience”, maybe a catwalk and viewing stations with plexi-glass windows.
Along with the structures above, there was a mobile home with a sign “The Miller’s House”, and a big old dog lying beside a building labeled “Office”. Inside, we were greeted by the two-woman admin team. There was an old guy eating cracker sandwiches at a nearby table. We asked about a tour. The women looked at each other and one of them said “I’ll call Bobby,” at which point the old guy mumbled through his crackers, “Never mind him, I’ll take ’em.”
As it turned out, cracker-guy was actually The Cornbread Man (his hat even says so), the mill owner. He led us through the entire operation, where production was in full swing. With our bare hands we scooped up the corn shells separated from the kernel during milling. (Mr. Cornbread’s son raises cows who eat that stuff.) Pepper-flavored cornmeal got up our noses at the bagging station. We all had sneezing fits. We watched the big wheel churnin’ (sorry couldn’t resist the “Proud Mary” reference even though it’s a different kind of wheel). We marveled at the high water mark from the hurricane-induced flood which nearly destroyed the whole operation a couple of decades ago. With water rushing into the building, The Cornbread Man told his sons to use the forklifts to raise the bagging machines as high as they could. The forklifts were ruined but the baggers were saved. The Cornbread Man also told us about the fire that burned down his house, and pointed out the millstone he’s chosen for his grave marker.
We bought some yellow cornmeal and some white and a bag of hush puppy mix (he gave us hush puppy pointers too). That white cornmeal made the moistest, tenderest cornbread I’ve ever eaten.
Do what you love and do it as well as you know how, come hell or high water. Or, to quote Libba Bray, “Write like it matters, and it will.”
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