The unincorporated crossroads community of Hopeful in southwest Mitchell County -- at the junction of state highways 65 and 97 -- is where Dennis White runs a general store and restaurant, "Hopeful General Store." He eagerly takes up time with his customers and friends, conducting business the way it was done in the old days, providing the best in service and brushing it with broad strokes of generous hospitality and engaging conversation.
His days are long (he gets in at 5:15 a.m. and returns home at 7:30 p.m.), but the down-home congeniality that permeates the atmosphere is stimulating and beckoning. "Thankfully there is somebody coming in and out of here, all day every day, with something interesting to talk about that keeps us from ever getting bored," Dennis grinned. "Us" would include his son, D.J.; Dennis's wife, Kellie; and Dennis's cook, Beverly Keaton.
How did Hopeful get its name? As soon as the question came up, Dennis grinned. "Here comes Robin Singletary. He'll know." Turns out, Robin wasn't sure. Robin knew what to do, however. He looked at D.J. and said, dial 4347. Remembering the last four digits of a phone number is enough in most instances around here.
Soon, D.J. had Ralph Davis on the line. If anybody needs to know what went on in Hopeful in the last century, all they have to do is ring Ralph, who will provide the information. His great grandfather moved here from Burke County when wooded farm land stretched for miles and miles. Down by the Flint River, early settlers had built a church and took a name from the Bible and called it Sardis.
The church was built too close to the river, and when the waters of the Flint encroached on church property, they moved the church to higher ground which prompted a name change. The name of the church where Ralph's great grandfather worshiped back in Burke County was named "Hopeful." That is how the church got its new name. Subsequently the community became known as "Hopeful," too.
"We were a thriving community," Ralph says, "until they ran the railroad through Camilla and Pelham." Nobody seems to be complaining now. Living in a laid-back community certainly has its plusses. To begin with, everybody tends to his own "knittin.'" Nobody gets in a hurry, unless there is pressure to get a crop harvested. There is always an opportunity for fishing or hunting within five counties of Hopeful, and when quail and deer season come in, that is when the atmosphere livens up at Dennis's place. Camouflage-wearing hunters gather at his place for breakfast and lunch. Nothing goes on in Mitchell County that his clientele doesn't know about.
Of course, a lot of people stop by to see Dennis when they aren't hungry at meal time. They might need a slab of meat. Or some groceries. More camouflage. Shotgun shells. Hardware. Livestock feeds. A farm implement like a hoe or an axe. Even a cold Heineken.
If you come in during a fall Saturday, the radio will be tuned in to Georgia football. "Not just here," Dennis smiled, "but in the dove fields, too. That has always been a big deal around here in hunting season -- listening to the Bulldogs while you hunt."
Good service and good conversation keep bringing Dennis's customers and friends back. He opens the restaurant six days a week at 6:55 a.m. "My normal time to open the restaurant is 7 a.m., but by 6:55 Wayne Oliver and Gene Taylor are getting anxious. They want to be the first to be served." Wayne and Gene never miss breakfast with Dennis, and Gene comes back for lunch to join the 50 to 80 others who favor Dennis's menu and Beverly's cooking.
To get a feel for what life is like around here, Dennis waved over Brady Clark, a former owner of the store. The lettering on his cap reflects the laid-back lifestyle of the Hopeful community. "Life is simple. Eat, Sleep, and Fish."
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.