Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen

by Susan Gregg Gilmore


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Sometimes you have to return to the place where you began, to arrive at the place where you belong.

It’s the early 1970s. The town of Ringgold, Georgia, has a population of 1,923, one traffic light, one Dairy Queen, and one Catherine Grace Cline. The daughter of Ringgold’s third-generation Baptist preacher, Catherine Grace is quick-witted, more than a little stubborn, and dying to escape her small-town life.

Every Saturday afternoon, she sits at the Dairy Queen, eating Dilly Bars and plotting her getaway to Atlanta. And when, with the help of a family friend, the dream becomes a reality, she immediately packs her bags, leaving her family and the boy she loves to claim the life she’s always imagined. But before things have even begun to get off the ground in Atlanta, tragedy brings Catherine Grace back home. As a series of extraordinary events alter her perspective—and sweeping changes come to Ringgold itself—Catherine Grace begins to wonder if her place in the world may actually be, against all odds, right where she began.

Intelligent, charming, and utterly readable, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen marks the debut of a talented new literary voice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307395023
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 06/09/2009
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 304,297
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Susan Gregg Gilmore is the author of the novels Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen and The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove. She has written for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor. Born in Nashville, she lives in Tennessee with her husband and three daughters.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One In the Beginning

My daddy always said that if the good Lord can take the time to care for something as small as a baby sparrow nesting in a tree, then surely He could take the time to listen to a little girl in Ringgold, Georgia. So every night before I went to bed I got down on my knees and begged the Lord to find me a way out of this town. And every morning, I woke up in the same old place.

It was a place that I, Catherine Grace Cline, never wanted to call home, even though I was born and raised here. It was a place where everybody knew everything about you, down to the color of underwear your mama bought you at the Dollar General Store. It was a place that just never felt right to me, like a sweater that fits too tight under your arms. It was a place where girls like me traded their dreams for a boy with a couple of acres of land and a wood-framed house with a new electric stove. It was a place I always planned on leaving.

When I was no more than nine years old, a tornado tore right close to my house. I remember yelling at my little sister to run and hide in the basement. “Martha Ann,” I warned her, “if that twister hits this town, nobody’s even going to notice it’s gone.”

She started crying for fear she was going to be swept up in the clouds and carried away, and nobody, not even our daddy, would be able to find her. Turned out the only thing of any importance swept up in the sky that day was Mr. Naylor’s old hound dog. People said that Buster Black flew some fifteen miles, those long lonesome ears of his flapping like wings, before landing in the middle of some cornfield over in the next county.

Mr. Naylor walked for miles looking for that dad-gum dog till finally my daddy and the sheriff had to go pick him up. And just when that poor man finished planting a wooden cross by Buster’s little house, darn it, if that four-legged fool didn’t come limping back home, wagging his tail and acting like he’d found the Promised Land. Mr. Naylor was crying, praising the Lord, holding Buster Black in his arms. The local newspaper ran a color picture of them both right on the front page, like that dog was some kind of prodigal son.

“You know, Martha Ann,” I told her after reading about Buster’s triumphant return, “a tornado like that just might be our ticket out of here, but unlike that stupid old hound dog, we are not going to limp back home.”

My daddy said I was a little girl with a big imagination. Maybe. Or maybe I was a patient girl with a big dream, or a despairing girl waiting for her divine deliverance. But either way, I was going to hitch a ride out of Ringgold, whether it was on a fiery twister ripping a path through the Georgia sky or on a Greyhound bus rolling its way down Interstate 75.

Truth be told, I never even liked the name Ringgold. I mean, there’s nothing in these green rolling hills that even faintly resembles a ring of gold, a ring of anything for that matter. And believe me, me and Martha Ann looked, somehow figuring that if we could find a ring of trees or ancient rocks, then just maybe our living here would have some kind of meaning. But after years of searching, the best I could figure was that it was just these darn hills that I had stared at every morning from my bedroom window that formed the ring, the ring that had kept me hostage for the first eighteen years of my life.

Nobody much ever bothers to visit this town except the truckers who stop to fill their fuel tanks because they can get some of the cheapest gas in the state here and Mrs. Gloria Jean Graves’s second cousin, who has come up from Birmingham every year for the Thanksgiving holiday since before I was born. She always said it was refreshing to get away from the big city for a few days.

One time the governor came by for about twenty-five minutes to cut a ribbon at the new elementary-school library. Everybody in town came out to see him. Daddy made me wear a dress and tie my hair back in a ribbon, just like I was going to church. Six days a week my daddy didn’t care too much how I looked, but on Sunday mornings there was no negotiating the dress code. My sister and I wore our very best dresses with a fresh pair of cotton panties underneath, out of respect for the Lord, Daddy said.

I really didn’t think Jesus cared what I wore to Cedar Grove Baptist Church, or to see the governor for that matter, considering the fact that in every picture I ever saw of the King of Kings, He was wearing sandals and bundled up in nothing more than a big, baggy robe. But I figured this governor must be the most important person I was ever going to meet if Daddy was making me wear my navy blue Sunday dress with the white lacy collar and my patent-leather Mary Janes.

Martha Ann pitched such a fit about wearing her Sunday clothes that Daddy ended up leaving her at home with a neighbor. My little sister is a couple of years younger than I am, but she has always been a couple of inches taller, my guess from the time she came into this world. She has thick, dark brown hair and deep brown eyes like our mama. I have blue eyes like my daddy and straight brown hair that looks more like the color of a field mouse.

Martha Ann was a pretty baby and a pretty girl. Everything on her face just fits together so perfectly. When we were little, people said we looked just like twins for no better reason than we might have been wearing the same color shirt. You had to wonder if they were truly looking at us. But one thing was for certain, Martha Ann hated putting on her Sunday clothes even more than I did. She’d have much rather been in the library picking out a new book to read than waiting to look at some strange man cut a ribbon.

I told her that if she didn’t stop all that stomping and snorting, she was going to get left behind. And sure enough, she did. She had to spend the entire afternoon with Ida Belle Fletcher shucking eighty-four ears of corn for Wednesday-night supper over at the church.

Ida Belle said she cooked for the Lord, but all I knew was that she smelled like an unsavory combination of leftover bacon grease and Palmolive soap. She kept her big, round tummy covered with a tattered, old apron permanently stained with the meals of another day. The only time I saw her without that apron was when she was sitting in church, and then she kept it folded in her pocketbook.

My patent-leather shoe rubbed a blister on my big toe, but it was worth it. The governor turned out to be, if nothing else, the most handsome-looking man I’d ever seen. He wore a dark navy suit and a crisp white shirt that must have been starched so stiff, it could’ve stood up on its own. A red-and-blue-striped tie was pulled around his neck, and the tip of a white handkerchief was peeking out of his suit pocket. I had never seen a man dressed so fancy. He was in Ringgold for only a few minutes, and then he jumped in the back of a long, black car and sped off down Highway 151. I wanted to go with him so bad that for weeks after that, when I went to bed at night, I got down on my knees and begged the Lord to make me the governor’s daughter.

But He didn’t bother to answer that prayer either, not that I really thought that He would. God put me here for a reason, Daddy kept telling me; I just hadn’t figured it out yet.

Now I know my father was a certified man of God, but at a fairly young age, I decided that when it came to my destiny, he did not know what he was talking about. He certainly did not understand that there was nothing for me here in Ringgold, Georgia. Sometimes I wondered if he had noticed that this town had only one red light, one part-time sheriff, and one post office, which was nothing more than a gray metal trailer perched on a bunch of cinder blocks in the back of the Shop Rite parking lot.

There was one losing high-school football team and one diner, which has been serving pork chops on Thursdays since 1962. There was one fire station, but it burned down five or six years ago when the entire fire department, which amounted to the sum total of Edward and Lankford Bostleman, were spending the night at their aunt’s house over in LaFayette.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"An unusually engaging novel by a very fine writer who knows exactly what she's doing." —-Lee Smith, author of The Last Girls

Reading Group Guide

1. Although dubbed a coming-of-age novel, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen is, possibly more than anything else, a story about forgiveness. How does this theme of forgiveness affect Catherine Grace, her most important relationships, and ultimately her search for contentment?

2. Catherine Grace is born and raised in a small town called Ringgold, Georgia. She never liked the town or its name, saying that the best she “could figure was that it was these darn hills that I had stared at every morning from my bedroom window that formed the ring, the ring that had kept me hostage for the first eighteen years of my life.” (p. 5). How does the geography shape Catherine Grace’s attitude about her home, her family and the people of Ringgold, Georgia?

3. Catherine Grace is convinced that her happiness is waiting for her somewhere else, most likely in Atlanta, “a world with enough lights turned on at night that it makes it hard to see the stars.” (p. 9) She is convinced that there she will find the “salvation” she has been so desperately wanting. What does salvation mean to you and what do you think it means for Catherine Grace?

4. Reverend Cline is a good-looking, charismatic preacher managing the only pulpit in town. How does his position as Ringgold’s sole preacher shape his daughter’s journey? And how does his relationship with the pretty young Sunday school teacher impact his daughter’s view of her father and of herself?

5. Although Catherine Grace is not raised with a mother, she is surrounded by many strong mother figures, most notably Gloria Jean as well as Miss Mabie and Flora. In what ways do you think these women influenced Catherine Grace and contributed to the young woman she became? How do you think she would have been different, had her mother lived?

6. When Catherine Grace rode that Greyhound out of town on her eighteenth birthday, she left not only her father but her younger sister Martha Ann. How do you think Catherine Grace’s leaving and then her return home impacted her relationship with her younger sister? Would either one of them ever found what they truly wanted had Catherine Grace obediently remained in Ringgold?

7. Lolly Dempsey and Catherine Grace are best friends. How does Lolly’s relationship with her abusive mother influence Catherine Grace’s thoughts about her own mother? Does Lolly share her friend’s dream to leave town and, if not, why?

8. Whether it’s a Dilly Bar at the Dairy Queen, creamed corn at church suppers or a jar of strawberry preserves, food plays an important role in this story. Catherine Grace herself was convinced “that even my own mama considered the tomato a symbol of a person’s God-fearing commitment to biblical and civic values.” (p.11) How important is food in the telling of a Southern story? How does food affect not only the telling of this story but Catherine Grace’s personal journey?

9. After longing to leave Ringgold for most of her life, did Catherine Grace make the right decision in choosing to stay there after her father's passing?  Do you think she eventually left to explore the bigger world she had dreamed about for so many years?

10. Did Gloria Jean know more about Lena Mae's drowning or was she as innocent as the girls were?  And do you think she believed her friend's departure the second time was in the best interest of her two daughters?

Customer Reviews

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Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was attracted to it by the cover. It was a lot different type of book than I usually read. It was funny, it was sad. It was good.
Jonezone More than 1 year ago
The main character sort of reminded me of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz only without the music. It is about a girl who dreams of leaving her small town in order to pursue her big dreams. Only to find out that her personal happiness is in her own back yard.
Heto More than 1 year ago
This book was a great read with a few twists that keep you reading for more. The first half sets up the story and the second half brings it home. A great summer read for sitting on the deck, on the beach, or just about anywhere.
VirtuousWomanKF More than 1 year ago
This is a great story of forgiveness. I loved the scripture in the story, (from a child and teen's perspective), it made me laugh. "Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen" is about everyday life, everyday people and human nature. Really enjoyed the characters and the twists at the end made it even better. This is a very light read, a little fluffy maybe but a nice story. Sit down with a Dilly Bar and enjoy!
MrsCFL More than 1 year ago
Charming and easy read. Ending not quite where I wanted it to be - too much foreshadowing mid-to-end so pretty much knew what was coming. Not as moving or touching as author wanted it to be but glad I read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will give this book 5 stars.  Is it great literature? No, but it's such a wonderful feel good story.  I know what other reviewers meant when they said they didn't want to put it down.  I hope the author will write more books.  There are lessons on life for everyone in this book.
lsbball More than 1 year ago
I liked this book but the only thing i wouldnt like is that some of the chapters are soo long that it doesnt keep my attention. Her style of writing is kinda different than wat im used to. This book i would say is for young girls.
porch_reader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I first heard about Susan Gregg Gilmore on the Books on the Nightstand podcast, and her debut, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, fits snuggly into the Southern fiction genre. This book is narrated by Catherine Grace Cline, the daughter of a widowed Baptist preacher in the small time of Ringgold, Georgia. Catherine Grace dreams of escaping Ringgold, which has the typical small-town quirks, and moving to Atlanta. But sometimes the complexities of real life complicate our dreams, and Catherine Grace learns a lot about those complexities and what's truly important in this coming-of-age story.There was one plot point that didn't quite ring true to me, and in the end, the strands of the story were tied up a little too neatly, but aside from that, I loved this story, its characters, and the way that Gilmore made Ringgold come to life.
MissYvonnee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Being from Georgia this book held alot of promise for me. I wasn't disappointed. It was a cute story of a young girl from a small town dreaming of moving to a "big city" (Atlanta). It was a story about a young girl growing up and finding her way in this world. I think we've all had dreams as we grew up of something bigger and better out there in the world, only to find what we were looking for was right here all along. I know I did. Some areas of the book were questionable, but all in all from the title, to being "saved" one Sunday, to the end, I smiled...
Cailin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I discovered this book when hearing about the author's new book, The Improper Life of Bezeilia Grove. An exerpt was read by the author at the Books on the Nightstand retreat and I was sold! I loved this book, it is sweet, funny, surprising and well done - especially for a first novel. Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen follows Catherine Grace Cline's sometimes painful journey into adult hood. This is a great summer read!
ethel55 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Catherine Cline knows from an early age that she doesn't want to stay in Ringgold, GA. She sets her sights over the mountains that surround Ringgold and every week at the DQ, dilly bar in hand, she dreams of turning 18 and leaving. This book was filled with warmth, humor and human foibles. It's characters were nicely developed, the ususal Southern style suspects in place. Fans of Southern fiction like Fannie Flagg etc should really enjoy Catherine's coming of age story.
wirtley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sweet. Southern girl wants to get badly out of her small town. She is the preacher's daughter. She falls in love with her high school sweetheart. She wants to leave town after High School, so she breaks up with him. She leaves for Atlanta and returns when her father dies. There are several surprises awaiting her when she returns.
jbaker614 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is something about the charm of the sweet but sassy southern girl, Catherine Grace Cline, that made 'Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen' a very enjoyable read for me. Growing up in Ringgold, GA, Catherine spends her whole childhood waiting for the day when she can pack up and move to the big city. She and her sister, Ruth Ann, religiously go to the Dairy Queen each week to sit at the picnic table and enjoy their Dilly Bars. It is there where Catherine looks beyond Taylor's Ridge and formualtes her dreams of a better life somewhere else. When Catherine returns home for a family matter, her world is turned upside down when she is greeted by some unexpected surprises. Charming, witty, and entertaining, "Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen" is a great choice for a fun adventure. I look forward to reading more novels written by Susan Gregg Gilmore.
Gingersnap000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me because I have read several of Fanny Flagg's novel, this book did not disappoint. I am a Yankee who lived in the South in another life. This novel offers mystery, romance and the lesson of "There is No Place like Home." Read this book on vacation and have some laughs and a good cry.
bermudaonion on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Catherine Grace Cline was six years old, and her sister Martha Ann was four, when their mother drowned. Their daddy is the preacher at the Baptist church in their small Georgia town. When their father is busy, Gloria Jean, a neighbor and old friend of their mother¿s watches the girls. Catherine Grace loves Gloria Jean because she¿s the only person who will talk about her mother.Catherine Grace and Martha Ann head down to the Dairy Queen every Saturday for a Dilly Bar. That¿s when Catherine Grace does her dreaming and planning. She longs to get out of their small town and head to Atlanta and can¿t understand why Eddie Franklin is content with his life ¿ working at Dairy Queen in a small town.When Catherine Grace causes a commotion at a church function, her father punishes her by forbidding her to go to Dairy Queen for the rest of the summer. Gloria Jean comes up with a plan to keep the girls busy and help Catherine Grace earn money for her get-away all at the same time.After she graduates from high school and turns eighteen, Catherine Grace heads to Atlanta with her savings. She finds a job and a place to live and things are going pretty well for her when she¿s called home because of a family emergency. She gets some shocking news when she gets home and finds out that she may have been looking for happiness in the wrong place all along.Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen is the wonderful debut novel of Susan Gregg Gilmore. (It¿s hard for me to believe this is her first book!) There is so much more to this book than appears on the surface. It¿s about love and acceptance of friends and family. It¿s about having a dream and having the guts to follow it. Mostly it¿s about forgiveness, though.This book is full of fantastic characters, too. I just loved Catherine Grace and could relate to her restless, curious spirit. She misses her mother so much and feels guilty because she doesn¿t remember her as well as she thinks she should. She also feels some pressure to be perfect since she¿s the preacher¿s daughter. Gloria Jean was a wonderful, loving character who was just a little bit different. She provided so much for the girls including a strong female role model. A lot of the secondary characters were great too. I was really able to get a feel for the small Georgia town they all lived in.I¿ll readily admit that I¿m partial to books set in the South, but I would have loved Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen no matter where it had been set. I can¿t wait for Susan Gregg Gilmore¿s next novel.
bookwormygirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Catherine Grace Cline wants to get the heck outta Dodge... or better said, the heck outta Ringgold, Georgia. There is just something about this town that just makes her restless - maybe it¿s that it¿s too quiet, or too small, or that it has a very small population - where everyone is your neighbor and they all know every little thing about your life. She and her sister spend every Saturday eating Dilly Bars at the Dairy Queen and plotting their big escape.Catherine Grace lives with her father, the town¿s Baptist Minister, as well as her younger sister. It¿s been tough living without her momma, who accidentally drowned when she was young. And although she still misses her mother and has always been haunted by her passing, she has luckily found a mother figure in her mother¿s best friend, Gloria Jean.Gloria Jean is an inspiration to Catherine Grace. For no one in town looks, dresses or acts like Gloria Jean - with her pretty nails, always done-up hair and fancy clothes. So when the chance arrives for Catherine Grace to move out of town and live in the big city, Atlanta - working in a department store and leading the life she has always dreamed about, she has no qualms with saying good-bye to her family, friends and boyfriend.But when tragedy strikes and Catherine Grace has to make her way back home - not just is she surprised when she realizes that nothing she believed was as she thought, but she will also question whether leaving her hometown was the best thing for her, or was she where she belonged from the start.Catherine Grace's voice is so unique and innocent that you become immediately immersed in her life and that of the citizens of Ringgold from the first sentence. As you read, you almost feel as if you are reading with a Southern drawl... it was really very endearing. Her voice is that of anyone who grew up in a small town - with hopes of seeing the great big world. Although the decision to leave everything and everyone you've known your whole life is a tough one, it is one that must be made.This was a very lovely story - with some fantastic characters and plenty of twists that will keep you interested and in the end leave you wanting more. This is a coming-of-age story that not only leaves you feeling hopeful but also with a big grin on your face. I loved it and can definitely recommend it.
me2nc More than 1 year ago
This book is not my typical kind of read, not being someone who usually reads spiritual or religious or Christian based books around faith. However, I found myself really wanting to know more about the lead character and where her life was going to go. All in all I enjoyed it.
speee1dy More than 1 year ago
i loved the book but felt the time period should have been the 50's and not the 70's 
MWgal More than 1 year ago
It's a charming book with just the right balance of being touching and humorous. The characters are lovable and entirely believable.
fancynancy1 More than 1 year ago
This winner is ideal for all those Fanny Flagg, Sarah Addison Allen readers. My book club toasted this literary gem with--what else--a dilly bar
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