Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

Earl's Cafe

When I was a kid, just down from the Hoo Hoo Movie Theater (named for the International Concatenated Order of the Hoo Hoo, the satirical lumbermans' fraternity founded in Gurdon, Arkansas, whose symbol was a black cat whose tail was curled in the number 9), one could get a bite to eat at Earl's Cafe. Earl's was one of those old-time cafes where the rolls were home-made, the menu had a paper square of daily specials stapled on each day, and one could get a hamburger, a bit of roast beef, a chicken fried steak, southern-fried chicken (fried by real southerners) and all the other specialties of that meat and potato age. On Sundays, many of the families in town packed into Earl's small space to enjoy a luxurious Sunday dinner after church, even though this could run upwards of 3 to 4 dollars a person.

I used to love getting a basket of those rolls from the waitress, and then taking a hot, fresh roll and breaking it open. The steam would rise from the roll, and in that steam was a scent from Heaven. When my brother and I were young kids, we used to order hamburgers without any condiments but mayonaisse. The wait staff soon knew that our standing order was for hamburgers with "mayonaisse and meat". My parents joked that Earl's was a reasonably priced excursion until the day that my reading picked up sufficiently for me to phonetically spell out "s...h....r...i...m...p....Shhrrrimmmpppp. I'll have shrimp". At Earl's the key vegetable was often English peas, which I do not think of as a vegetable now, but rather as a starch.

The Hoo Hoo Theater caught fire some years ago, and the fire also badly damaged Earl's. Earl's Cafe never reopened from that calamity, and the last time I was in Gurdon, its building still sits unoccupied. A lot of other things are gone, too. The railroad depot across the street no longer welcomes passenger trains. The dime store on the corner is no longer a dime store where one bought those little ping-pong paddles with the rubber ball and the elastic stuff. The steamy dry cleaners where the owner gave me her African violets is gone. The Gurdon Times newspaper is now printed up sixteen miles away, because a printer in a neighboring town figured out that the only way to make a go with those micro-newspapers was to publish several town papers from one central location. When I was a kid, the Gurdon Times was wonderful. If one wished something to appear in the news, one just wrote the article. So long as it was appropriate, the newspaper would publish it.

Still, this time of year, Gurdon is packed with deer hunters, stopping in the auto supply and sporting goods store to register their deer. I'll bet the Gurdon Times still publishes a complete list of who got a deer, and how many antler points each buck bore. The Gurdon football team is still the "fighting Go Devils", and Friday night football games in the season just past were no doubt still the main city social event. Now basketball season will be underway, and the Go Devils, the only Class A team ever to win the overall state championship, beating a huge Little Rock school, will be doing their non-conference games against teams like McNeil and Waldo, tiny country schools where the philosophy is to shoot long three point plays with a Harlem Globetrotteresque abandon--country kids with not much better to do than to shoot fifty foot jump shots. Then the Go Devils will play their district rivals, who will actually play defense and shoot high percentage shots, and everyone will sit with little paper bags of popcorn and cheer them on two nights a week. Every so often the Cabe Public Library will announce in the Gurdon Times what new books have arrived for check-out. Once every half dozen years or so, a local minister will garner headlines by calling for the ban of school dances (again, that is, for we did not have them during my school years), on the grounds that dancing is the devil's pastime. They have cake walks at the Forest Festival, and sometimes a country and western performer.

Now I live very differently than I did then, when I could walk or bike the entire town in a good afternoon. I still remember the giant pecan and maple trees in our side yard, as well as the nights the old hotel and the the hay warehouse burned.

Part of me wishes I could go could back to Earl's Cafe, and eat a hamburger with mayonaise on it, with shoe string potatoes, and read the Gurdon Times, and feel as though I were in the center of the universe, in a town of 2,000 people, where we didn't know to be unhappy, so we weren't.
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