This palace is no barn

Published 6:07 pm Saturday, July 7, 2012

I over indulged this week and had a milk shake from Dairy Palace. Yes, it was a million calories and worth every last one of them. It was delicious.

Sitting in the parking lot waiting for my milkshake reminded me of my first day here in Washington after moving from New York.

We moved into a house on Second Street and were waiting for the moving company to arrive. I had a 14-month-old little boy who was starving and with no toys, furniture or food in the new house, I went out exploring for breakfast. Dairy Palace was the answer to my prayers.

In New York, we had these places called Dairy Barn. It’s a drive-through mini-market where you can get bread, milk, juice, donuts and cigarettes. You pull up to the window, place your order, pay and drive right on through with your wares, never having gotten out of your car. It is very convenient.

Thrilled to have such a place in my new town, I pulled right up to Dairy Palace, got out of the car, walked up to the window and politely waited my turn. I thought it was funny that I couldn’t see any of the shelves stocked with loaves of bread or juice etc., but just then it was my turn. I stepped up to the window and in my most polite New York accent, ordered a gallon of milk. The woman behind the counter looked at me like I had 12 heads, cocked her head to the side and, with one raised eyebrow, asked, “You aren’t from around here, are you?”

It was like a chorus of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” as we went back and forth with me trying to order milk. I went there to buy milk, but instead I ended up with a lesson from Mrs. Evans. She told me all about what it was like to live in this small town and how people from big cities come in trying to change everything. She said they didn’t have a connection to the land and to this place. I could do nothing but stand there and listen. She was right about it all, and all I could do was stand there and listen. And then, she gave me my milk. That woman wasn’t going to let a baby go hungry just because his mama didn’t have the sense God gave her.

As I pulled out of the parking lot back onto Bridge Street, I read the sign again. It, in fact, said “Palace” not “ Barn” and that’s when it all clicked. I was so embarrassed realizing I was not at the Southern version of Dairy Barn. I laughed so hard I just about drove into Turner Pest Control.

About a week later, I saw our real-estate agent at the grocery store. We hugged each other, said the usual pleasantries and then, before parting, she winked and said, “Glad to see you figured out which store you buy your milk from.” Yes, I guess everyone in town had heard about me — the woman who tried to buy milk from Dairy Palace.

I love that these mom-and-pop operations are still alive and thriving here in Washington. The super centers and franchise food establishments have nothing on these hometown places. They add character and flavor to a town and make it more like home.

Mrs. Evans, I know you aren’t working in the Palace anymore, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart for showing me kindness and patience that first day here in Washington.

A Yankee with a Southern soul, Gillian Pollock is a wife, mother of two ever-challenging children and director of Christian Formation at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.