Can't Figure Her Out

Movie: Fried Green Tomatoes

The characters of Idgie, Grady, Ruth, Big George and others belong to Fannie Flagg's novel Fried Green Tomatoes in the Whistle Stop Café, and the film based on it.


Grady, the sheriff and voice of the law around these parts of Whistle Stop, Alabama, sat hunched over a slab of blueberry cobbler, his favorite dessert after a lunch of fried chicken and black-eyed peas. It was a dusty, hot day in June, and there wasn't too much happening as far as lawbreakers were concerned. Grady spent most evenings patrolling about Troutville, making sure that those folk there abided by the laws and were kept in their place. Any funny business or stepping out of line, and Grady would be first to contact the boys. And by 'the boys,' he meant Billy Morrison and Harry Ross, the Grand Dragon and Assistant Dragon of the Alabama Klan.

Grady listened to the familiar noises coming from the hot kitchen of the café. Big George's booming voice was singing them religious songs, you know, the ones they like to sing. His ma, Sipsey, was telling him to go out and get those sides of pork ready for the barbeque. Ruth Bennett, a pretty and petite brown-haired girl, came out of the kitchen. She needed to go back home to the Threadgoode house and tend to her little boy, two-year-old Buddy. As she opened the door, another voice was heard in the kitchen, the surly and drawling tone of the girl owner of this fine restaurant, Miss Idgie.

"Well, Sipsey, seems like you got those biscuits almost ready to go, I better see if ol' Grady needs more to stuff his face with," she said as she entered the dining area of the café. She strolled over to Grady's corner table, coffeepot in hand. Grady's breath caught at the sight of her, and he started getting that frustrated feeling all over again.

She could be pretty if she really tried to. Her hair was blonde, her eyes were blue, but instead of styling her hair like a woman is supposed to, she just wore it short and wavy, like a mop around her face. And she never wore a dress, dammit. Why that woman couldn't ever wear a dress was something Grady could not wrap his mind around. Instead, Idgie wore old baggy trousers full of holes, trying to hide that cute figure he knew she had. Blast it that she didn't dress to show it off. And she always wore those baggy old shirts that belonged to her brother in law, and some dirty apron over it. Grady cursed himself for desiring a woman who didn't seem to even want to be a woman.

"I suppose you are needing some more hot coffee," Idgie said to him in a bored voice, her hand on her hip.

"Thank you kindly, Idgie," Grady replied, holding his cup for her to fill. "How about another get-together with the Dill Pickle Club next Friday night? Couple games of poker?"

"You bet, Grady," Idgie said. "I'll be there, and I'll be there to win, you know that!" she teased. She smiled at him, her face pretty even with no makeup on. Grady loved when she teased him.

"What are you doing on Saturday, Idgie? I am off patrol and I'm gonna go out for a little trout fishing. You wanna take a ride to the river with me?"

"Sorry, Grady, I have to work every day, Big George needs me, Saturday's the busiest for folks comin' here for barbeque." Idgie said nonchalantly.

"Well, all right then, but I'm going to have you coming fishing with me sometime, even if I have to pick you up and carry you on my back." Grady said, a leering look in his eyes. His hand couldn't help but reach over and touch her right hip, clad in that greasy apron. Idgie took a step back, rolling her eyes.

Just then, the little bell sounded as the rickety door with the metal Coca-Cola sign opened. It was little Naughty-Bird Peavey, Big George's daughter. The seven-year-old girl rushed past the dining room and into the kitchen. Her grandmother's voice rang out in greeting.

"Naughty Bird, where are them brothers of yours, child? I haven't seen them all day, and if Artis doesn't show up by nightfall, his daddy's going to beat him silly!"

"I don't know, Grandma, I haven't seen them. Are the biscuits done?"

"Piping hot and ready to go!" exclaimed the elderly woman. Naughty-Bird came out of the kitchen a moment later, two of her grandma's famous buttered biscuits in hand. She rushed toward Idgie, still standing at Grady's table.

"Hi Miss Idgie!"

"Hi sweetheart," Idgie said warmly, putting an arm around the little girl, who was gulping down the last few bites of her first biscuit so that she could start on the second. Idgie was glad, the scrawny little dark-skinned girl needed to put meat on her bones.

Naughty-Bird smiled up at Idgie. Her eyes caught Grady's gaze though, and she took a step back. In Naughty-Bird's experience, there were two different kinds of white people. The nice kind, who treated her as a person, and the not so nice kind. Idgie, Ruth, and all of the Threadgoodes, like Miss Ninny and her husband Cleo, were the nice kind. But that sheriff sitting there, and some of the other men who came to the café, were not the nice kind. They tended to look at her and her family like they didn't deserve to live on the same earth and breathe the same air that they did.

"Miss Idgie, there is going to be a circus coming to town next week!" exclaimed Naughty Bird. "I saw the posters! And there is going to be an elephant! A real live elephant! Her name is Miss Fancy! I saved some money and I want to go!" Her huge dark eyes shone with delight.

Idgie frowned. She couldn't bring herself to tell the child that the circus was for white children only. At least not here, not now. "That is so nice, Naughty Bird," she said, her hand upon her shoulder. "Say, how about you go back into your daddy and grandma's kitchen and help yourself to some of that peach pie?"

"Okay!" said Naughty-Bird. Her eyes darted over to Grady, who was sternly frowning at her. She felt that nervous feeling, so she turned away from him and went back into the hot steaming kitchen.

"Idgie, you shouldn't be handing out all that free food to them kids, you know." Grady told her. "You know those people. You give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile. And then they start gettin' out of their place, and-"

"Oh, shut up, Grady!" She accompanied that statement with a grin. Grady took it as a flirtatious grin, and his hand started to reach out toward that right hip again.

For some odd reason, Idgie's hand, which was usually adept at firmly handling the coffeepot, went limp. Hot, scalding coffee splashed on Grady's burly hand.

"Hey! Dammit Idgie! Be careful!"

"Oops, sorry!" said Idgie. "Well, I gotta go. I'm taking a break. If you want something, tell Big George."

Red-faced, Grady threw a handful of change on the table and stomped out of the café.

Idgie took off her apron, and told Big George and Sipsey she was going to take a little break. She stepped out of the back door of the Whistle Stop Café and strolled into the heat of the Alabama summer. Looking at the back yard of the café, with its barbecue barrels and an ancient old picnic table, she wondered what old Smokey was doing. He hadn't shown up here for more than a month, and was worried about him. Oh, Smokey, I hope you make it back soon, she thought.

She continued down the path, past the huge magnolia trees, the barbershop and general store. Finally, she arrived at the biggest house in Whistle Stop, the Threadgoode family home. It was still grand, with its huge, wraparound porch, and lovely early-summer flower bushes, started by Mama Threadgoode long ago- but the white paint was peeling and it seemed in need of work. Idgie bounded up the porch steps and opened the door.

Inside, she found the two people who she cherished more than anything. Ruth, wearing a faded flowered dress, sat in a rocking chair with little Buddy in her lap. She was stroking his damp, caramel-blonde hair, and trying to keep them both cool in the hot humid air, fanning her lap with a large copy of Good Housekeeping magazine.

"Well, if it isn't my bee charmer," Ruth said, smiling brightly.