Ian had a very busy weekend this last Saturday and Sunday. Normally I get off work at noon on Fridays, but with spring registration drawing near, we had a line out our door of students who still hadn’t been advised. This pushed my work day up to 3:00. After rushing home, rushing to get a few things done, then rushing over to the ranch to pick up Ian, he and I enjoyed a pleasant drive to Crossville to meet my dad at Cracker Barrel.
Crack Barrel is one of those restaurants that people tend to either love or absolutely hate. I don’t think I can be an objective judge of Cracker Barrel’s food due to all the emotions I have tied up in this place. My dad has an hour and a half commute (one way) to work everyday. Harriman is half an hour away from where he lives. While Preston and I were growing up, Daddy would occasionally call home in the afternoon to have my mom drive us all to Harriman to meet him at Cracker Barrel for dinner. Those were the best evenings. It didn’t matter if there was a ridiculously long wait for a table because we could sit outside in the rocking chairs and play checkers, or during chilly weather we could wander around the country store and browse through the overpriced but attractive decorations. Then that magical call would come over the loud-speaker: “Hyden, party of four.” A hostess would take us from the store to the cozy dining room where each table had a kerosene lamp flickering merrily while logs crackled invitingly up the huge fireplace at the front of the dining room. In the winter, Preston and I, and even Momma from time to time, would order hot cocoa. The waitress would bring it out in the neatest little kettle, with a generous helping of frothy whipped cream melting into the top of our cocoa. Then the meal would come. My family always ordered the same order, with the exception of Preston, he would be the only wild card. My order without fail was chicken fried chicken without the country gravy, biscuits, and usually a baked potato with a ton of butter and fried apples. My dad would always (and still does, for that matter) order bean and greens with a baked potato and cornbread. Back then my mom’s order was always the vegetable platter: hashbrown casserole, baby carrots, fried apples, and fried okra. Preston was the only one amongst us who varied his order. Some nights it would be a cheeseburger, other nights he would match my order of chicken fried chicken, but more often than not he would order breakfast. There’s not a person on the planet who loves biscuits and gravy more than my little brother. After a great meal, Preston and I were each allowed to choose a candy from the store. When we were really little, it was usually one of the giant suckers, but as we got older we usually decided on the gigantic jaw breakers. On the drive home, we would split up and Preston would ride home with Momma while I’d ride back with Daddy, and we’d have our candy to entertain us for the half our home.
Our family didn’t go out to eat too often while I was growing up (less than once a month, and sometimes not even that), but that made it all the more special when we did go out. Now, anytime I visit a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, I’m automatically transported back to my childhood and a happy time. Everyone in the family would put on their happy faces for Cracker Barrel night. When I bite into a chicken fried chicken breast, I remember sitting beside my brother and across from my dad, with lamp light glinting off of our forks.
Now I live in Cookeville, with my mom, dad, and brother still in East TN. Even though my parents are divorced now, Cracker Barrel is still a special place to spend time with each of my parents. Harriman is no longer the middle ground, so we’ve transferred our Cracker Barrel evenings to Crossville. The evenings are definitely different now; Preston and I are over four feet tall, I order hashbrown casserole now, Brinn’s often part of the equation when we go, and now we have Ian! So often you hear, “you can never go back.” But Cracker Barrel does help me to go back, even if it’s just brief glimpses and glimmers of how life used to be. Now Cracker Barrel has become the perfect place to meld my past with my present, and I’m sure it will also be significant in my future.
Ian is learning the Cracker Barrel tradition as well. Because it is such a convenient meeting point, it gives his grandparents a chance to see him for a few hours when it would’ve otherwise been too difficult for them to make the drive all the way to Cookeville. A neat little feature we’ve learned about Cracker Barrel is that CB is extremely baby friendly because you can take a fussy baby outside and rock him! While Ian has been to CB several times, Friday night was his first time to “eat out.” Daddy and I ordered Ian a naked sweet potato, mashed it up fine, and took turns feeding him small spoonfuls of it. Ian loved it! Now he is thoroughly part of the Cracker Barrel family tradition.