A memoir by Joan Potter
“Grandpa, I just wanted to tell you I’m all right, I got a place to live and I’m doing okay.” The pale, exhausted-looking woman was on the phone behind the counter in a rambling, shabby Stuckey’s somewhere off Route 40 in Tennessee. It was about ten in the morning on New Year’s Day. I was the only customer.
Today I’m reading her words in the notes I made during a cross-country road trip my husband, Roy, and I took one summer in the early 1990s. It’s now almost thirty years later, and five years since Roy’s death. I’m at my desk in the silent apartment cleaning out some old papers from a file cabinet when I find the notes in a folder marked TRIP.
It was the second day of our journey from New York to Los Angeles, and I’d gone into Stuckey’s to pick up a mid-morning snack while Roy waited outside, poring over AAA maps. I emerged bearing two coffees and two orders of eggs and sausage on biscuits that we ate in the car, marveling at how delicious they were.
As Roy continued driving our Chevy Malibu westward, I jotted down my impressions of the Stuckey’s in a notebook resting on my lap. I described the Hank Williams and Elvis Presley souvenirs displayed on shelves, the salt and pepper shakers featuring black women wearing aprons and bandanas and black children holding slices of watermelon. And I kept thinking of the woman who made our biscuits, thinking about how far away she must have been from her home, and that she probably had fallen on hard times.
At my desk, I read through the rest of the notes, picking out highlights: in Carlisle, Arkansas, thirty miles east of Little Rock, a perfect lunch at Nick’s Bar-B-Que and Catfish; on the highway near El Reno, Oklahoma, a sign that read, “Hitchhikers May Be Escaping Inmates”; at a Holiday Inn in Elk City, Oklahoma, a dinner of chicken-fried steak and, later in the evening, warm chocolate chip cookies and cold milk delivered to our room.
I search Google to see if the places I wrote about are still there. The Stuckey’s on Route 40 is gone, but I find the website for Nick’s Bar-B-Que and Catfish, still in business. Just looking at pictures of the crunchy catfish sandwich with tartar sauce and French fries on the side makes me want one right now.
I see that the comforting Holiday Inn in Elk City is now the Holiday Inn Express and Suites, and by the look of the fancy photos, I doubt cookies and milk are left at the door before bedtime. JB’s Restaurant, on Andy Devine Avenue in Kingman, Arizona, where we loved our fried chicken, still exists; a recent customer commented: “All the food was so bad we could have just cooked it at the house.”
But it was discovering a site for Texas Quick Stop, a truck stop, convenience store, and fast food place in the Texas panhandle, that made me want to run into the next room and shout, “Roy! Remember that great barbecue we had at that truck stop in Vega, Texas? Now it’s called Kevin’s Texas Quick Stop. Kevin’s last name is Sidhu, and they’re serving Punjabi food.”
But Roy’s no longer sitting at his desk in the next room, reading or working on his computer. The desk is still there, and the computer, but he’s missing. Now, the only person to be excited that Texas barbecue has been replaced by Punjabi food is me.
* * *
Joan Potter’s essays have appeared in anthologies and literary journals, including The Raven’s Perch, Iron Horse Literary Review, Adanna Literary Journal, Longridge Review, Stone Canoe, and others. She is the author or coauthor of several nonfiction books. The most recent is the collaborative memoir “Still Here Thinking of You: A Second Chance With Our Mothers.” She has led writing workshops for Adirondack women, New York suburbanites, prison inmates, and immigrant children She lives in Mount Kisco, NY.