Sheriff Grady Kilgore
WHISTLE STOP, ALABAMA
January 24, 1991
Grady Kilgore, a big barrel-chested bear of a man in his seventies, had been the sheriff of Whistle Stop, Alabama, until 1958, when he and his wife, Gladys, had moved to Tennessee. Today, Grady had driven down to Whistle Stop from Nashville with his grandson and was standing on the railroad tracks, looking across the street to where the old Whistle Stop Cafe used to be. Kudzu vines had grown all over the buildings and had covered most of the block. It was hard for his grandson to tell what was underneath.
Grady pointed over to one of the buildings. "That's the old post office that Dot Weems ran, and right there's the cafe, next to Opal Butts's beauty shop, where your grandma got her hair done up every Saturday morning." Grady stood there looking around and was sad to see how much the place had changed since the last time he'd stopped by.
By now, the old two-lane highway from Birmingham to Whistle Stop had been bypassed by a new six-lane interstate, and most of the area was now just a dumping ground. Old rusty cars and trucks had been abandoned by the tracks, left to slowly fall apart. Empty beer cans and whiskey bottles were everywhere. And as a sad sign of the times, Grady noticed there was a lot of drug paraphernalia scattered around that hadn't been there before.
The Baptist church, where he had heard Reverend Scroggins preach every Sunday, was now almost falling down, the stainedglass windows broken, the pews removed and sold. All that was left of the town were some of the old buildings and the old Threadgoode home, and that was barely standing. Vandals had pretty much destroyed everything else. Grady turned to his grandson and shook his head. "When I get to thinkin' how this place used to be, and what it is now, it just makes me sick. It wasn't never a fancy town, but it was clean. Now there's junk scattered everywhere. And the old Threadgoode house is full of graffiti, the windows all knocked out. You'd never know to look at it now, but that house used to be the prettiest one in town. For the life of me, I still cain't figure out why Whistle Stop went to seed like it did. I even heard the whole town was sold, and they were gonna knock it all down and build a tire factory out here."
Grady looked across the street again and sighed. "I don't know why they're just lettin' the old cafe sit and rot away like that. It just don't seem right. That cafe used to be like going to a good friend's house to eat. Two great gals ran it. Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison. You woulda loved 'em. Everybody in town used to eat there, all the railroad men and their families. Every Christmas Day their cook, Sipsey, and the gals would lay out a big spread, and we'd all go over and eat, open our presents, and sing carols." Then, unexpectedly, Grady let out a little sob. He quickly turned away, pulled out a handkerchief, and blew his nose and looked apologetic.
"Sorry about that. Oh Lordy. I don't need to go thinkin' about the old days...but lots of good times were had in that old cafe with Ruth and Idgie. Ruth's son, little Buddy, grew up in that cafe. Poor kid. Lost his arm when he wasn't much older than you." Grady then carefully folded his handkerchief and put it back into his pocket.
Then he said, "Now, you may not believe this, but a few years back on Christmas Day your grandma and me was over in Birmingham visiting Opal Butts, and while they were busy cooking up dinner, I snuck out and took a little ride out here. And I was standing right here, on this same spot we are now, when—real quiet like at first—I started to hear a piano playing and people laughing, and it was coming from over there, right where the cafe used to be. I looked around and there wasn't nobody there, but I swear I heard it. What do you think it could have been?"
His grandson rubbed his hands together and said, "I don't know, Granddaddy, but can we go now? I'm getting cold."
WHISTLE STOP, ALABAMA
Dot Weems was a friendly little woman who just loved to chat. When she was younger, she had hoped for a literary career on the order of her idol, Edna Ferber. But at seventeen, she had fallen in love with "the man of her dreams," and had married Wilbur Weems instead. Later she would often joke that even if she hadn't become a famous novelist, she was still "a woman of letters." Aside from single-handedly running the Whistle Stop Post Office for sixteen years, Dot also wrote and published a weekly newsletter reporting on all the town's activities under a banner that read:
The Weems Weekly
(Whistle Stop, Alabama's weekly bulletin)
"No gossip, just the plain facts, folks!"
Dot had just sent out the week's newsletter, and this morning people all over Whistle Stop were busy reading it.