Other than our anniversary trips, we don’t do a lot of vacations, except to visit family. So I was thrilled when Mr. Kim suggested a trip to Memphis. BBQ and Blues – two of our favorite things. I have a very slight connection and memory of the city. Momma was born there and my Granddaddy’s parents, Ma and Pa Easterwood and his sister, Mildred Vann lived there. Granddaddy and Grandma Jean took me there a couple of times when I was a little girl, but my memories are limited to their house and the Fairgrounds.
We left at the crack of dawn on Saturday, the 11th. We stopped for breakfast at Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant just outside of Staunton, VA.:
While we looked over the menu, we became aware of an overloud traveler sitting right behind us. Among his many topical digressions with his wife, he asked the teenager waitress how far it was to New Market, a well-known civil war battlefield in Virginia about 45 minutes directly up the highway from where we sat. The waitress awkwardly tried to tell him she didn’t know, and he responded that he had a GPS in the car, but it was just easier if she could find out for him. I know that sounds mean spirited and patronizing, but the more I listened the more I realized that this guy was just being stream-of-consciousness straightforward. That was when the harmonicas came out. He decided to bless the waitress with a demonstration of his prowess playing two harmonicas at one time. I watched the owner across the room assess him and decide that he was a harmless nuisance. The waitress skittered away, and the gentleman stood to leave. As he pivoted toward our table, he decided that we too needed a serenade and away he played again, those two harmonicas just flashing in his hands. No discernible tune could be identified, but he was obviously pleased with his own effort and awaited our praise. He called himself Frank, and told us about his patient wife (who had already run from the building and sat in the car) and her passion for dog rescue. After he departed and our waitress again found it safe enough to emerge from the back, she brought our bill. I begged her not to make me play an instrument to be able to settle the bill. Too late, I realized that my “dad humor” was not what she needed after the last patron.
Lots of good, country food. And the beginning of our grits odyssey! We tasted grits at almost every single breakfast on the trip. I even bought a bag in Tennessee that was from Oxford MS. The country ham was just swimming in deep, rich red eye gravy:
And the apple butter was nice and sweet to go with the wonderful bread! We bought a jar to bring home.
I am enamored of side roads and Mr. Kim loves to indulge me, so we took Rt. 11 from there instead of the quicker and infinitely duller I-81! This took us through many small towns and almost towns… Natural Bridge, Christiansburg, Radford…. and our old hometown of Salem VA where we lived in during the early 90’s. This was our church:
St. Paul’s Episcopal on Main St. This was a wonderful church – great priest and very welcoming. I worked at the Food Pantry and The Child sang in the choir. After church, we’d drop her off at choir practice and go down the street to a rib restaurant we liked, sit at the bar and watch football while we waited for her to be finished so we could have lunch. One of us would walk down to church to pick her up. I’ll never forget my angelic looking little girl, straight from church, swinging up onto a bar stool and asking politely for “some bar munchies, please.”
We wandered around Main Street and the farmer’s market (new since our time) and then drove to see our old home. On the way we passed one of our family’s favorite streets:
Which, because we are all emotionally 12 years old, we always called “Butt Crack Road”. Yes, I was the one who insisted on the picture. Our old house looks the same as always:
How sad I would be if it were to be substantially changed when we saw it. The house was the original farm house and owned most of the surrounding property that is all brick ranchers now. It is all stone with TONS of windows and heart pine floors. The living room has a huge stone fireplace. It was about 70 years old when we bought it (almost 100 now!) and I fell in love with it the minute I saw it perched on that hill in the foothills of the mountains that start north of Salem. I’ve always said that most people don’t ever get to own their dream homes and that almost no one gets that dream home as their very first owned home. But I was that lucky.
We continued down Rt. 11 to Wytheville, a cute little town with a nice looking Main St.:
Skeeter’s is a typical little Southern café, famous for their ‘Skeeter Dogs’, which were delicious. I swear some day I’m going to break the code of café chili dog chili. I’ve made a hundred different recipes, I’m sure, and I’m still not close. But they were great dogs. And the place is charming with friendly people and all kinds of vintage tchotchkes. Mr. Kim in Skeeters:
The place is no frills, and hasn’t changed much in the 90 years it’s been open as a restaurant. Everything is prepared up front. I asked if they had French fries, and the response from the waitress was “Not yet.” After 90 years, not yet.
Upstairs from Skeeter’s is where Edith Wilson (Mrs. Woodrow – one of my favorite First Ladies – right after Eleanor) was born and raised. One interesting thing is that she was a descendant of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. According to Younger family lore, so am I.
Some travelers on the highway:
They were very interested in us.
Some cool signs near Abingdon VA:
All seemingly defunct.
We passed by the Barter Theater in Abingdon. It has been around since the Great Depression, when they accepted produce as the price of admission. For forty cents or equivalent value, the local folks could see a show. It’s still in operation, and for $20 or so (sorry, veggies no longer accepted) one can see live stage shows. Greater Tuna is now playing. I actually attended a performance there in 1977. Momma and Gerry were taking me to college – Clinch Valley College in Wise VA – now called University of VA, Wise Campus. We had a last blast of culture – stayed in the beautiful Martha Washington Inn and saw a show at the Barter. It was a wonderful send-off to my first year of college, majoring in Theatre! We continued on through Bristol, a city of some size that straddles the Virginia / Tennessee border. We really wanted to find the painted line on Main Street and stand in both states as Kim had done in earlier times. But Route 11 betrayed us and we found that we had somehow crossed over to Tennessee without notice or fanfare. So we decided to go ahead and climb up on the interstate for the rest of the trip. But first we snapped this pic of Kim in front of an unusual looking fast food restaurant:
No, we didn’t eat there.
The plan was to stop for the night in Nashville TN, which would leave us with just about 3 hours to travel to Memphis the next day. But when we tried to find a hotel, there was no room at the inn. Finally, some nice lady took pity on Mr. Kim and told him that he wasn’t going to find a hotel room in Nashville. What we didn’t realize was that that weekend was the CMA (Country Music Assoc.) Music Festival and Nashville was PACKED for miles around. She suggested that we start looking in Dickson TN – almost an hour beyond where we were. We finally arrived - worn out, at a crappy Quality Inn just off the highway that smelled like years old smoke. But they had a room and a refrigerator to put stuff in and all we really needed was a bed! We had sweet dreams, at least!