img_3795It’s a good thing that this pig in a dress was wearing her tiara this week. It might not have been obvious to the plaster swine by the door or to the real live people sitting at stools, enjoying barbecue sandwiches and ribs and banana pudding, but something beautiful and meaningful was happening at Henry’s Smokehouse- something that ended up reaching halfway around the world!

Let me explain.

Our French friend, Marc, came to town on Tuesday. I love being around Marc. He is kind and funny, generous and sweet. He listens hard when I talk, and I get the feeling that this is not just so that he can understand my English. He enjoys being with people and hearing their thoughts and opinions, and he’s willing to share his own. He is a gentleman.

Whenever Todd goes to France, Marc takes him out to dinner, and vice versa when Marc comes here. So where would we go? French folks usually want to go out for a big, juicy American steak- something they can’t get at home- but this time Marc had another idea. “I want to eat something that people who live here eat. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. I want it to be real. I want the real South Carolina experience.”

So we went to Henry’s Smokehouse. It was Tuesday night, so it wasn’t too crowded.img_3787 There was an older couple there and a family fresh off the baseball field, a couple of guys in baseball caps and a young couple with a baby happily fingering his sweet potato casserole and smearing it in his hair. I wondered what Marc thought of the pigs in various states of dress, the homemade signs, and the Styrofoam plates. None of it seemed to frighten him.

We did some explaining about the menu and then I went ahead and ordered, to give him a minute more to figure things out. He went with the ribs, rice, green beans, and tea, unsweet. “You sure about the unsweet tea? And no ice?” Marc nodded. He was fine. “This is perfect,” he said. “This is just what I wanted.”

img_3803We sat outside at a picnic table and listened to the traffic on Wade Hampton Boulevard, but that was okay. Marc thoroughly enjoyed his ribs, and it was a beautiful fall evening, almost chilly. We talked about our families (the happy things and the tough things) and about politics, about writing and how we work out the stresses in our lives. It was like a mini-retreat; in other words, what friendship should be! It was REAL, just like the food, not fancy or pretentious, just honest and true. I’d even say it was holy.

After we lingered a little, enjoying banana pudding and the sweetness of the evening, we drove him back to his hotel, where I was glad that Marc was French so that I could give him a bisou, the kiss on both cheeks that feels so nice and natural with friends.

But do you want to know what I find really delightful?

Todd told me that the very next night, Marc loaded up a car of French folks, some of whom had never been to the States before, and took them to Henry’s Smokehouse for the real Caroline de Sud experience. I would have loved to have been there, to watch them savor their meal and to enjoy the conversation. But I’d need sweet tea. And plenty of ice, s’il vous plaît.