Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Windmills and French Fries

Today's flood of memories is courtesy of the Collegiate Grill in Gainesville Ga.
The first memory is an inherited one. It's the image of my mother as a little girl walking in to buy an ice cream cone for a nickel. My grandfather had a butcher shop a few stores down and he would stand outside his shop to watch Momma walk there for her sweet treat.
The first that belongs entirely to me is of me as a little girl myself. I remember only the windmills on the front of the counter and the black and white floor. A child's eyes only saw at eye level and that seemed special enough. Windmills were the stuff only of fairytales so I knew this place must be magical.
Over time I heard the stories of the people who first owned it and who ran it forever. The scenes on the walls from local history were explained. These scenes included images from the great tornado of 1936 that leveled downtown. My grandfather survived that storm under the shelter of his massive butcher block. That block stayed in my mother's kitchen all of my childhood years and became for us a haven, not from a storm, but from the probing eyes of whomever was "it" as we hid and they sought.
As we grew and became (perceived) much cooler, this was the place for lunch on special days when we left school early. It wasn't my go-to for my special birthday date with my daddy (that place will show up in a later post), but with friends after an exam when we felt the right to such coolness.
On one such occasion I sat as a 6th grader with my best friends at the counter (the pinnacle of cool), when a classmate's sister, (a girl we yearned to be seen by,) walked in and we all sat straighter. The distraction of the idol's presence caused my friend to spill her sweet tea all down the front of her shirt. She died and we all laughed till our bellies hurt. 
Now it is the keeper of those memories that I share with my children as they make their own memories in this institution. This year for my oldest daughter's 8th birthday she took 2 friends there with her daddy to sit at the counter. They took their turn at the pinnacle of cool with milk shakes and hotdogs.
The griddle remains and cranks out hand-patted burgers you can't get anywhere else on the planet. The fry cutter hangs on the wall behind the counter, a bucket of water under to catch the prize jewels that fall with every "whack" of the lever. Those fries are doled out by handfuls.
Today I am far from cool and have long since given up any desire to be so. Instead, I sit at the counter in holy pilgrimage to a place and its flavored, that are the keepers of some of my best memories. If you're ever in Gainesville, Georgia, go by for a chocolate shake, if nothing else, and inhale the delicious aroma that only comes from nearly 70 years of serving up the best food to a town hungry for good burgers and better remembrances.
Collegiate, I hope you never change.

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