The girls are troopers. Both daughters indulge their father’s culinary whims and desires when making their annual trip from Arkansas to the white sand beaches of Florida. On this first day, we’re blazing a trail to Nashville to spend a couple days with friends before traveling south through Montgomery to eat at a Vietnamese noodle joint that is also connected to a well-known open air market….plus, everything and anything remotely interesting in between.
We have our family rituals of road snacks, loud music, and wind blown games; perhaps the most contentious is the “Song Game".” A revolving challenge where a person is given a random word and that they must then construct an impromptu song around. Georgi, even at 10 years old, was focused on constructing a sharp cadence that rhymed the word over and over….when given the challenge of “hands” she belted out a beauty that was also an honest study of her father
“ Dad likes all the bad bands - the one’s that cannot dance - and that wear tight pants - that we listen to on the road on the way to the beach with sands - drinking Coke from aluminum cans - while we clap our hands!”
Her songs were brief, but accurate in their simplicity. Lily, at 15 years of age, weaved together a string of melodic sentences that were more hip-hop in nature, but sweeter, and less cutting then her younger, more somber sister. Lily, like her father, was also more apt to break character and giggle before getting through a verse, even if she was the only one to think it funny or clever. As mentioned, this is an unfortunate trait she has inherited from her father, but not as severe as his ridiculous inability to successfully deliver a punchline of a joke before cracking up. Still, there was something beautiful, endearing about her delicate laughter interspersed with a few short lines of an original song that only she could construct in that car, during that trip, at that time. These are the moments, the rituals that I understand will cross my tattered mind when I’m an old man…hell, they’re the memories I have now.
Just twenty minutes off I-40 traveling east from Little Rock to Memphis, we pull into the one-light town of De Valls, Arkansas in search of Craig’s BBQ, a small joint with dusty parking, draped in the familiar smell of burning trash from down the road, and a line of trucks surrounding two sides of its exterior. Proceeded only by the creaking door, we found a small, clean table in the corner and were immediately greeted by a rowdy group of locals that shouted out, “I take it ya’ll have never been here before..?” Immediately everyone in the room began a chorus of their favorites on the menu – and for the next half hour we talked with almost every single person there.
This iconic barbecue joint first opened in 1934, and by the look of things little has changed since that inaugural year. The African American staff, totaling five between both kitchen and servers, entered quietly and quickly through the swinging door that separates the front from the back. Lily ordered her standard $5 pulled pork sandwich, one of the best any of us had ever had; while Georgi and I opted for the rib plate that came wet and piled with meat falling off the bones nestled against creamy cole slaw and smoky, slightly spicy brown beans, and a single buttered bun that I used immediately to create my own single “peg leg” sandwich centered by buttery, sauce laced rib meat. I needed another buttered bun…but I dare not ask.
The locals were entertaining, talking about a range of topics that included but not limited to the elusive Arkansas Ivory billed woodpecker, childhood antics in De Valls Bluff, and homemade pie. Oh, pie…and evidently there are two home based pie makers in this tiny town, and every damn person in the room had an opinion – at times, heated debate took an escalated turn at Craig’s and I couldn’t help but think: I wouldn’t mind living in a simple, easy town where the most acrimonious topic among neighbors has to do with pie.
Silently, as we pulled back onto I-40, east bound to Memphis, I realized clearly that the first leg of our trip was a success due in large part to original impromptu song writing and Arkansas bbq.