I’m helping my mother move from my ancestral demesne this week. I feel little sorrow regarding the move from this particular home, the third of three I lived in when I lived in Fayette County; but a much deeper sense of loss regarding certain other places that have sentimental value to me. Of course, me being I, they almost all revolve around food.
For lunch today, Abraham and I stopped at J’s Dairy Inn, located in Liberty, IN. Since the prevailing wind is from the west, if you’re in Connersville and you spit, it’ll land in Union County. In addition to being the location of J’s, it is also home to Whitewater Memorial State Park (the only lake I’ve ever swum across), and the prettiest girls per capita of anywhere I’ve ever been. I used to stop in at J’s semi-regularly during my high school days, and quite regularly when I worked as summer help doing warehousing/teamster work for E.W. Brockman Company. When they’d place an order I’d basically deliver any and every paper good they’d use. The most delicious greasy-spoon burgers, crispest crinkle-cut fries, and most gigantic milkshakes around. You could drive from Connersville to Liberty, eat at J’s and get back to work in just barely under an hour.
Dinner was from Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken. Just a regular fast food joint. Can’t hold a candle to the St. Gabriel’s Fried Chicken dinner at the Fayette County Free Fair, but it was the best fried chicken in town otherwise, and to my taste-memory, no other fast food fried chicken will ever be the same. We ate our chicken dinner at Robert’s Park, home to the aforementioned fair, demolition derbies, harness racing (and illegal gambling), classic car shows, and frequent cross-country practice destination. In the pre-season, we’d run past the dirt track, into the woods and go swimming in the Whitewater River.
Tomorrow will be Kunkel’s Drive-in for lunch. Tenderloin basket with heavy mustard and a vanilla coke. The cute girls always worked at Dairy Queen, K-mart, or Kunkel’s in high school. I remember sitting in the back of my dad’s van as a little kid and unwrapping the smell of deep fried pork, the later taste of mustard crusted in the corner of my mouth. Pizza King for dinner. Holiest of holies. St. Louis-style pie. Do you prefer westside or southside? It matters. I’m a southside feller, the oversized gooey chocolate chip cookies and tabletop arcade games as a boy, and its liquor license as an adult. I spent more time at westside though, where the teens hung out in my day. Dairy Twist for dessert, even if Abraham doesn’t eat his dinner. I went there every evening one summer for a large cherry milkshake, trying to put on some weight, and never had the confidence to ask out the girl who handed them to me night after night. Didn’t put on any weight either. Fencing in college finally did that. Now, the fight is to keep it off. Just not this week.
I’ll still have the memories of being perched on the hill at 514 Franklin Street, overlooking the whole city and feeling like a trip-step would send me sprawling onto St. Gabriel’s steeple. But I won’t be driving past that house anymore. I’ll still have memories of the house on Stoneybrook Lane, the entire days spent in William’s Creek, swinging on grape vines, socks covered in burdocks, being forced to strip outside and be cold-hosed off before even being allowed near the house. But I won’t be near that creek again. I’ll still have memories of rolling up toward Richmond with the boys, 45 minutes to the nearest movie theater, the backroad route, Pennville to Pottershop, late night truck stop stop for the Night Owl Special: a platter of biscuits and gravy for $2.00. Now just a 10 minute stretch on I-70 as I barrel toward Indianapolis.
I’ve hated on Connersville in my day. Even wrote a letter to the editor once upon a time. But it’s a great place to raise a kid, and the growing-up-to-hate-it-and-leaving is kind of necessary; if we didn’t drift away like dandelion fluff, Connersville wouldn’t be Connersville. Water flows away from the spring to nourish other areas.