by David Cecelski
I was about to pass out from the heat the other day when I found a lovely Salvadoran place called the Tienda y Restaurante Rosa de Saron. Named for a flower mentioned in the Song of Solomon, the Rosa de Saron —Rose of Sharon—is in the little community of Turkey, in the southern part of Sampson County, 8 or 9 miles east of Clinton on US 24.
The heat wave down there has been unrelenting: when I was there, the temperature was 97 degrees. The corn in the fields looked scorched and dust was swirling in the roads.
I was a little hungry, but mostly I was parched and needed to get out of the sun for a few minutes. From the road, the brightly painted Rosa de Saron seemed like an oasis in the desert.
Inside, I immediately felt a sense of peace and repose. The small dining room was cool and tranquil, bathed in golden sunlight, immaculate: a meditative kind of place, almost like a chapel.
The restaurant’s customers work hard in the local fields and in the canneries and slaughterhouses. I said to myself: somebody has given them a place of retreat, a refuge from the heat and the workaday world outside.
The proprietress was gracious and soothing. She encouraged me to get a drink out of the cooler and sit down while she fixed a pupusa and a taco for me. She was patient with my less-than-stellar Spanish.
While I cooled down, I took a closer look at her store. I read a poster embossed, in Spanish, with a passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
Several handbills hung on the front door. One advertised calling plans to El Salvador and Honduras. Another announced a church revival. A third was recruiting blueberry pickers for fields to the south.
Next to my table, a few shelves held groceries: bags of rice, a tray of dried chiles, bottles of salsa picante and mole poblano, tins of Spanish sardines, a few other items.
When the proprietress brought my lunch to the table, we talked about her affection for Turkey. She told me that she liked the little community. She said it was home to lots of immigrants from Latin America—many Salvadorans, she said, but also Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Mexicans.
We also talked about her home in El Salvador. She told me that she’s from a village called Santa Elena, in the province of Usulután. She said Santa Elena was very small, which, she suspected, is why she feels at home in Turkey. Except for the Rosa de Saron, the community’s only businesses are a post office, a thrift shop, and a storefront church.
I loved listening to her describe Santa Elena, too. She said it is located on a verdant plain, with a great, solitary volcano rising in the distance. They grow lots of corn in Santa Elena, she said, and a great deal of coffee is produced there, too. She said it is very picturesque. “Ours is a tiny little country,” she told me, “but very, very beautiful.”