Today’s Courier Herald Column:
I’m calling in sick today. Well, not actually calling. But saying I’m typing in sick really doesn’t make any sense. And, of course, I’m not really sick. It’s just spring, and the symptoms of spring fever are setting in strong. It’s also not like there isn’t work product here, so you’re not seeing much of a difference anyway. Just understand that my mind is outside on a sunny day when I’m typing this. And I will make no attempt to tie this column to Georgia politics, as is my occasional Friday custom.
When my father was a boy, his Dad got him up one Spring weekday and took him fishing. It was unannounced, and as I understand it, unplanned. The following day my grandfather had to write an excuse note to Dad’s teacher. Being an honest man, he refused to claim that Dad had been sick and he saw no need to trivialize the fact that his son had better things to do on a bright and sunny day than spend it in a school room. The note went something like the following:
“During this time of year, a young man’s thoughts turn to important endeavors that are often not confined to the classroom. One of these matters of importance is fishing. Please excuse Charlie from his absence yesterday, as it was a sunny day and he was too well to attend.”
Being from a small farming community where everyone knows everyone has its advantages. The teacher, being quite familiar with my grandfather, just smiled at Dad as he presented his excuse note and continued on, as it was clearly valid to her.
A few decades later, I wasn’t feeling well on a similar beautiful Spring morning and found myself in the school clinic. The volunteer mom serving nurse duty decided I needed to go home, and called my father at his office to come get me. He left downtown Atlanta and drove to Fayetteville to pick me up, and quickly surmised that he was experiencing less than an emergency situation. I know this because his first question was “Do you think you can handle eating lunch before we go home”.
I struggled to eat two plates of barbecue and Brunswick stew at Melear’s before we left, and seemed to forget that my head hurt. Or was it my stomach? I couldn’t really remember at that point.
I had passed Dad’s test, and we then proceeded to stop at the house only long enough to pick up a couple of fishing poles and the tackle box and head over to Uncle Frank’s lake for the afternoon. I’m fairly certain we caught a few bream and maybe a bass, but that wasn’t really significant. I do remember we had a great day being together and it was much better and more memorable than any particular day I had in school that year.
I won’t be going fishing today, as it’s been a quarter century since I’ve owned any fishing gear. My type-A personality no longer has the patience to enjoy what was once the perfect afternoon activity.
I will, however, be taking a large chunk of my afternoon to visit Harold’s Barbecue in Atlanta. Melear’s in Fayetteville closed a year or so ago, and Harold’s has announced it will go the way of so many other institutions like it after next week. It’s hard enough to operate a small business these days. Harder still in an era of fast food to estimate the amount of food you’ll need the next day as you prepare the main dish that requires being smoked over hickory coals overnight.
Harold’s and Melear’s were venerable institutions in their day. For many of us, they’re now pieces of memories that connect us to people and events from much earlier times. They, like those they connect us to, can’t be replaced or replicated in the modern world.
As an upside, Sprayberry’s Barbecue in Newnan is still around, and still has some of the best Brunswick stew available. It was the chosen barbecue home of Lewis Grizzard, so at least there are a few pieces of him left to visit.
But today I’ll say goodbye to Harold’s with some chopped pork, stew, and a piece of cracklin cornbread. Mentally, I’ll be outside fishing. After all, it’s a sunny day. I’m too well to be doing anything different.