Cracker Barrel, friendship and memories
By Jim Thompson
He was sitting there in the white rocking chair on the front porch at the Cracker Barrel in Cookeville, Tenn. about 1 p.m. on May 16 of this year. That is where he said he would be, and as always, he had done exactly what he said he would do.
A small, unassuming old man, about 80 years old, baseball cap, blue T-shirt, with a nice blue and white striped dress shirt over it, open as if it were a light jacket. Jeans and sneakers completed the ensemble. No one would know he got shot up badly in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star.
By chance, I had called him about an hour earlier. He was headed east on I-40, and I was headed north on Tennessee 111. We discussed our locations and decided we would get to Cookeville at about the same time.
Both of us drive a lot for work. Yes, we both still work. Along about the winter of 2015, we just missed catching up with each other on the Ohio Turnpike about 11 p.m. one night in a blizzard. We had missed by only one exit, and it is a long way between exits there. That time, I was driving from Buffalo, N.Y. to Valparaiso, Ind. (in a rental, the planes were grounded) and he was driving from Kalamazoo to his home in Washington, D.C.
This time, on May 16, I was driving from home in Duluth, Ga. to a project I have in Henderson, Ky. He was driving from his daughter’s place in Nashville back home to Washington, D.C.
We went inside, sat down and ordered lunch. I looked at him and said, “I believe the last time we had a meal together was in Jackson, Miss. right before COVID shut everything down in 2020.” He agreed. That time I was driving from Houston to home in Georgia and he was driving from West Monroe, La. to his daughter’s in Nashville.
As we sat there, I said, “Do you think this will be the last…”?
He wouldn’t let me get it out of my mouth.
I got a sharp “shut up.”
For though we talk nearly every Saturday morning, sharply at 9 a.m. Eastern, we seldom see each other anymore.
We met in the summer of 1977 when we both worked at Procter and Gamble in Cape Girardeau, Mo. We have worked together many times since as we bounced around the pulp and paper industry.
He has done countless favors for me and my family. He attended my wedding and that of two of three of my children. He would have been at the third but it was the height of COVID.
In Ohio, as my family flew off to Helsinki on a new job one January, he took care of our house, attended the closing when it sold, sent the proceeds check to my brother, fed the ducks on the pond before it sold (and chopped holes in the ice for said ducks). If I called him right now and said I really needed him, he would be here as fast as he could drive (and I would do the same).
We have talked about going to Australia and driving Australia Route 1 around the circumference of the country as our final act. Who knows.
We left the Cracker Barrel. He got on I-40 headed east. I got on I-40 headed west. Two old men with a lifetime of memories, some good, some bad, a few tragic.
I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything.
Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.