wagnersWagner's Pharmacy in Louisville
I know that folks (both inside and outside of Louisville) often say Louisville isn't Kentucky. And it's plenty different, for sure, from most of the rest of the state. For me, it's the best of both worlds. I grew up in rural Kentucky, and wouldn't have it any other way. I've lived in Louisville going on nine years and wouldn't have that any other way, either. But sometimes, as much as I love the pace and plethora of options in my city, I feel a little homesick for the small town feel. (Honestly it may be as much about being a little girl in a small town as it is about the place – they're intertwined.)
So when I stepped into Wagner's Pharmacy for breakfast with friends this morning it was like stepping back into time. This institution just steps from Churchill Downs is known to many, especially tourists, as the place to rub elbows with horsemen and women from the track, and to check out the walls covered in racing photos. And I'm sure it's good for that, especially around Derby time. But when I walked from the main dining area into the back where it's a pharmacy, sundry goods store, and additional dining area and encountered a big group of men gathered around a few tables pushed together, drinking their morning coffee, I could have been back at the Triangle Restaurant in Nancy.
This little diner perched at a fork in the road between countryside and more countryside where it had been since at least forever. Old men (at least so I thought at the time) congregated here to drink coffee and talk about weighty, grown-up matters, like their farms and wives, most likely. It wasn't my world – mine consisted of the little grocery, the bookmobile and the gas station in town and the creeks and dirt roads and pastures where I played – but it was still part of my world. As long as old men sat and drank coffee and talked, the world felt secure and knowable. And the longer I live in a city and make my way in the world, the more nostalgia grows for that time and place. For all that I take my coffee (Spanish latte, please) in a trendy NuLu coffeeshop, I like to step into the world I knew as a kid from time to time. So I couldn't keep the broad smile from my face when I walked into the old guys' realm (not so terribly old now, they seem) in the back at Wagner's. A guy was passing around a box of donuts and I'm sure they were talking about horses and wives. I felt like a cross between tourist and prodigal child returning home.
The Triangle is long gone and so is my childhood. But I'm glad to know that when I'm feeling nostalgic I can take the quick trip to the diner down the street and just sit and remember a time when old guys and their coffee were a part of my world. (And who knows – for the kids that come into MY coffeeshop, the grown-up ladies like me at the laptops may be part of the world they remember.)