More Tales From a Reporter’s (and Editor’s) Notebook and Another Holiday Meal from the Convenience Store

Now Playing: The Reaper, by Blue Oyster Cult. “All our times have come, Here but now they’re gone, Seasons don’t fear the reaper, Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain..we can be like they are. Come on baby…don’t fear the reaper.”

This one was inspired by my friend Barry Bridges, who works at the Gaston Gazette and commented on Facebook yesterday that he’d never learned his lesson about eating convenience store hot dogs. To me, there’s no lesson to learn. Only a memory of a Christmas gone by …

I had a helluvalotta fun working at newspapers. Except for the holidays. Someone, usually three or four of us in the newsroom, always had to work the day before and the day of and the day after. Everyone was called in for holiday duty at some point.

This particular Christmas day, my friend and boss Elliott and I were taking our turns, along with a handful of others in sports and the composing and press rooms.

It didn’t work too badly for me. I was single at the time. My Mom and Dad always did the gift exchange on Christmas Eve. When I was growing up, we’d eat a big meal, then wait for my pokey sister to finish eating (We eventually started telling her to start about a half hour before the rest of us) before settling down in the living room to open presents. The next day Santa would come with a box of fruit, candy and nuts and a few more gifts. Then we’d hit the car and drive over to my grandmother’s (my dad’s mom), whom I was never too fond of. It meant we never got to play with Santa stuff until we got back, which was usually longer than I wanted it to be.

Anyway, Santa had long since stopped coming by this particular Christmas. I’d given and gotten my gifts the night before, and after a quick bite, had packed the car up for the trip back to Jacksonville. If I remember correctly, it had snowed that particular week and there was still some on the ground, if not the roads.

Elliott hadn’t had as far to come, just from Pikeville (near Goldsboro), but we started splitting up the duties and getting on with the business of putting out a newspaper. I always enjoyed that part of it. And that day-after-Christmas paper wasn’t too big of a struggle anyway. The folks who weren’t working had done a bunch of advance pages and we just had to finish up.

Problem was, we got hungry, and neither of us had brought anything to eat. Neither of us had been home for a couple of days, either, so the chances of something being available in a hurry weren’t great.

So we decided to look to see if anything was open.

Bad idea. We were, of course, in the South. Even if anything normally had been open Christmas Day, there was snow on the ground, so it would never would have been open. We finally decided to stop at a Scotchman near the paper to see if there was anything edible on the shelves.

But we got lucky. There was a hot dog machine in the convenience store. And rolling around on the cooker was a hot dog and a sausage dog, which meant we’d eat that night. Except we dropped them on the floor. In Jacksonville. In a store. On a day when the ground was wet.

We ate  them anyway, along with some chips and a soda. And you know what? They were delicious, ’cause they were what we had. Nothing says, Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men like a convenience store dog.

Now for Another Holiday Meal from the Convenience Store:

Several years later, I was back at a convenience store on a holiday, this time a Seven-Eleven in my hometown of South Boston, Va. OK, my actual hometown was Cluster Springs, but SoBo was the nearest “big” city.

It was Thanksgiving 1992, and it was the second time I’d taken Karen to South Boston, though we’d been living together for several weeks. The first time we went, my Mom insisted we stay in separate rooms. It was a lot for her to digest, so we played along.

But I wasn’t ready to play this time.

We got there just in time for Thanksgiving lunch, with my mom and sister and brother and their families. The amount of food was, as always unbelievable, yet, as always, my Mom worried that she hadn’t cooked butterbeans. We ate and talked and ate some more before retiring to the den for football. After awhile, my Mom suggested we bring our bags in and told us which rooms to use.

I didn’t blink an eye. “Mom,” I said, “I know you’re not comfortable with us sleeping in the same room here, but we want to be together. We’re going to town to stay in a hotel. We’ll come back by tomorrow and see you before we leave town.” She protested and even relented on the sleeping arrangements.

But to me, it really wasn’t even about that. (OK, it was about that, but there was a larger issue.) Although I was the youngest of her children, I was ready to stop being the baby. By this time, I was around my mom so infrequently that I usually let her have her way. And I really did respect her. But this time I put my foot down.

Karen and I got a hotel room that night, and we felt good about it. Except (against the odds, after all the lunch we’d eaten) we got hungry. And tried in vain to find something to eat. Finally, we found the Seven-Eleven along U.S. 58 going toward Danville. With luck, it was open. They had some of those sandwiches in plastic bags. And chips. And soda.

That was our second Thanksgiving feast of the day. And we enjoyed it.

After that, there was never any question about where we’d stay or whether we’d be together. The next Thanksgiving day weekend, we got married.

But that’s a tale for another time.

“Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.”
_ Dave Barry


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