The Crooked Tree Cafe was a cozy little restaurant and socialization spot for folks in the country side. My father being single, spent many nights there drinking, fellow-shipping with friends, and we would have supper there as well. These were the days where dad would say “Just put it on the tab” and would pay once a week on payday. I can remember during the summers saddling-up Peanut, riding down to Crooked Tree, having lunch and sharing a mountain dew with my noble stead.
Dad loved the ham-n-cheese hoagie with tater tots and cheese. I would order the grilled cheese, french fries and a side of pickles. Lilly was an amazing cook, she had owned the restaurant for 17 years, she helped me learn to make homemade gravy and other delicious dishes to make for my father and I. She had horses, a beautiful pond behind the store and we all attended chapel together on Sundays. Growing up in the rural part of Mississippi, rope swings, pond swimming, horse back riding, and tree climbing, were regular play activities. All of which, I would participate in at Crooked Tree.
Lilly had a granddaughter about my same age, Mandy. Mandy and I would work the restaurant during the summer months for $5 an hour. In Mississippi, summers are hot, especially when working in a kitchen, so during our two hour break we would run down the pier and jump in the pond out back for a swim.
Being a frequent flyer at The Crooked Tree Cafe, we were familiar with all the regulars. I would play games of darts, shoot pool and pick out songs on the juke box. As a kid, The Crooked Tree was like an adventure park, just the down home version. I would always love to go visit Lilly, play and have fun. That’s also how I learned to drive. Since the cafe was just two and a half miles down the same gravel road we lived on, dad would have too many drinks and have me drive home.
The normal patrons became our community, our village, our extended family. We would be invited to Lilly’s Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas events with her family. We would celebrate along with them on birthdays, anniversaries and other events. A couple older guys, around my father’s age would pick the guitar and sing for us. Sometimes on colder nights, after the kitchen closed, we gather around a campfire out back and listen to the hum of the outdoors.
I can remember numerous nights spent at The Crooked Tree Cafe. Lilly was as a grandmother to me, as neither of my grandmothers were able to be fully present in my life. One was banned from seeing me at age twelve, for sneaking me to see my mother and the other lived several states away. Although eventually Lilly had to retire and the cafe closed down, I will always treasure the memories made.