Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Eagle Butte
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Travel Spotlight: Small-town coffeeshop transcends time and space


I rolled into Indianapolis in the evening on May 23. The last week of May swept me into a whirlwind of family affairs.

My youngest child graduated from high school, and we entertained out-of-town family by taking them to local parks and the beloved downtown Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

Once they left for their homes, we were able to settle into some quiet, but my mother, who has always been a go-getter, delights in looking for free concerts, festivals, and movies to attend throughout the city.

Her zest to find the action and enjoy the company of strangers in large crowds infects those around her and motivated me to seek a quiet spot where I could write last week while I stayed with my oldest daughter at her new apartment in Mooresville, IN.

My search landed me in Bran N Shorts, a coffee shop in downtown Mooresville. Mooresville has a population of 9,641 people. Cheyenne River has an estimated population of 12,000, and Eagle Butte has a population of 1,345. These are all 2017 numbers projected from the last U.S. census and from the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the tribal population.

These numbers give you an idea of the number of people living in the town, and when I walked into Bran N Shorts, the people clearly had the same small-town closeness that we have in Eagle Butte. The regulars knew one another, and they greeted each other with that same familiarity that we see in Eagle Butte.

When I walked into the coffee shop, a bar stretched back to a staircase and a small hallway. The bar started with an ice cream case, and then bar stools at which people could sit, sip coffee and carry on conversations with the barrister or whomever else is sitting nearby.

As you walk towards the restrooms, a large spacious room opens to the right with an array of dining room tables and chairs, and lounge chairs and couches creating various sitting areas.  The broad windows allow natural lighting to spread across the country decor of the room, and the furnishings give the area a homey feel.

Miranda was working the coffee bar when I ordered my bottomless cup of coffee. She shared with me the origins of the coffee shop’s name on a sheet, laminated and available for interested customers to read.

Orville Nail became a widower with six children. His second wife, Lilly Mae Pearson gave birth to 13 more children.

Nail was a typesetter for the town newspaper, The Democrat, and Grandma Nail cleaned houses for a living.

With 19 children, they had their hands full, and a neighbor would share a horse-feed mixture called bran-n-shorts with the family. Grandma Nail would use the mixture in pancakes to feed her family of 21.

According to the historical pamphlet, Grandma Nail’s philosophy “was that if you were fed and full, you wouldn’t notice the things you’re missing from your life like new shoes or new clothes.”

The pamphlet ends with, “This coffee shop is dedicated to the hard working Nail family and especially our Mother, Elsie Carmelita Nail Gregory, who shared her vision for this business before she passed away in 2012.”

The shop is open from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. hours on Wednesday evening to accommodate bible study sessions.

I came in just after the morning regulars left, Miranda said, and I thought immediately of what Emanuel Red Bear called, I think, the Knights of the Round Table (or something like that) that meet each morning at Ampride.

She said I should try the daily, home-baked pastries and pies the three sisters, Sandy, Debbie and Lorinda, make for their customers.

As I settled into a spot where I accessed the free mobile hotspot, sipped my coffee and started to work, several other people filtered in and out of the coffee shop.

Conversations about going to a powwow (probably the Lebanon Powwow held this time each year), attending a local photography workshop, and planning curriculum for the local Girls’ and Boys’ club reminded me of the conversations I hear from people in Eagle Butte.

Marie sat with her brother. She told me that the coffee shop used to be a bar, and she told me that the Dillinger home was nearby, and that I should check out the Old School Museum.

She also told me to check out Gravity Hill, which I had seen videos of on Facebook.

Who knew Mooresville, IN had so much to offer? When I lived in Indiana, I never really paid attention to what cities surrounding Indianapolis offered.

Marie said she had lived in Mooresville her whole life, and before she left, she encouraged me to check out the local sites and to go to the block party coming up this next weekend.

Casey came in a little later. She apparently had been in earlier in the morning, baking, and came back to help Miranda. She said the business is in its third year, and doing well. It is run by three sisters, and they have expanded their services over time from coffee and pastries and pie to including ice cream and some sandwiches.

They are happy to stick with what they are good at, which is baking homemade goods with fresh ingredients.

Casey said they usually sell out of the baked goods and pies, and the only item they make in advance and freeze are the Bismark cinnamon rolls, which require a three-hour process to make.

“You’ll never eat Cinnabon and be satisfied again,” Miranda chimed in. 

Casey also let me know about the block party kicking off a free summer concert series the City of Mooresville would be having the following Saturday, with businesses lining the streets and a free concert from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

When Saturday arrived, my mother and I took our lawn chairs and made the 30-minute drive from her home on the south side of Indianapolis to Mooresville. We drove by my daughter’s new apartment and then downtown Mooresville, where we walked Main Street before going into Bran N Shorts for ice cream and a delicious cream puff (the only pastry left).

The line for ice cream stretched beyond the end of the bar, and Casey was there, taking orders, along with several other people serving up coffee and ice cream on the humid June evening.

My mother and I camped at a table and enjoyed conversation, the cream puff and some ice cream.

Before we left, Casey was announcing they had run out of ice cream and sadly had to turn some people away.

After leaving the coffee shop, my mother and I walked to the concert on the corner where the band Tastes Like Chicken was playing an array of blues and rock, new and old, for the crowd of people grooving in or in front of their lounge chairs. While the rain chased some to their cars, others held out for the concert finale before packing up and cleaning up after themselves.

I plan to visit the Dillinger home and Old School museum Maria suggested — hopefully taking my daughter and her boyfriend so they can become better acclimated to their new community.

The exploration of this small Indiana town reminded me of Eagle Butte on so many levels, and reminded me once again of how much we in America are alike, regardless of and despite our differences.

If you ever get a chance to come to or through Indiana, make Mooresville a stop along the way. Visit Bran N Shorts for some early morning coffee and pie or pastries. Enjoy some midwestern hospitality from kind human beings sharing their niche with the world.