The long wait is finally over

I didn’t know how much I would miss Shoney’s biscuits and gravy, potato soup, and hot fudge cake until they were torn cruelly away from me a few years ago. Locals will remember the day when that bright, shining “Shoney’s on the hill” — as we came to call it — was sacrificed on the altar of road improvements. Indeed, the road has improved, especially now that people have more or less learned how to use the roundabout in a way that they have not over in Jackson County, where many drivers continue to struggle with the concept of “yield.”

Celebrating family, longevity and all that’s possible

Lillie is my dad’s big sister. He’s been gone for nineteen years — from a heart attack, in bed, while smoking his last cigarette — but Lillie keeps on going. Today is her 86th birthday, and we are having Thanksgiving a few days early to celebrate both. There will be 52 people there, which would be a decent chunk of Sparta’s population, except that a lot of the family has moved off, most to find work, some to find love, a few to find that great adventure of the unknown.

Grocery store is stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey

Mushrooms. I needed mushrooms, and mushrooms were all I needed. It was my night to cook, and I wanted to make spaghetti because we’ve eaten chicken approximately 11 consecutive nights at my house. We’ve done that because the members of my family have developed “dietary restrictions” over the years to the extent that we are down to approximately three dishes that we can agree on, one of those being chicken prepared about a dozen different ways.

The drive-in brings back memories

I’m as nostalgic as the next guy. I mean, I don’t get choked up over the thought of bell bottoms or soap-on-a-rope and I didn’t buy that very special Time Life complete collection of “Hee Haw” episodes (now on DVD! Operators are standing by!), even though that and the Lawrence Welk show formed the soundtrack of my Saturday night “going out on the town” preparations as a teenager. My mother always enjoyed Lawrence Welk. I’m not nostalgic about him myself, you understand.

Next season, I’ve got some new mojo in mind

I am supposed to be watching a Dodgers game tonight. At this very moment, I should be pushing one of those “mini” grocery carts up and down the aisles of Ingles, stocking up on my usual menu of snacks when the Dodgers make the playoffs: tortilla chips and salsa verde for the first three innings, red seedless grapes for innings four through six, and then the clean-up hitter, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey in the last three innings.

Surprisingly, we were able to pull it off

Before we go any further, let me be clear: I am not the guy you want to put in charge of a surprise birthday party. I’m not organized, and I can’t keep a straight face.

That urge just won’t go away

Every so often, she gets that feeling again. When she does, she scoots a little closer and begins tracing invisible lines on my forearm with her freshly polished nails, fire-engine red. She nuzzles me and sighs, as if being close to me like this is the answer to all of life’s most perplexing questions, as if this closeness is the very emblem of her contentment.

Cherry binging is a thing

One of the things I like the most about summertime is when the cherries begin showing up in the grocery stores, gallon-sized plastic bags filled to overflowing with Bing cherries nearly as big around as golf balls. It’s my own private version of the return of the swallows to Capistrano. The return of the cherries to Ingles.

Our daughter’s gone, unleashed on the world

I can hear her up there in her room moving those enormous, orange storage bins around. They make a scraping noise that nearly drowns out her sing-a-long with the Dixie Chicks. “Wide Open Spaces.” It’s about a girl who’s leaving. Like our girl is.

There are six of those storage bins, each of which she is filling to the brim with clothes, towels, make-up kits, bathroom accessories, school supplies, assorted decorations, prized possessions from her friends, her family, and her childhood. Duckie is in there, a bedtime companion since she was 4 years old. She would clutch Duckie under one arm each night when I came in to sing the bedtime song I wrote for her to chase the demons out of her closet and out of her head.

A great teacher is like a poem: inspirational, direct

My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pattyrae Busic, used to say, “Why, Chris, you’ve got your teeth in your mouth and your mind in Arkansas.”

I didn’t know exactly what that meant then and I still don’t. Where else would my teeth be, and why should I be thinking about Arkansas, a place I’d never been and had no interest in visiting?

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