THE WEEMS WEEKLY
(WHISTLE STOP, ALABAMA'S WEEKLY BULLETIN)
June 12, 1929
The Whistle Stop Cafe opened up last week, right next
door to me at the post office, and owners Idgie
Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison said business has been
good ever since. Idgie says that for people who know
her not to worry about getting poisoned, she is not
cooking. All the cooking is being done by two colored
women, Sipsey and Onzell, and the barbecue is being
cooked by Big George, who is Onzell's husband.
If there is anybody that has not been there yet, Idgie
says that the breakfast hours are from 5:30-7:30, and you
can get eggs, grits, biscuits, bacon, sausage, ham and
red-eye gravy, and coffee for 25 [cts.].
For lunch and supper you can have: fried chicken;
pork chops and gravy; catfish; chicken and dumplings;
or a barbecue plate; and your choice of three
vegetables, biscuits or cornbread, and your drink and
dessert--for 35 [cts.].
She said the vegetables are: creamed corn; fried green
tomatoes; fried okra; collard or turnip greens; black-eyed
peas; candied yams; butter beans or lima beans.
And pie for dessert.
My other half, Wilbur, and I ate there the other night,
and it was so good he says he might not ever eat at home
again. Ha. Ha. I wish this were true. I spend all my time
cooking for the big lug, and still can't keep him filled
By the way, Idgie says that one of her hens laid an egg
with a ten-dollar bill in it.
... Dot Weems ...
ROSE TERRACE NURSING HOME
OLD MONTGOMERY HIGHWAY
DECEMBER 15, 1985
Evelyn Couch had come to Rose Terrace with her husband, Ed,
who was visiting his mother, Big Momma, a recent but reluctant
arrival. Evelyn had just escaped them both and had gone into the
visitors' lounge in the back, where she could enjoy her candy bar in
peace and quiet. But the moment she sat down, the old woman
beside her began to talk ...
"Now, you ask me the year somebody got married ... who they
married ... or what the bride's mother wore, and nine times out of ten
I can tell you, but for the life of me, I cain't tell you when it was I
got to be so old. It just sorta slipped up on me. The first time I
noticed it was June of this year, when I was in the hospital for my
gallbladder, which they still have, or maybe they threw it out by
now ... who knows. That heavyset nurse had just given me another
one of those Fleet enemas they're so fond of over there when I
noticed what they had on my arm. It was a white band that said:
Mrs. Cleo Threadgoode ... an eighty-six-year-old woman.
"When I got back home, I told my friend Mrs. Otis, I guess the
only thing left for us to do is to sit around and get ready to croak....
She said she preferred the term pass over to the
other side. Poor thing, I didn't have the heart to tell her that no
matter what you call it, we're all gonna croak, just the same ...
"It's funny, when you're a child you think time will never go by,
but when you hit about twenty, time passes like you're on the fast
train to Memphis. I guess life just slips up on everybody. It sure
did on me. One day I was a little girl and the next I was a grown
woman, with bosoms and hair on my private parts. I missed the
whole thing. But then, I never was too smart in school or otherwise ...
"Mrs. Otis and I are from Whistle Stop, a little town about ten
miles from here, out by the railroad yards.... She's lived down the
street from me for the past thirty years or so, and after her husband
died, her son and daughter-in-law had a fit for her to come and live
at the nursing home, and they asked me to come with her. I told
them I'd stay with her for a while--she doesn't know it yet, but I'm
going back home just as soon as she gets settled in good.
"It's not too bad out here. The other day, we all got Christmas
corsages to wear on our coats. Mine had little shiny red Christmas
balls on it, and Mrs. Otis had a Santy Claus face on hers. But I was
sad to give up my kitty, though.
"They won't let you have one here, and I miss her. I've always
had a kitty or two, my whole life. I gave her to that little girl next
door, the one who's been watering my geraniums. I've got me four
cement pots on the front porch, just full of geraniums.
"My friend Mrs. Otis is only seventy-eight and real sweet, but
she's a nervous kind of person. I had my gallstones in a Mason jar
by my bed, and she made me hide them. Said they made her
depressed. Mrs. Otis is just a little bit of somethin', but as you can
see, I'm a big woman. Big bones and all.
"But I never drove a car ... I've been stranded most all my life.
Always stayed close to home. Always had to wait for somebody to
come and carry me to the store or to the doctor or down to the
church. Years ago, you used to be able to take a trolley to
Birmingham, but they stopped running a long time
ago. The only thing I'd do different if I could go back would be to
get myself a driver's license.
"You know, it's funny what you'll miss when you're away from
home. Now me, I miss the smell of coffee ... and bacon frying in the
morning. You cain't smell anything they've got cooking out here,
and you cain't get a thing that's fried. Everything here is boiled up,
with not a piece of salt on it! I wouldn't give you a plugged nickel
for anything boiled, would you?"
The old lady didn't wait for an answer ".... I used to love
my crackers and buttermilk, or my buttermilk and cornbread,
in the afternoon. I like to smash it all up in my glass and eat
it with a spoon, but you cain't eat in public like you can at home
... can you? ... And I miss wood.
"My house is nothing but just a little old railroad shack of a
house, with a living room, bedroom, and a kitchen. But it's wood,
with pine walls inside. Just what I like. I don't like a plaster wall.
They seem ... oh, I don't know, kinda cold and stark-like.
"I brought a picture with me that I had at home, of a girl in a
swing with a castle and pretty blue bubbles in the background, to
hang in my room, but that nurse here said the girl was naked from
the waist up and not appropriate. You know, I've had that picture
for fifty years and I never knew she was naked. If you ask me, I
don't think the old men they've got here can see well enough to
notice that she's bare-breasted. But, this is a Methodist home, so
she's in the closet with my gallstones.
"I'll be glad to get home.... Of course, my house is a mess. I
haven't been able to sweep for a while. I went out and threw my
broom at some old, noisy bluejays that were fighting and, wouldn't
you know it, my broom stuck up there in the tree. I've got to get
someone to get it down for me when I get back.
"Anyway, the other night, when Mrs. Otis's son took us home
from the Christmas tea they had at the church, he drove us over the
railroad tracks, out by where the cafe used to be, and on up First
Street, right past the old Threadgoode place. Of course, most of the
house is all boarded up and falling down now, but when we came
down the street, the headlights hit the
windows in such a way that, just for a minute, that house looked to
me just like it had so many of those nights, some seventy years
ago, all lit up and full of fun and noise. I could hear people
laughing, and Essie Rue pounding away at the piano in the parlor;
`Buffalo Gal, Won't You Come Out Tonight' or `The Big Rock Candy
Mountain,' and I could almost see Idgie Threadgoode sitting in the
chinaberry tree, howling like a dog every time Essie Rue tried to
sing. She always said that Essie Rue could sing about as well as a
cow could dance. I guess, driving by that house and me being so
homesick made me go back in my mind ...
"I remember it just like it was yesterday, but then I don't think
there's anything about the Threadgoode family I don't remember.
Good Lord, I should, I've lived right next door to them from the day
I was born, and I married one of the boys.
"There were nine children, and three of the girls, Essie Rue and
the twins, were more or less my own age, so I was always over
there playing and having spend-the-night parties. My own mother
died of consumption when I was four, and when my daddy died, up
in Nashville, I just stayed on for good. I guess you might say the
spend-the-night party never ended..."
1. This novel has a very complex structure alternating between the past and the present and the point of view of a whole host of different characters. Did this narrative format work for you? Were there particular narrators you found more compelling than others and why?
2. ?Idgie and Ruth's friendship is truly a case of opposites attract. Why is the scene where Idgie reveals her bee charming skills to Ruth so pivotal to the story of their relationship and in understanding what drew them together despite their differences?
3. Jasper Peavey's grandson is embarrassed by his grandfather's behavior toward white people. Discuss generational conflict and how life changed or did not change across the generations in both the Peavey and Threadgoode families.
4. This novel has a great deal to say about race relations in the South. How did the black and white communities interact in this story both within and beyond the borders of Whistle Stop? Were Idgie and Ruth's egalitarian views on race typical?
5. ?What is Artis Peavey's secret? Do you think the events he witnessed as a child had an impact upon his later life? How does race have an impact upon the lives of all the Peavey children--Jasper, Artis, Willie Boy, Naughty Bird? What options were available to them and what choices did they make and why? What do you think of the revenge that Artis takes on the man who murdered his brother?
6. Do you think the color of Jasper and Artis' skin--Jasper being very light-skinned and Artis being very dark-skinned--made a difference in their approach to life? What does the light-skinned Clarissa's encounter with her dark-skinned Uncle Artis say about life as a black Southerner?
7. How do you feel about a character like Grady Kilgore, Whistle Stop sheriff, member of the Ku Klux Klan, and friend to Idgie and Ruth at the same time?
8. ?Eva Bates is a woman you might call sexually liberated before her time. What role does she play in Idgie's life? In Stump's? What are Ruth's feelings toward Eva?
9. We never learn where Ninny came from or how she came to be adopted by the Threadgoodes, only that they took her in and treated her like a member of the family. This is only one example in a novel full of non-traditional families. What are some other examples of familial bonds that do not look like a traditional nuclear family? How does this author challenge and expand our understanding of the meaning and structure of family?
10. ?What drives Idgie to masquerade as Railroad Bill? What role did the economic devastation of the Great Depression play in the lives of Idgie, Ruth, Smokey, and everyone in Whistle Stop?
11. ?Why did Ruth leave Idgie and marry Frank? What made her finally leave him?
12. ?Did the identity of Frank Bennett's killer surprise you? What drove her to do what she did? Why was Idgie prepared to take the blame?
13. What do Dot Weems' weekly dispatches tell us about the nature of life in a small town? Were you sorry to see Whistle Stop fade away? Why has this been the fate of so many small towns in America?
14. How does Idgie help Stump overcome having lost his arm?
15. ?How did Evelyn's relationship with Ninny Threadgoode change her life? What did she learn from Mrs. Threadgoode? And how did Evelyn help her friend?
16. What did Ninny Threadgoode's stories offer Evelyn? Why do you think Evelyn is so drawn to this woman and her stories?
17. Ninny tells Evelyn that her memories are all she has left. Discuss the importance of memory and storytelling in this novel.
18. Why and how was Evelyn able to finally overcome her revenge fantasies, send Towanda packing and make important changes in her life? What steps did she take that ensured these changes would be for good and not a temporary thing?
19. How does this story explore the process of aging? How do we die with dignity when all those we loved and who loved us are gone? How does Ninny manage?
20. Does the Whistle Stop Cafe sound like a restaurant you would like to frequent?
21. Is domestic violence viewed differently today than it was in Ruth's time? Do you see any changes in Ruth's character after she leaves her abusive marriage?
22. Which character would you be most interested in meeting and why?
23. For those of you who have seen the movie, how do the movie and the book compare? What is missing from the movie and why do you think this is so? Do you think the choices made in terms of how to streamline this complex novel for film were the best ones?
24. The importance of food in the fabric of everyday life is a central theme in this book. For example, Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode bond over the treats Evelyn brings. What does Evelyn's battle with her weight say about contemporary society and women's relationships with food and their weight? Are these struggles evident in the lives if Ninny, Idgie, or Ruth?
25. In the final chapter, we learn what has happened to Idgie. Why do you think she and Julian left Whistle Stop to take to the road? Why don't their friends or family appear to know where they are? Does this seem like an appropriate ending for Idgie?
26. ?Will anyone or has anyone tried any of Sipsey's recipes?