Monday, August 06, 2007
Our recent trip to Hannibal, Missouri unearthed a surprising and unexpected discovery.
As a child I witnessed a cultural phenomenon that was being observed each day in the northeast Tennessee town of Clarksville where my grandfather lived. It's called a "Buzzard's Roost". What it consists of is a fluid group of men, upper middle age and older (those with some time on their hands) who meet every day at a predetermined location. The purpose of the "roost" is to provide a spot to chew the fat, discuss the weather, politics or whatever strikes their fancy.
The buzzard's roost in Clarksville was a low wall that surrounded the county courthouse. The men sat along the wall and did whatever roosting buzzard's do. When I say fluid I mean that men come and go at different times and the mix is changing throughtout the day. Most at that time were tobacco farmers or tradesmen. My grandfather was a carpenter.
Times changed, life got faster and buzzard's roost and the old cultural habits died. I don't think there's been anyone sitting on that courthouse wall in many, many years. I was pretty sure the phemonenon was dead. Perhaps there was a cultural anthropology student that had done a thesis on the subject.
After a morning spent touring Tom Sawyer's cave just outside Hannibal, we returned to town and ducked into a small bar/restaurant for an early lunch. It wasn't quite 11:30 and the place was empty except for a motorcyclist and these three men.
It took me under 30 seconds to recognize the fact that I'd stumbled upon an artifact - an honest-to-goodness buzzard's roost! The conversation followed the roadmap set down by cotton and tobacco farmers. Within 10 minutes another man joined the group, slipping easily into the framework.
I'd witnessed Illinois dairy farmers meeting up for breakfast after morning milking but that wasn't a true buzzard's roost. This was the real thing at a place called "Rumor Has It". How perfect is that?