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Issue 41 - Finding fellowship in café society

Whisky Magazine Issue 41
July 2004


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Finding fellowship in café society

Jefferson Chase stops for a drink at Carson McCullers' Sad Café

When Carson McCullers wrote The Ballad of the Sad Café in 1941, she was 24 and had already seen enough of life's hard knocks to know whereof she wrote.

Born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia, McCullers had already suffered the first of a series of strokes that would keep her semi-paralysed and in pain for the rest of her days.

She was also in the midst of an on-again-off-again marriage that would lead to a failed suicide attempt on her part – and a successful one on her husband's.

A small miracle then that she was able to wring a measure of temporary joy out of her work.

Sad Café tells the story of a drinking establishment in a desultory Southern town. The heroine is Amelia Evans, an impecunious, tough-as-nails divorcée, who owns the village general store, serves as a country doctor and – most importantly, runs the local still.

Solitary and self-contained, Miss Amelia's life takes an unexpected turn when a hunchbacked cousin shows up and unlocks the maternal instincts in her heart.

That in turn inspires her to bring some cheer to the otherwise drab hamlet.

The whiskey they drank that evening (two big bottles of it) is important… Perhaps without it there would never have been a café. For the liquor of Miss Amelia has a special quality of its own. It is clean and sharp on the tongue, but once down a man it glows inside him for a long time afterward. And that is not all. It is known that if a message is written with lemon juice on a clean sheet of paper th...

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