"The lost and really stupid can find their way home sometimes!" I heard as I moved out of the way of the fully assembled quarter pound cheeseburger flying toward my head. The shot was thrown purposefully off target, somewhat, and I had time to observe how even in flight the burger kept structural integrity all the way to impact on the small target wall next the screen door. Years of past experience with flying cheeseburgers told me that Cecil was still making his own sticky pickle relish that in a pinch made a fine glue. But instead of worrying about what my lower digestive track might have still affixed to it from my high school years I was very pleased that my surprise reappearance to one of my old haunts had gone over so well. Had it not the burger would have definitely impacted right in my face with another quickly to follow if I had not turned tail and escaped out the screen door. Cecil's aim was deadly, in a flying cheeseburger sort of way, and he made no bones about whom he would and would not allow in his eating establishment. Slightly before my time Cecil tagged the county sheriff with one after he found out that he had cheated on his wife, Cecil's sister. Other family related events transpired between the two but such more serious issues were only whispered about in such a small town. But after the sheriff walked out of Pop's Grill wiping relish, ketchup, and mustard off his face and uniform any further contact between the two was handled by a third party.
Cecil stood at the serving window from inside the kitchen, his hands fully exposed as he leaned against the wall dividing the kitchen with the screen-in porch that served as the eating area. Cecil stood a hair or two under six feet tall with a medium build that some in the past had taken as sign for lack of strength only to be rudely disproved when they pushed him too far. At this point in time he had to be in his early fifties but except for his gray dominated hair ending in a ponytail down his back his face and energy were that of a much younger man. Much of that came from an exercise regimen he had held since his return from Vietnam in the early seventies.
Mounted a few inches below the serving window was a bar running the length of the wall. Two of the five places at the bar were occupied, each stool was reserved for regulars who had been affixed to this place for years much like the presidents on Mount Rushmore. One of the gravest sins that could be committed at Pop's Grill would be for some newcomer to the area, or worse a Yankee, to take a seat at the bar while one of the regulars were away. Such an innocent first occurrence by some kid would have Cecil escort you out the place. Show some attitude about the issue and a few approved customers would bodily throw you out the place. The worst episode came one day when a group of bikers from Ohio stopped by without leaving their attitudes outside and took up residence at the bar. The resulting fight and stray shotgun blast from the 12 gauge pump Cecil had tucked away in the kitchen was talked about for many years. So as I proceeded in I was careful to find a seat on top the closest picnic table to the group.
"Well," Cecil began," How the hell is married life? Or did that woman get a new pair of glasses and drop your skinny ass?"
"No, we are still married, but I did tell her I was heading out no matter what to the coast today so I could do some surfing", I said.
"Good man", the Hawaiian shirt wearing guy sitting at the bar on one of the precious stools said. "The last thing you want is to have any woman treat you like some servant no matter how good she might be in the sack. " A stream of blue smoke drifted around his head from what remained of the six inch brown turd, Jamaican cigar, he smoked.
"Oh my Jesus," said Cecil's wife, Eva sitting on one of the other bar stools. " Ryan is going to start giving advice again. This is my cue to leave honey, I'll be back before they mess you up too much." She said giving me a quick hug before she walked into the back area of the main building. Eva was in the fifties herself and still as hot as the first day I saw her as a kid. Her and my first grade science teacher, Mrs. Spears, were the objects of my first crushes.
Chester Ryan Jefferson McPherson, Hawaiian shirt guy, was the most accomplished of the little segment of Pop's royalty. Ryan, he hated his name Chester, came from a very old Southern family that traced and charted the family history much like a horse breeder does a Kentucy Derby winner. In his childhood years his parents had set him on the path to follow in his family footsteps of attending the Naval Academy. He hit all their benchmarks along the way until it came to what career in the navy he pursed. Instead of a "normal" path on surface ships he went into naval aviation flying jets from the late fifties until he retired in the early eighties. As he told the story his family might have survived and forgiven his independent streak if he had not compounded it by marrying a Hawaiian girl while in the Pacific. A fine Southern gentleman was suppose to return home and marry some Southern Belle. A few years after they were married she died in childbirth along with the baby. The way I understand it while he never was without female companionship he never remarried. After his retirement from the navy he invested his money wisely owning several businesses along with a nice sailboat and a twin engine Cessna. His biggest vice, beside cigars, were younger women and even if he had been pennyless his charms alone would have kept him in female company. His charms never sank younger than college age girls with many a love sick young woman convinced they had found the love of their life in him. Somehow at summers end he found a way to disengage himself from the lady sending her on her way. By the 90's his age limit had been raised but he still flirted with the college girls to the point that some wondered what he was doing the times he sailed off for a few weeks each summer. He never answered any questions about such voyages and several times college girls would come by Pop's looking for him to say goodbye. Ryan would just turn back to us after they left with the biggest shit-eating grin on a guy you could see.
"Take good care of your wife but keep some distance between you and her", Ryan said, "time away helps keep your souls clear of fatigue." " I told all three of your uncles the same thing before they got married."
Uncle Paul was almost, but not yet approved to sit at the bar but did still stop by and to keep up with the group that had sat in the same place while he attended high school. My first time at Pop's was when Uncle Paul and George, along with Easyrider and Suferdude began to bring me along as chick bait on beach trips. The outside of the place, even in my earliest memories, was of what looked to be a rickety old shack made of driftwood. The building itself was little more than the kitchen with a freezer and dry goods storage area. The biggest area was the screened-in porch that had six picnic tables resting on a deck where everyone except the royalty ate. Ceiling fans mounted on the rafters stirred the air and with a good breeze from outside the place always seemed to be comfortable. Resting against the back wall next the road just below the screen was an old fashion refrigerated cooler that Cecil kept the sodas. The second greatest sin in the place was to open a soda in the place without first paying for it. A radio played softly in the background adding a sleepy atmosphere to the place even as kids ran in and out during busy times.
Pop's Grill history extended back before both Cecil and Ryan all the way back to the late forties. The original owner's were two local guys named Captain Andy and, of course Pop. Captain Andy, like Ryan later on, was born to influence and riches to a local family. His return was marred by the fact that he had lost a leg in combat in Italy along with snobbish attitude about socializing with poorer folks. Captain Andy had been a company commander with Pop at some point ending up a platoon sergeant in his company. Pop in turn had been born poor but had been "smart as a whip" as he was described to me allowing him to move up the enlisted ranks. How two Georgetown boys ended up serving together in the same company was never explained to me but they developed a friendship that was kept even after they returned home and the social circles they came from. Captain Andy came home and married the girl that more or less had been arranged between the two families years before and as far as they were concerned the newly married couple should now start making babies. Instead of taking his place at the family department store business he was often found working on the shrimp boat Pop was running. I believe Andy played the part he was suppose to for several years until he found that his bride was seeing another guy resulting in more drama that somehow ruined his name with her and her true beau running out of state. Andy became something of a recluse living from a bottle while floating up and down the coast wherever he could find work. Every story I have ever heard about him during this time pretty much has him about to cash in his chips until sometime in the fifties when a sudden, very bad storm came up on Winyah Bay he went in a small boat to rescued two young boys who got caught on the suddenly rough waters. Being a hero, again, reset something in his mind and allowing him straighten out his life. He started several businesses in the area namely Pop's Grill just off the North causeway going onto Pawleys Island and the Club Diner, a drive up eatery, in Georgetown. Andy now floated up and down the coast managing his affairs but found time in the mid-fifties to remarry and start a family of his own.
It was at the Club Diner that as a five year old very active boy I ran hellbent into the place hitting Captain Andy just right somehow knocking him off balance with his artificial leg causing him to fall down. My dad, who had been talking with the guy who ran the Club Diner for Andy, about had a heart attack but Andy just laughed, picked me up after picking himself up and had the car hop fix us two milkshakes after which he told me stories of his time in the service.
Pop, who had gotten tired of the shrimping life, went into business with Andy on the Pawleys Island place coming to own it outright several years down the road. Unlike Andy, who just managed his businesses allowing other people to work them, Pop stayed with the place cooking the food and setting up the rules and traditions until he sold the place to Cecil who had grew up in the place from his early days after he got back from Vietnam.
It being a weekday with school still having a few weeks till Summer break and I spent several hours with Cecil, Eva, and Ryan with hardly anyone coming in except a couple of more regulars each taking their ordained place. My reason for the trip had been to surf but the local waves, never much to talk about to begin with , were that day missing but the company and conversation were far better anyway. It was easy to tell that times were changing fast with far more construction transforming the quiet little village into some sort of cancerous yuppy enclave. The west side of Highway 17 long a place of swamps and "trailer trash" were quickly being filled in with fancy preplanned subdivisions that had far too many Audis, Benzs, and BMWs coming out of them. Both Cecil and Eva lived in one of the older houses off island that while surviving Hugo had suffered considerable damage. They more or less repaired it make to what it was before. The new places going up around them were grand McMansions that had already driven up property taxes forcing many longtime locals back into town. Business was also drifting away because the kids these days being raised on the hamburger clown crap were staying with it as they grew older. While I've hit the clown more than a few time myself for both speed and convenience the sight of a hamburger clown place along with several others of the breed being built in Pawleys made my stomach turn. As the hours flew by Uncle Paul and Suferdude showed up and I left with them to go drink some beers, so much that I ended up taking a second day off driving back home the next day. Little did I know that Dragonwife would in a few months be pregnant with Darth Spoilboy and it had been my hope that I could have at least introduced him to Pop's Grill much in the same way my uncles did me but the business did not keep up and Cecil sold the place around 1995 to a couple from Pennsylvania who he reported to Uncle Paul made at least a vague promise to keep it the same. Spoilboy was born in October of that year and in the summer of 1996 I came back to inspect, Uncle Paul warned me it wasn't good. The entire place had been redone in vinyl siding with the huge screen-end area now sporting big plate glass windows enclosing it. Walking up to what had been the screen door was now a commercial plate glass door with a sign saying "NO SHOES OR SHIRT, NO SERVICE" taped to it. Cecil would have a fit about that one, for the entire history of the place barefooted people in wet bathing suits were the customer base. The interior had been redone, needless to say, in some sort of fake neo-fifties theme that stank for so many reasons I can't even begin to list them. I couldn't even begin to make myself eat in the place I felt so angry about what had been done I walked out after only a minute or two in the defiled shrine to so many. Talking with Uncle Paul and George I found out that Cecil, Eva and Ryan had expatriated to someplace on the Yucatan peninsula opening a business there. They stay in contact with my uncles along with the other approved customers and the surviving regulars even now. In fact Ryan married a Mexican lady in 2002 and is now the dad to her kids. I still make a habit of driving by the place that we called Pop's Grill every time I go home. Someone is always talking about returning it to what its was and I believe someone will one day. When that happens I plan on being there on the reopening claiming my heritage with my own stool at the bar.
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