One of my favorite places to go in the whole ding dang state of Florida is the Sugar Mill pancake house in DeLand. First, any pancake house would be a good place to go as far as I’m concerned but this one … this one takes the griddle cake. There is just too much good about it. For one, it is inside a state park. Actually I’m not sure why that makes it good except that there just aren’t ANY other restaurants around … in fact the only other thing around is well, water. And trees. Spanish moss. You know, that type of thing. Oh oh, and the water that is around is a hot springs so sometimes, in the winter when it is very, very cold in Florida (read: 70 degrees), some manatees will come up to the dock because the water is so warm. And frankly if I could figure out someway to make a deal with the manatees to keep them warm if only they would come see me at every chance, I would spend nearly all my off hours knitting giant manatee scarves.
Okay so that’s two good things – the park and the manatees. Another is that it is all atmospherey and what not. The restaurant looks like an old sugar mill and is made like a log cabin and has a big fireplace in one room. And they cram you into this place. Often you are sitting at a table with another group of people so it feels very homey.
And it has the craziest gift shop you’ve ever seen shoved into one teeny tiny corner of the restaurant. Crazy because it is the most hodgepodge grouping of items I’ve ever encountered. Where else can you buy a clay pitcher made by disabled adults AND a stuffed possum – that unzips to become a purse? And clogs. See what I’m saying?
But the best reason to love this place is … YOU MAKE YOUR OWN PANCAKES!
Once you get there and are seated (and believe me, this is a chore. Sometimes the wait is THREE HOURS!) the waitress comes and hands you authentic tin plates and turns on your table. Meaning she flips a switch ... not that she does a naughty dance or something. Once she does, the middle of your table … WHICH IS A GIANT GRIDDLE … becomes hot hot hot. Then she brings you a couple of pitchers filled with pancake batter and then, well, you can probably figure out the rest.
I’m not sure exactly, now that I’ve typed it out, why this is so delightful. Clearly this whole “make your own pancakes” is something that can be done at home but somehow … maybe it’s the size of the griddle, maybe it’s all the delightful “add-ins” you can put in your pancakes, or maybe it’s just that you can flip a flapjack while sitting down… it’s just magical.
And I love it.
Last weekend HOLLIE and I were in Florida for our annual “It’s a technology convention at Jelly Rolls thing, you wouldn’t understand” trip. We, of course, visited the pancake place and were in the middle of what turned out to be nothing short of a gluttonous breakfast when a man came in with his two boys.
I tend to always notice men with children. Maybe it’s because The Hub did the father thing by himself for a few years I don’t know but I’m keenly aware of men in public with kids. I don’t give the same attention to women with children because it seems to be more common but men … well you just don’t see guys out alone with their kids as much. So I noticed this guy. I noticed his long mulletous hair. I noticed his bushy mustache, I noticed his faded jeans and chain on his wallet and oversized Coors Light t-shirt. He sat down. The boys – probably 5 and 9 – sat down. Their breakfast started. They poured out 3 large pancakes onto the hot plate to cook and about 2 minutes later, I wasn’t the only one noticing them.
The younger of the two boys spilled his water right onto the griddle. And in an instant, the whole room filled with steam. The usual hub-bub ensued … the waiter brought some napkins, the cup was turned upright, the steam dissipated, and I waited for what was next.
I’ve known people who have stepped in when a child was getting overly disciplined. I watched my father take issue with a man one time. I’ve seen people in malls and at football games get out of hand. When that water spilled, I immediately began prepping myself for what I was sure this redneck was going to do to his son. I didn’t know exactly what I would do but I knew I would somehow make that man feel ashamed. Just as ashamed as I was sure he was getting ready to make his little one feel.
I used to spend the summers with my grandmother in West Virginia. Often we would walk from her house to the little downtown to window shop. Occasionally we would go into the small grocery and pick up a few things. Any trip was fun because Grammy would make it fun. We’d talk along the way. We’d run into people. She’d always introduce me. I loved the way she introduced me, like I was more than her granddaughter … like I was someone. It was neat. Every so often she’d get caught up in a conversation and I’d wander off. It was a small mountain town, no worries, when I got bored, I’d come back. One time as she was chatting with some old lady inside the Five and Dime, I wandered off to see what was going on outside. I didn’t stay gone long. There was a crazy man outside. He was dressed in all kinds of clothes in the middle of summer. Most of them were dirty. He had long hair and a ratty beard. And he was singing. Loudly. And sort of dancing … I guess. Every so often he would fall completely silent and still and then in a couple of seconds, he’d be at it again. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew this guy was weird. And that’s what I said when I ran back in the store and found Grammy. “There’s a really weird guy outside!” I said gleefully, “You should SEE him! He’s SO WEIRD!!!” and nearly dragged her out onto the sidewalk.
The instant we were out and she saw him her whole demeanor changed. She stiffened. She grabbed my hand and we turned for home. I wasn’t sure what happened. Maybe she was scared of the man. Maybe the man was dangerous. Maybe she was trying to protect me from the dangerous weird man. We walked home silently. When we got to the house, Grammy started dinner and I was told to set the table. Which is Grammy for “get lost”. Later that night as we were washing and drying the plates my grandmother changed me with a few simple words.
“That man you saw,” I knew instantly what she was talking about, “he was in the war, child. That man has a family.”
It wasn’t much. It didn’t need to be. I learned my lesson – don’t judge a book by its cover.
At least I thought I learned it.
The moment the steam dissipated in the pancake house that long-haired, boot-wearing, chain-on-his-wallet dad took over mopping up the spilled water and as he blotted the griddle in short quick pats he looked down, smiled at his little boy and said brightly, “Well, at least we know the pancakes won’t be dry!” Then he leaned over and kissed his son on top of the head.
I’m amazed at how far I have to go
to be right back where I started.