Next Food Exit 20 Miles

Renae Brabham

My four girls, three grandchildren, and a friend threw backpacks into the truckbed. They were heading back to North Carolina after a week with us. Their requested breakfast that morning was cake and ice cream. I obliged. Hey, that's what grandmas do. One hour later, they wanted to know what was for lunch. Much to their chagrin, I pulled out the chicken pasta salad I made that morning. I'm sure I just shot down the sugarplum dreams of their mainstay kitchens: Mc'D's, Chick Filet, Taco Bell. They hadn't eaten any fast food in six days. (Earlier, when one of my granddaughters asked the requisite "What's for dinner?" question, and I answered "Chicken," she without pause asked "What are my two sides?"


I have to admit that I can't compete with fast food. I gave it my best shot and got all thumbs up around the table when I made my Shut the Front Door Chicken Strips. Even then their glee may have been because I told them that the recipe was a copycat for a popular closed-on-Sunday fast food place we all know.  


I realized the allure of fast and furious eating as we headed down the Interstate for a quick visit with their great grandparents before they headed out of town. They called out restaurant plaques on the exit signs like my brother, sister, and I did with license plates as a kid. I finally fell prey to a 120-foot golden arch sign. Five happy meals and a floorboard of discarded junk toys later, we were all happy. I must admit that was a good little mystery meat burger. I haven't had one in so long. I now believe they were jonesing because we had cooked our meals all week. They thoroughly enjoyed it, too, and even made a large family meal one night, but the fact remains: six days with no fast food. 


Later in our journey, we turned down the country road to my parents' home in Dorchester. I slid out of the truck seat to let my 15-year-old granddaughter practice driving.The other three girls said a prayer before we took off. The hurry of the morning subsided with the slow passing of country miles. No signs beckoning or proclaiming their millions sold, just pastures, fields of soybeans dotted with remnants of last year's cotton crop, pine trees, and massive oaks. I glanced down at the phone and she's a goner. Zero bars. All the phones are silent. No notifications.  


The next couple of hours were spent outside promenading the sandy gravel road on a golf cart and Gator. The front porch offered shade, breezes, and the melody of Mom's wind chimes. With sweaty cups of lemonade in hand, the girls connected with their great grandma and gr-granddaddy.  


And then we got back on the Interstate. Two girls succumbed to the ride and fell asleep. The other two kept me company with stories and singing. I called my daughter to see where she was on her journey to meet me halfway. We decided to meet in the parking lot of Hardee's off of I-77, exit 179. Where else? I had to smile as my daughter pulled out of the parking lot without a purchase. She won, that round.