By DAN WHITTLE, Courier Correspondent
Clang, ding and bong!
It's an alarm clock shattering the early morning quiet … telling Sam Booth it's time for his boots to hit the floor and his wife Beth to brew a fast hot cup of coffee.
As they hit their home's front door on the run, its 2:30 a.m., on a Monday morning, as their community is "yawning" itself awake as another work week begins.
Beth Booth plays a large role in the unincorporated Bradyville community's workday wake-up as the early day cook at Parsleys Market & Deli. Sam doesn't work at the market, but accompanies his wife in the pre-dawn hours for safety purposes.
Beth is the one who prepares breakfasts and coffee for dozens of early-morning customers at Parsley's country store, located on the heavily-travelled John Bragg Highway (70S), an artery leading store patrons to and from jobs in nearby Woodbury, Murfreesboro, Manchester, Watertown, McMinnville, Smyrna, La Vergne and Nashville.
But, don't let the title "country grocery" anesthetize you … for it's not your typical sleepy, laid-back rural store of yesteryear.
It's a launching pad to get to work sites for dozens of folks from Cannon, Rutherford, Coffee, DeKalb, Wilson and Warren counties going to day jobs scattered throughout Middle Tennessee.
"Our workday begins before the customers' workday," Beth notes. "We get here at 3 a.m., and open the store doors at 4 a.m., pronto. Most of our customers are travelling toward Mur-freesboro and Nashville, but a few in the early morning, are coming back toward McMinn-ville and Woodbury for jobs."
Working people need a solid breakfast to face a workday, most physicians diagnose.
"We put the biscuits in the oven at least 30 minutes before the first customer comes through the door at 4 a.m.," Beth notes as she slams the oven door shut for another heaping pan of biscuits to bake.
How big of a pre-dawn breakfast crowd does Parsley's draw? … enough that one can hardly see Beth behind the growing pile of bacon atop her cook stove's warmer.
First customer through the door this recent Monday morning didn't say a word.
"I always know he wants a hot biscuit and sausage," Beth noted. "He grabs his biscuit, gets a hot cup of coffee, and seldom says a word to us. He just pays the cashier at the front of the store."
"He's generally our first customer of the day, and doesn't like to talk much in the early morning," noted cashier Amber Hoffman, formerly an employee of a Smyrna eatery. "I've worked here since February … he's never uttered a word, just gets his biscuit and coffee, pays and he's out the door … we think he works at Nissan in Smyrna."
Next customer came through the door at 4:07 a.m.
"I work at Bridgestone/Firestone in La Vergne, but some days I have to go the other direction when I'm assigned to the tire plant in Warren County," noted Jeff Appleby as he secured a jazzed up flavored cup of java to go.
There's a stark contrast in the store's "breakfast crowd" and the "lunch bunch."
"I eat lunch here just about every day," evidenced Murfreesboro resident Ben Cates, one of numerous "retirees" who frequent Parsley's for a meat-and-three noon meal.
Retired educator Cates can't decide whether it's "the fellowship or the food" that regularly attracts him to Parsley's.
"I come at least two days a week," Cates counted. "It's 50/50 whether it's the food or catching up on the latest conversation.
"I do enjoy visiting with Robert A. Harris, a legend in his own time from his coaching girls at Cannon County High School," Cates accounted. "He always had a good, competitive basketball team."
"The noon meal is when Carolyn Burnett takes over as the chief cook of our country vittles and duties," noted store regular Bobby Womack. "It's nothing for Carolyn to work a 16-hour shift, and never complains.
"I think that's why customers and fellow workers alike take a shine to Carolyn, for she's always courteous and one heck of a cook and bottle washer," Womack added.
Cates piled on more praise for Carolyn: "She takes pride in what she does. For example, when my mother (the late Mary Dee Ready Cates) wanted to come to Parsley's for one of her birthdays, I asked Carolyn if she could make her famous coconut cream pie … and Carolyn did, and Mother loved it, especially when she found out Carolyn made it special for her."
Womack described some of his favorite meals.
"We all love Carolyn's catfish on Fridays, but I'm partial to Thursdays when she has fried pork shops, white beans, fried okra and a slice of onion," Womack spoke between hearty bites and burps. "Whewee, that is a meal fit for royalty!"
Many of her noon-time customers are "regulars."
"Fridays' fish day, is our biggest day," accounted Carolyn. "No, I don't get tired of what I do … I love the kitchen and I adore my regular customers. I guess you can say I love my job, for I've been here 18 years now."
How much fish goes out through the store's serving window on a given Friday.
"At least 20 pounds, and for special customers, we'll throw in a frog leg or two, if given advance notice," Carolyn noted between servings of catfish and pones of corn bread to retired Murfreesboro banker John Hood and Cannon Courier editor Mike West.
Assistant kitchen cook Vickie Patterson has been slamming plate lunches out the serving window nearly two decades.
"I must like working here, for I've been serving food now for nine years," Vickie noted as she slathered a hefty layer of gravy atop a piece of beef. "And I can't tell you how many pounds of fried okra go out this window … we're talking hundreds of pounds over a nine-year period."
The store is owned by threesome Jeff St. John and brothers Ben "Boomer" Womack and Rob Womack.
"The original store was owned and ran by Jeff, Ben and Rob's Uncle Danny Parsley," noted Bobby Womack, father to Ben and Rob. "We lost Danny to cancer, and the community still misses him a lot."
A remembrance picture of Danny Parsley hangs on the store wall, beneath a sign that reads: "We don't keep secrets."
Pass the catfish, please!!