O Cracker Barrel – A Southern Christmas Essay

November 25, 2012 | By | Comments (4)
Cracker Barrel

Illustration by Jens Bonnke

I have a confession. I really like Cracker Barrel. Never mind that its rocking chair-crowded front porch is perched on the edge of an interstate. Beneath all those washer boards and John Deere mugs is a landmark of my childhood.

On the long drive home for the holidays, a Cracker Barrel signaled that we had crossed the Mason-Dixon Line back into God’s Country. Our family hailed from Alabama but lived for a while in Detroit and St. Louis, where Dad was an NFL coach. We’d drive home on Christmas Eve or December 26, and Cracker Barrel was the only thing open.

It was usually one of the first stops on the trip. My old man drove the route with the intensity of Jerry Reed in Smokey and the Bandit and once famously passed me a Coke bottle rather than stop for a restroom. Because we usually started to travel at night, by dawn I would watch for the billboards with the brown-and-yellow logo—32 miles, 17 miles, 5 miles… the wait seemed to last forever.

A 10-year-old does not distinguish real from authentic, or roll their eyes at the corny old ads of Ty Cobb selling tobacco or even notice the sweatshirts spelling World’s Greatest Grandma in floral appliqué. I just could not wait to get real country ham and biscuits. (In Detroit, salty country ham did not exist. My grandmother Leila would occasionally mail it to me from the Winn-Dixie along with a can of boiled peanuts.)

At the restaurant, my mom used the pay phone to call her folks to let them know our progress. I was allotted one toy. Most often it was fake dog poop, a whoopee cushion, or a corncob pipe—anything that would make my grandfather laugh or annoy my sister. We waited for our breakfast while playing that infamous golf-tee board game where leaving four or more tees meant you were an eg-no-ra-moose.

The restaurant always had holiday music playing and a great-smelling fire going in a huge rock fireplace, usually with a Christmas tree nearby. My family would gather ’round the fire and eat our holiday biscuits, not caring if the fire and the biscuits were franchised up and down the South’s interstates. For us, it meant we were almost home.

New York Times best-selling author Ace Atkins plans to leave a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle for Santa.

**Note: Cracker Barrel closes at 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve and is closed Christmas.

COMMENTS

  1. O Cracker Barrel – The Daily South – Southern Living | Blog Mas Rifky

    [...] Cracker – Google Blog Search O Cracker Barrel – The Daily South – Southern Living I have a confession. I really like Cracker Barrel. Never mind that its rocking chair-crowded front porch is perched on the edge of an interstate. Beneath all those washer boards and John Deere mugs is a landmark of my … more info… [...]

    November 26, 2012 at 2:12 am
  2. L C HOWELL

    A very warming story. It touches the many memories of my mind, while raising four children and being a “dependent wife” of a career Navy man. We too travelled during the holidays to visit grandma’s house down south. And one of our favorite stops was the Cracker Barrel. It of course consisted of the children running to grab the first available rocking chair, and then who could beat who in a game of checkers on the front porch as we waited for the call, “party of six, your table is ready”. As we entered the restaurant, each child had already decided on their “favorite” meal, which usually included lots of maple syrup, which invaribly was spilled or dripped all over the table. We had some very “understanding” and always friendly waitresses. After the many “pitstops” and “don’t touch that” was over, we were full and ready for another adventure on the road to grandma’s.

    November 26, 2012 at 7:33 am
  3. Kim

    Loved seeing this hometown boy on the pages of my SL this month! I’ve laughed about that “eg-no-ra-moose” line for a couple of days now. Hoping to see more of Ace in this format.

    November 26, 2012 at 11:10 am
  4. O Cracker Barrel – A Southern Christmas Essay – The Daily South … | Blog Mas Rifky

    [...] Cracker – Google Blog Search O Cracker Barrel – A Southern Christmas Essay – The Daily South … I have a confession. I really like Cracker Barrel. Never mind that its rocking chair-crowded front porch is perched on the edge of an interstate. Beneath all those washer boards and John Deere mugs is a landmark of my … more info… [...]

    November 26, 2012 at 4:21 pm