Is Bubba-Doo’s a real place?
What inspired this fictional short-story series, set in an old country store?
Just how fictional are these stories and why might you want to keep reading them?
Today, the writer answers some of the questions you may have. You’ll learn more about the people and places. But, maybe there will be a few secrets left for another day.
How did the Bubba-Doo’s series come about?
Let’s begin at the beginning. I serve as pastor of a church in a small Virginia city, and being there just short of five years now has been like coming home. At our roots, my wife and I both were raised in what were small towns when we were born. At nearly 3,000 people, her hometown in middle Georgia was the larger of the two in our early childhoods. When I was in first grade, my parents bought an old country store that sat at a busy crossroads. My mother kept her own career as a bookkeeper off and on. My dad ran the store, and I grew up working there starting in the third grade. We lived on a farm, with horses, cattle, chickens and pigs. That was a formative backdrop for many of these stories.
What was it like spending so much time in a place like that?
While most kids were hanging out with their friends, or playing all the sports, I had chores on the farm and worked a good bit at the store. We had a lot of colorful regulars who hung out there. Some of them so regularly, you could set your watch by them. Atlanta was pushing out into the country, creating fast-growing suburbs. So, my dad’s store was a place where country met city culture. We had farmers by the dozens. Crusty construction foremen, retirees who worked for him part-time and had stories of war times and the Great Depression. People like that. Good people. Rough people. Millionaires and the occasional celebrity stopped in. We had them all. Here I was, normally the only child in the room. I kept fairly quiet and did a lot of listening.
So, is Bubba-Doo’s a real place? Maybe the store your dad ran?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. There is an actual country store by that name down in middle Georgia. Until a tornado came through, there used to be a sign out over the awning proclaiming that they had “World Famous Hamburgers.” I’ve never actually stepped inside the store. Just passed it a million times on the highway. I always liked the name.
Then, what is your Bubba-Doo’s drawn from?
The Bubba-Doo’s in these stories is actually an amalgam of places. Obviously, the people and real-life stories I banked away growing up at my dad’s place will show up some. We also have a country store near Franklin where we’ll stop occasionally because they have a little grill inside. It sits near a busy highway, between our small town and on the way to the larger cities. We have a local restaurant that’s been open here since the 1940s. It’s a lot like the old Cheers from the TV show. A place where everybody knows your name. The servers and regulars there are amazing people. So, the Bubba-Doo’s of these stories is a mishmash of all these settings.
Who are the stars of these stories to you?
“That’s Winston, the quiet store owner you met in the Christmas season story. He was my dad, who we lost last year at 91 years of age.”
We see characters like Mickey, Ralph, Winston, Stumpy, Stephanie and Marlene on a repeat basis in these stories. Only one of them is the actual name of the character I write about. That’s Winston, the quiet store owner you met in the Christmas season story. He was my dad, who we lost last year at 91 years of age. Everyone else is based on someone or three that I’ve known. They were regulars in my dad’s store, or I may have known them elsewhere in my hometown. Some church members I’ve had, and community acquaintances over the years show up now and then. But I’ll never fess up as to who is who in those cases. Stephanie and Marlene have fictional names, but they are real restaurant servers who Elizabeth and I know and love. They are bright, compassionate and a lot of fun. They are dear friends.
Are the stories true?
So far, the stories are all true. Often, I will change the circumstances or blend a couple of real-life happenings together. But yes, the stories so far all have been true or strongly based on real events. Stephanie’s house getting destroyed by a tornado was based on a couple we once knew whose house collapsed shortly after it was built. In this story, I simply lifted that real tragedy into Stephanie’s life and explored it a bit. All of what happened in the story actually happened a few decades ago in a town where we served. They jacked up the house to keep it standing long enough for some of us to crawl inside and get their belongings out for them.
Wait a minute- you crawled inside a collapsed house during your ministry?
Yes. It was held up by jacks in strategic places. We would haul stuff out, hug the homeowners and crawl back in. Scared the daylights out of me, but it needed to be done.
What else in the Bubba-Doo’s series is drawn from your life experience?
The guy who paints the front display window in the Christmas story, as well as the customer who was in debt to my dad, both of those story layers truly happened at Christmases in my childhood. A couple of the conversations about church and faith are real exchanges I’ve had more than once in my career as a minister. The story of intrigue, where three business people crammed into a booth and it was an odd alliance? That actually happened, and when the second one texted me from the booth and said some version of “I know it looks odd seeing all of us together here” I knew right then they would have to show up in a Bubba-Doo’s story.
“Both of those story layers truly happened at Christmases in my childhood.”
Does that make you the primary character, the minister in these stories?
The simplest answer is that I suppose it is me voicing the series. Again, sometimes this is life as I experience it. In one or two of these, though, I have used the story to give an ending that I wish could have happened. The recent encounter with Stumpy, where he shows a quiet crack in his rough and cantankerous character? I wrote that based on a real person and real issues we’ve struggled with. But with an ending I still hold hope will happen one day.
Do you ever write a character as revenge for something in real life?
No, but you see those T-shirts or mugs that read something like, “I’m a writer. If you make me mad, I will kill you off in a story.” I’ve never done anything like that. In fact, Stumpy is easily the most annoying real-life person I’ve written about. And in that story, I wrote a positive reconciliation into the story.
What else have you written like this?
Absolutely nothing. These stories are my foray into short-story fiction. My writing is normally curricular, or books that work on topics or ministry functions. I have done some devotional and prayer writing. Several years ago, I did pitch an idea similar to this with a book publisher I knew well. Never even received a response.
Where does church life show up in the series?
Oh, it’s in there! One of the more obvious episodes is when I chat about the differences between evangelicals and mainliners. That is a real issue church folks don’t seem to always “get.” So I explored it in the setting of a conversation at the old store. More subtle might be the time I responded to the fellow who asked why I don’t preach on sin and salvation more. I’ve fielded that question. I also once worked with a pastor who got a nasty, two-page letter from a member who said he preached “love” too much. So, those experiences are where that story emerged from.
Do you have a favorite character from these stories?
I suppose that would be like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite. They may have one, but on first blush would be reluctant to admit it. I’ve only shone the spotlight on Winston once, so far. But the loss of my dad is still fresh, and he’s a special character. If you made me pick, though, Stephanie and Marlene are very much a part of our lives right now. They are people who make us smile just mentioning them. They are chosen family who we see on a regular basis and love dearly. You will see them again in future stories, serving hamburgers and coffee at Bubba-Doo’s. Always giving as good as they get when the customers are a little out of hand.
“There is always an issue or a theme that inspires each story.”
Is there a moral or a specific lesson to each story?
I would say there is always an issue or a theme that inspires each story. But is there a specific lesson? Not really. I am content for the reader to decide whether they were just entertained or whether there actually was something for them to take away.
What will we see in the future at Bubba-Doo’s?
One answer is that I simply don’t know yet. Sometimes, a story pops into my mind from the past and I’ll set it inside the Bubba-Doo’s world. Other times, I’ll see or hear something right now and it’ll become an episode. I think there are more faith and culture issues to explore. One of the regulars will lose a loved-one soon. A celebrity will wander in for a visit in a story to come. The locals will need to struggle in adapting to change in still another. One thing is sure: The best fiction writes itself in real life. So, I’ll keep watching and listening. The Bubba-Doo’s of these stories could go right along for a while yet. Depends on whether the readers want more, I suppose.
Charles Qualls serves as pastor of Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Va. He is the author of eight books.
Articles in the Bubba-Doo’s series: