I love talking to folks about where they were reared, and no matter where that happens to have been - or when - we can usually find a little commonality. Take David Sargent, for instance. He's a good fellow who likes NASCAR and college football and thinks, for the most part, about like I do - which is a scary thing. David has gone to church with me for a while, but I haven't had the chance to get to know him until recently.
We were talking a here while back - which is Southern for somewhere between a month ago and yesterday - and I asked him my favorite question: "Where were you raised?"
He's from Eastman, y'all - and what a flood of memories that revelation inspired.
You see, when I was growing up, we used to travel to Jacksonville Beach, Fla., every summer. In those pre-air conditioning days, you might recall, everyone left on vacation in the middle of the night so they could drive when it was cool. Besides, you'd save a whole night's hotel bill that way.
I am not familiar with the route we took when we went to Florida, but I know it took us through Eastman and we would always stop there - at Stuckey's. And I mean the original Stuckey's. That's right. The very first Stuckey's Pecan Shoppe was on U.S. Highway 23, right outside Eastman.
Now in case you aren't from around here - or in case you never traveled through the American South in the '50s and '60s, Stuckey's was one of those places that you just couldn't pass up - especially if you were travelling with kids. They sold hot dogs and Cokes and other food items, but were most famous for their brightly painted red and yellow signs and their pecan laden confectionaries. That would be candy, for the uninitiated.
Pralines were always my favorite, but I think my sister was partial to the pecan log rolls. Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind having one of each right now.
The candy specialties and the warm food were just two reasons to stop at Stuckey's - and by the way, you didn't have to go through Eastman to do so. They eventually lined the highways and byways of this great land - at least the part of it I knew anything about. There were lots of them, in other words. Shoot fire! Homer Hill drove me and his son, Monty, home from Elgin Air Force Base one time, by way of Bainbridge - long story - and we must have stopped at a dozen on that one trip.
My mama liked stopping at Stuckey's because you could count on them to keep a clean restroom. Daddy didn't like stopping anywhere, but he tolerated Stuckey's because Mama liked it - and we kids loved it! They sold funny post cards and Confederate flags and little paperback booklets making fun of Yankee-Americans. I probably still have some of the old postcards I bought at Stuckey's packed away somewhere - and I probably still steal material from some of those old books.
They had tacky souvenirs at Stuckey's, too. We never actually bought any of them but they were fun to look at. You know what I mean. They had shrunken coconut heads and plastic back scratchers and giant fly swatters and rubber snakes.
And I think Stuckey's invented the bumper sticker. Well - maybe not, but it was the first place I ever saw any.
"Clean up the South - Buy a Yankee a Bus Ticket." Remember that one? Or how about, "Put your heart in Dixie or get your (donkey) out." I wanted one of them for the longest but never got one.
They sold a lot of ash trays at Stuckey's and a lot of salt and pepper shaker sets, too, and I loved looking at them whenever we went into the store. Actually my daddy did buy a salt and pepper shaker set one time. They were little ceramic outhouses and one had a big "P" on the rook - for pepper, of course - and one had an "S" for salt. I was up in years before I realized why my daddy thought they were so funny.
I guess we, as a society, eventually got too sophisticated for Stuckey's - or maybe we are just in too much of a hurry to examine salt shakers when we stop. Or maybe there are just too many golden arches around. For whatever reason, the chain has just about died out. Oh, you can still find a Stuckey's praline or pecan log here and there and a few convenience stores even display the red and yellow logo, but it isn't the same.
At any rate, those praline-laden memories of my childhood helped David and I connect and gave us something to talk about, and that's a good thing.
Now if there is anybody out there who is from South of the Border, up on I-95, give me a shout. There are a few questions I need to ask you about old Pedro.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.