Amateur Cultural Anthropologist
For those of you who have ever lived in or visited small town America, you are more than likely aware of the local coffee shop, a place that opens at the crack of dawn and peddles home-cooked breakfast and hot coffee to the early risers. Often these places close by early afternoon, with breakfast and lunch being their primary contributions to the life and vitality of the community.
But coffee shops, particularly those located in small towns, serve a higher function than just being dispensers of pancakes, eggs, and java. Coffee shops are also were the locals go to swap tales, gather news, and sometimes conduct business.
Most of these places (and there are two here in West Plains that leap to mind) have a large table near the front door from which a standard set of gossips and coffee drinkers come and go during the morning. Attendance is primarily male, and strangers know almost instinctively, that there is no place for them at the table - even if the joint is full and empty seats are available at "the" table. There is no printed schedule or place names at the seats, but everyone knows who belongs to the group, where they sit, and about what time they come and go. If a regular fails to appear, his absence becomes fodder for the gossip and conversation that wend their way through the remainder of the morning.
I knew that I was making a bit of an inroad in the community when the fellow who bush-hogs for me twice a year invited me to join him at one of the two morning tables where he maintains a seat. I declined the initial invite, but may reconsider if he asks again. I'm sure that Pete and Ed and Joe Bob would enjoy asking about the Bernie sticker on my car's bumper - and then talking about it at the table for another month or so!
This morning, well before daylight, as I was walking back-and-forth between the house and barn carrying feed and water, I got to thinking about the coffee shop. Mornings on the farm can be cold and lonely, and there is a certain amount of appeal that goes with wrapping one's hands around a hot mug of steaming coffee and listening to some other bleary-eyed farmer giving a mini-lecture on why the new truck his neighbor bought was a big mistake - or the best way to castrate a pig. (And I don't even like coffee!)
A community orientation and education for the price of a cup 'o Joe - could there be a better bargain anywhere? Perhaps our local branch of Missouri State University should take over control of the primary coffee tables and award membership through a registration process. The acquisition of all of that knowledge ought to be worth the price of tuition!