Second Cup

Apr 28, 2014

  “Second Cup of Coffee: Collected Columns”
By Mary Adams Belk
Introduction by Joe McAdory
Auburn, Alabama
Solomon & George Publishers
$18.00 (Paper)
209 pp.

Mary Belk has written a weekly column for the “Opelika-Auburn News” for many years and of course her readers have urged her to collect these columns and make them available as a single volume.

The launching of Solomon & George publishers in Auburn was exactly what was needed. This little start-up press has now published five volumes : a multi-genre collection of writing by Auburnites , “Chinaberries and Crows”; poetry by Peter Huggins, stories by Marian Carcache , essays and song lyrics by Frye Gaillard and Kathryn Scheldt, and now “Second Cup.”

Belk’s pieces do bear resemblance to the columns of Rheta Grimsley Johnson but Johnson, under contract with the “Atlanta Constitution,” travelled the South looking for stories and Belk’s subjects are her memories and experiences closer to home.

Of the many hundreds of columns, perhaps a thousand, Belk has here selected 95. They run only about 600 words apiece and are gathered in 14 sections, sections such as “The Joy of Eating,” “Back in the Day,” “Critters,” “On the Road,” and so on. These are, of course, better enjoyed one a week or at most one a day rather than in a couple of sittings, as book reviewers have to do.

The primary audience is Auburn dwellers who will most appreciate the pieces on the downtown before “the demise of every small drugstore….Toomer’s turned into a souvenir shop and Glendean Drugs … [was] replaced by a big chain drugstore.” And there were little grocery stores, and independent filling stations, and hamburger joints and diners.

Most of this has happened—one might dare to say, evolved, slowly, over time. Some of the changes, though, happened instantly. As Belk narrates, on the morning of January 15, 1978, shortly after 8 a.m., there was a huge natural gas explosion which “leveled Waldrop’s Gift Shop, the Tiger Lily Bookstore, Crest 5 & 10 …and, of course, the Copper Kettle” diner, beloved by all.

Belk writes a good many times about how downtown Auburn used to be a more picturesque, unspoiled place before the enormous changes that made it the megalopolis it is now. I will have to take this on faith. Myself, I don’t think Auburn has been ruined by wild urbanization.

There are of course many other subjects dealt with.

Belk writes about her parents, childhood and her children and grandchildren, the family summer place on the Chattahoochee River, and an assortment of pets, mainly dogs.

She also has a section on cars, of which she is very fond, reminiscing about road trips in her VW bug, especially to National Parks, and her long love affair with a 1975 MG Midget.

There is a nice section on food, especially the meals prepared by her mother—pot roast and casseroles—slow cooking which the family then ate slowly and early.

“Second Cup” is laced with nostalgia, as one might expect, but Belk also includes some thoughtful columns that reveal her training and expertise in anthropology, which she taught for 20 years.

For example, “Americans say: Our women put rings through their ears and cosmetics on their faces to enhance their beauty. Their women put bones through their noses and scars on their faces, and it makes them ugly.”

And “We don’t eat cats or worms because it’s cruel or disgusting. They won’t eat beef because they have silly food taboos.”

Belk writes about a hundred things she has already done in her life and includes the now popular bucket list. So, future columns might, then, concern playing the French horn in the orchestra of a Broadway musical, hiking the Appalachian Trail or living on an island.

There is still time.

This review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio. Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark” and the editor of “A State of Laughter: Comic Fiction from Alabama.”