I’m on my way to church.
The Missouri highway disappears in my rearview mirror as Mother Nature’s fall portrait of burnt oranges, velvety browns and deep greens imprints itself in my brain. Bronze prairie grasses bend softly in the breeze and shape the landscape against the ever-vast blue sky. Cows crane their necks as I speed past while horses lazily lope in the Sunday fields.
I arrive at First Baptist in Green City at exactly 10:45 a.m., just in time for the service. The taste of black coffee lingers in my mouth as I park in a seemingly never-ending line of pickup trucks and old Cadillacs. In the sanctuary, an old recording of an organ drones on the stereo. The congregation struggles through a hymn with tonal leaps and bounds and lyrics racing across projector screens on either side of the pulpit.
I stick out like a sore thumb in my motorcycle boots, grey cardigan and soft scarf. I can feel the burning eyes of the congregation fixated the back of my neck as if to say, “Who is this stranger? What is she doing here?”
After the service, a kind elderly lady with sleek white hair and turquoise jewelry tells me to go to “Pete’s Place” for a fried chicken special. I follow a caravan of churchgoers to a rundown building next to the Highway 5 junction. A sign on the chipped white wood exterior reads, “Pete’s Pl ce.” When I enter, I see families and friendly groups seated around plastic tables with white plastic chairs.
“What brings you to Green City?” one man asks me. It seems like a simple question to which I can answer, “I’m working on a story about…” but it’s a little more complicated than that. I chose to come to Green City almost arbitrarily. I guess it’s some kind of reporter’s intuition that leads me to a community of just over 600 who immediately accept me as one of their own. They hope I’ll sit and dine and reminisce with them about a community I don’t know, and I do.
I can’t help but listen to the nuances in their voices as they gossip and groan. I get lost in the softness of a deep drawl and in their worlds of grain prices and weather, market shares and heads of cattle. I immerse myself in a community I might never understand, but long to know.
This is why I’m here, this is why I’m coming back.