It’s odd how a stray word or phrase will set my mind to wandering over ancient history. A couple of friends made reference to Whataburger today and even though I’m avoiding beef like the plague (or should that be plaque?)lately, my taste buds are begging for a trip to Texas. Oh, I know some of you from Arkansas think you know what I’m talking about because you’ve been to a burger joint in Russellville, which stole the name, but I’m talking about a chain of fast-food restaurants in Texas, famous for their A-frame buildings and their huge hamburgers. In my mind, there isn’t a burger in the world that compares.
If I said I grew up on these wonderful meals on a bun, you might have an image of a modern day child, pigging out every other day at some fast-food joint. Such was not the case with my growing up on Whataburgers. My familiarity with these delectable all-beef patty, lettuce and tomato, dill pickles, not-a-smidge-of-mayonnaise-on-them sandwiches, requiring two hands on the buns at all times, was the worship-from-afar kind of acquaintance.
I remember the day when eating out was a treat, something to be looked forward to and savored like the rare delight it was. Families ate dinner at home, around the table. Menus were planned for the week, groceries purchased at the H.E.B. store, and meals prepared in the kitchen. We ate what was on our plates, even if it was liver and onions with a serving of mushy peas on the side (oh, if you could see the face I’m making as I write this!). No wonder we dreamed of eating out!
For some reason, when I think of Whataburgers, I remember most of all, Sunday afternoons. I think this wasn’t so much because of the hamburgers (that seems such an inadequate word to describe this Manna from heaven), but because of the romance of the beautiful orange and white A-frame building (well, look at it!). My family held church services at 2 different nursing homes on Sundays. We were at one of them every week and at the second we had a service every other week. The whole family went, piling into the old Ford station wagon and driving 10 or 12 miles to the next town over from where we lived. We’d sing hymns, with one of us kids playing the old portable organ and Dad would preach. After a 30 or 40 minute service, which could seem like hours to me, we’d head back across town to the next service, usually with a few extra minutes to spare. Of course, there was a Whataburger positioned on the route, specifically placed there to torment us. We would sit in the back seat, whispering, “Please stop, please stop”, hoping to hear the blinker come on and to have the amazing treat of Root Beer in those beautiful orange and white paper cups. We usually just had the drinks, with the full meal being reserved for even more special occasions. The funny thing is that both happened so seldom, I’m sure I remember it much more fondly now, than if it had been a weekly stop on the way. Anticipation is an amazing tool in improving the actual experience. And, boy, my Dad knew how to make the anticipation stage last a long time. It was sometimes months between the much prayed for visits.
I always make it a point to eat at a Whataburger when I go back to Texas now. It’s not the same…the A-frame buildings have been replaced with modern dine-in shops, retaining only the barest vestige of the original design motif. When I step through the doors though, the aroma from the kitchen takes me back 40 years, and I’m a kid again. The hamburgers seem much smaller and somehow, seeing breakfast tacos on the menu doesn’t help to bolster the mirage of childhood, but for just a split second, I’m back home. And, it’s a good place to be.
Life speeds past. What once was an uncomplicated existence, living in the moment and enjoying the simplest of pleasures, has become a jumble of events, interactions, and relationships. But the simple pleasure is still there, waiting for moments of calm and a good memory or two to surface. Right now, why not take a moment to remember, call an old friend, or take out the photo album and share a minute with your family? You look good with a smile on your face! And tomorrow will look better to you because of it.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”