By: Garland Davis
Driving from a school in Millington, somewhere in Western North Carolina.
It was a rustic Carolina Roadhouse down the road from the motel I decided to overnight in. The desk clerk told me I could get some pretty good barbecue there as well as a couple of cold longnecks.
I walked over from my lodgings and entered. It was a large room with a small stage and dance floor directly opposite the door and a bar to the right. There were about fifteen or twenty tables surrounding the dance floor.
I walked to the bar and took the stool in the corner where I could watch the whole room. I asked for a long neck Bud and a menu. I asked the bartender who did their barbecue. He told me the place was owned by two brothers who had inherited it from their dad. One of the brother’s wives ran the kitchen and oversaw the smoking and making of the food. He said it was considered by many to be among the best they had eaten. He pointed her out to me and said, “There she is. Her, the brothers, and her daughter play music later in the evening.”
I ordered a sandwich and it was as good as any I had ever eaten. I decided to hang around, sip a few cold ones and see what the evening brought. I could always sleep late before continuing my trip. No one was expecting me anywhere.
As I was tasting my second Bud, a sweet looking young girl came from the back, blonde with her hair in a French braid and saying hello to me and the bartender with the sweetest western Carolina accent. She walked behind the bar and started washing and drying glasses. She sweetly asked if I wanted another. Now there was no way I could say no to her. I guessed her at about fifteen or sixteen and was wondering about someone that young being permitted to work in a bar. Later when I got the chance, I asked the bartender. He told me she was nineteen, but had been working in the kitchen and later in the bar since she was about twelve. Her dad and uncle own the place and her mother is the kitchen manager. He told me she also played guitar and sang with the family band.
About seven-thirty, they started setting up and tuning instruments, getting ready for the eight o’clock show. They did one show at eight and another at ten.
She played guitar and sang, her dad played the fiddle and sang, the uncle was on the steel guitar and mom had the bass guitar. They were a fair Roadhouse band, but shouldn’t waste any money on bus tickets to Nashville. I am pretty sure they knew that.
The girl was an enthusiastic singer. She did a couple of Patsy Cline numbers along with a Tammy Wynette piece. She killed with Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Her dad sang a couple of Bluegrass pieces and she came back with Tanya Tucker’s Delta Dawn. By this time, they had a good crowd who were having a good time and applauding enthusiastically. Then she did a Sylvia pop number and almost lost the crowd. She finished with Yellow Rose and they left the stage with the audience in an uproar.
By this time, I was curious about the ten o’clock show and ordered another longneck. Figured I’d hang around. The girl came to work behind the bar. Her mother told her in a strong, no-nonsense tone, “You work here, I don’t want you on the floor waiting tables. I’ll be closing down the kitchen.”
Her dad and uncle skimmed the cash registers and went into the office. The girl worked the bar serving beer and washing glasses while the bartender mixed drinks. She was smiling, vivacious, a picture of apparent sixteen-year-old innocence. Male customers came to the bar trying to talk to her, but she just smiled and told the guys that she was working. The bartender moved them along as if he was protecting an untouchable treasure.
The family went on for the ten o’clock set and did a different set of songs. She did Jolene again. She was proud of the job she did with that number. After the applause, the crowd began to thin out. The only people hanging on were the hard corps. The last call was at eleven-thirty and closing at twelve.
About eleven her mom and dad came in and told her they were going home. Her mother told her, “Help clean up and verify the cash registers with your uncle. He will drop you off at home.”
She said, “Yes Momma, I’ll see you at home.”
About five minutes later her uncle came into the bar. She asked, “Have Momma and Daddy left.”
He nodded and said, “Yes.”
She reached for a shot glass, filled it with Patron and said, Damn, it’s about fucking time.” And shot the Tequila.