It’s been eight years to the day since Mama died of lung cancer, and I’m still stuck in this dead-end town managing her little diner. Of course, my big brother hasn’t been much of a help since he took up the bottle, but to be frank, I can’t much blame him for wanting to drown his sorrows. He turned thirty years old last month and he’s never had a steady girlfriend or a good job. A man’s missing something in his life when he hasn’t traveled thirty miles from the place he was born. He was trapped here from the day Mama brought him into the world, and he’ll be stuck here ‘til the good Lord decides to take him home.
Not that my life story is much different. I was born and raised here in Georgia with my big brother Bobby and my little sister Sue, and I’ve had a couple of exciting things happen in my life. I even once had a fiancé, but he went and joined up with the army before we could be wed. I also went to college for a while in the city, but I quit when Mama got really sick. Now I’m twenty-eight. Mama’s long gone, and I’m still working at her café, hardly making enough to keep Bobby and me alive.
Sometimes I get so lonely down here. It would be nice if Sue paid a visit once in a while, but I suppose she’s got her own priorities, what with her new apartment and husband and all. She’s the only one of us ever to get a good education and break the family mould. We were all terribly proud of her, until she decided she was better than we were and she and Mama started fighting.
Sue was just hurt that Daddy was never part of our life. Mama was hurt too, and I was hurt that Sue couldn’t be more sympathetic. It was a big circle of hurt for a while before things settled down again. Mama couldn’t help what happened. Daddy started drinking after Bobby was born, and killed himself two weeks after I was born. Guess he just couldn’t handle family life. I’ve struggled with it myself, but he’s long gone and there are some things you just can’t change, no matter how much you wish you could.
Daddy called it Serena’s Diner, named after Mama. It’s old fashioned, but the customers don’t mind. As long our coffee is strong and cheap, they keep to themselves. Every day I open up at five in the morning, when the farm workers get up and grab a cup before going to work. They’re a mellow crowd, consisting mostly of tired old men, wizened by age and experience. Their cigarette smoke stinks up the dining room and forces me to recall Mama and the way she smoked two packs a day. Listening to their stories is a way to pass the time, but after a while they start to repeat themselves.
Next, the regular townsfolk come around. If I ever do leave this town, the community is what I’d miss. They gather for a bite to eat and conversation before they leave for work. They take their time, sharing gossip and news before starting their day. Though I’ve never been especially close to anyone in my twenty-eight years living in town, I do keep up with the current events by eavesdropping every once in a while.
Throughout the day, people come and go. I keep the coffeepot warm and sweep out the kitchen again. It’s a simple life; one I’m accustomed to. There’s a security to it. I could leave and make a home in a more exciting place, but you know the old saying that goes ‘home is where the heart is’, and this is my home. Mama raised us in the tiny second floor apartment above the café, where her mama raised her. She was born in that apartment, and died in it, too. She worked in this café from the day she was able to, ‘til the day she was too weak to stand anymore. No matter how many times I think I resent the café, or Daddy, or Sue and Bobby, or sometimes even Mama for leaving us stuck in this place, I always remind myself that this is home. Home is where your heart is.
So, when I hang the ‘closed’ sign on the front door and close up for the night, and I feel the tiniest bit of regret for sticking around, I pause for a moment to remember how much Mama loved me, Bobby and Sue, Daddy, and this café. I turn the lights off and look at the starry Georgia sky to think.
Home is where the heart is, and my heart is in Serena’s Diner.