The place is packed. Two buses of senior citizens just let out in the parking lot. Kids run around playing with toys that look like something my grandmother gave me in 1963. Christmas decorations fill the store. Hungry people fill the restaurant. The aroma of biscuits and bacon mix with cinnamon and cedar. You could not get a rocking chair on the porch even if your name was Hank Junior or Dale Junior or Junior Johnson. It is just another Sunday at Cracker Barrel.
My mother, bless her heart, back when she was alive, loved to go to Cracker Barrel more than any place in the world. She always ordered the Old Timer’s Breakfast, even if it was 8 pm. She lusted after sweatshirts with “Grandmaw” stitched on the front. She wondered how she could find a way to sell them some of the old farm junk we had in the barn to hang from the roof and walls. She played the big checkers near the fireplace and the peg board game on the table.
I must have stopped at twenty different Cracker Barrels at one time or another because she yelled at me when she saw a billboard advertising a location at the next exit. They should have given her a discount for being so loyal.
The night my father died, Momma and I ate at Cracker Barrel after leaving the hospital. It calmed her down and soothed her grief. We shared a MoonPie in the truck on the way home.
The night my Moma died, my sister and I ate at Cracker Barrel in her honor, ordering the same breakfast she always got.
Today I am sitting near the window, next to a family with five kids and a grandmother, all of them forking up stacks of pancakes, their laughter reminding me that I am driving to Georgia alone. On the other side is a couple nearing 90 years old at least. He is close to deaf and she hollers everything she tells him.
“Don’t drink too much coffee or we’ll have to stop in fifteen minutes!” she bellows. He never looks up.
She complains about his country ham and the salt. He smiles and says he would rather die eating country ham than peter out in a nursing home. She looks at me and shakes her head.
I stop and talk to the manager on my way out the door. He reminds me that Cracker sold more than 4 million MoonPies in 2010. I guess he quit counting after that. I admit that 4 million is a big number and I shake his hand and say I appreciate his business and he asks if I am going to write a story about him. I smile and nod.
“If you’ll give me one of those Christmas Cookie Yankee Candles over yonder to put in my truck,” I say. “Gets me in the holiday mood.”
He walks over, grabs a candle and hands it to me. I smile, thank him and leave. If he is reading this, I hope he knows that I held up my end of the bargain. This is that story. And I would like to also tell him that lighting a candle in a truck is not a smart move. I have a seat coated in wax to prove it.