I would not trade my growing-up years in Johnson County in the sixties and seventies for anything on earth. Lessons learned and experiences gained are indelible ingredients in my makeup. I suppose my love for good food can easily be traced to those childhood days.
Easy to memory are Sunday afternoons at Grandma’s house sneaking bites of dinner leftovers from under their makeshift cloth refuge on the kitchen table. It took me many years to figure out that Grandma wasn’t hiding the food from us grandchildren, but from flies and bugs that found their way through the hole in the screen door. Nothing has ever tasted quite like the Sue Bee spun honey that could be found there on occasion. However, all too often for my childish palate, I would pry open the plastic lid to find leftover green beans or blackeye peas in the deceptive container.
Something else that remains unparralled to my taste buds were the delicious yeast rolls that were a part of my school lunch most days at Mountain City Elementary. Yes, I said school lunch. Now Mama did and does make some mouth-watering homemade biscuits, but she never baked rolls. But her cousin, Mildred, (I always called her my second mother because she was so good to me and could have been Mama’s twin) worked in the cafeteria at the school and I thought she was personally responsible for those hot, golden brown rolls. That was in the days the ladies passed each plate all the way down the line, each one dishing out a serving of mashed potatoes, meat loaf or -in Mildred’s case- rolls. She knew how much I liked them and would wave to me when she saw my class come into the lunchroom to let me know we were having rolls that day. Today I miss Mildred even more than her bread.
Another local food that could be found nowhere else in the world was Boone Trail Dairy Bar’s hamburgers. Actually, most people called it J.D.’s because the owners were J.D. and Hazel Ashley. I don’t remember Mr. Ashley as he passed away many years ago, but his wife was a friend of my mother’s. Ms. Hazel and the crew of ladies that worked there kept the delicious food coming until a few years ago when she became ill. Our community lost a fine lady when she passed away a couple months ago.
I always enjoyed going to J.D.’s, not only for the food, but also for the good conversation. Ms. Hazel never failed to ask about my mother, and Marie McElyea would inquire about my oldest son. When I was a child, my Aunt Ruth Crowder and family friend, Mae Pardue, always had a smile for me. All these ladies have since gone on and are dearly missed.
In addition to their famous burgers, J.D.’s made a mean chocolate milkshake and banana split! In fact, I was such a fan of the place that they knew what my order was going to be when they saw me coming. If it was lunch time, it was a large cherry Coke, an order of fries and a hamburger with no onions. Afternoon meant a banana split with nuts.
I have yet to find an equitable replacement for J.D.’s banana splits, but I have found Hardee’s comes real close on the chocolate shakes. Hand-dipped and mixed. You don’t know what you’re missing if you haven’t tried one.
And now thanks to the Parsons family, a J.D.’s burger has once again taken its rightful place in Johnson County, this time at the Quick Shop. I made my first stop at the recently opened lunch counter last week, and have already been back three times.
Advertised on the menu as Boone Trail Burgers, I was curious to see if they lived up to their name. They do. Sinking my teeth into the first J.D.’s burger I had had in years was like seeing an old friend after a long absence. I closed my eyes and imagined for a moment that I felt the warm sun on my face and a breeze rustling my napkin on the table in front of me as I sat on a cool concrete bench outside J.D.’s. Reaching for my napkin before the wind could snatch it away across the parking lot, reality hit and I realized that it was not the wind but only my son’s hand brushing past my napkin as he stole fries from my plate. And the warmth of the sun? Only the beginning of one of those “personal summer moments” I have been experiencing for months now.
As my Dad says, “all jokes aside,” the Boone Trail Burgers at the Quick Shop are difficult to distinguish from the originals. According to Kevin, the Parsons family bought the old J.D.’s equipment and even got the recipe for the burgers from one of the ladies that worked there. Apparently, I’m not the only person longing for that unique taste that I thought was a thing of the past.
Each time I have gone in for lunch since my discovery has found my burger to be even closer to what I remember. On Saturday a little mustard had been added and today it was a couple slices of pickle. Maybe one day soon I can add a cold refreshing cherry Coke to my hamburger with no onions and homemade fries. How about it, Kevin?