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The Sunday We Almost Ate Out at Renfrow’s Cafe

Dwalia South

Donuts on Cake

People are just too mobile these days. Folks these days think nothing of driving to Tupelo or Memphis just to eat out.

I vividly remember the single occasion when my family decided to “go out to eat” when I was a child. After church one Sunday Mother said she wanted to get away from the house and just for once not have to cook.

This was back when Sunday dinners at home were quite a big deal in most families. There was usually company on hand to feed, sometimes relatives from out of town who had attended Whittentown Baptist Church that morning.

Very often the preacher and his family would acquiesce to Daddy’s invitation to “come take dinner with us.”

But on this Sunday for some reason Mother said she was tired of cooking and she wanted to go to town to eat what we all thought was the ultimate in haute cuisine at the time, “a ready-made dressed hamburger on a bun with a side of French fried taters.”

This version was dramatically different from the type of burgers my Mother prepared for us. She always made hamburger patties the way country cooks began doing in the hard times when meat was scarce... the ground beef mixed with bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and an egg, then fried in a black iron skillet and served on loaf bread. Today these are called ‘slug-burgers.’

This was back in the early sixties and I think perhaps the only “sit-down” restaurant there was in the town of Ripley was Renfrow’s Cafe. Don’t quote me on that.

I was beside myself with anticipation all the way to town.

When we got to the Ripley square I heard Mother groan “Oh no, we’ll never get anything to eat. Just look at how many cars are here.”

Not to be outdone, Daddy parked the truck and took us in anyway. I think there were only three chairs left in the entire cafe. I had never been in a restaurant before. My concept of ‘eating out’ was to go to my Uncle Marvin and Aunt Donie Day’s little country grocery store in Shady Grove for rag-baloney and hoop-cheese on Premium Saltines.

To a child, Renfrow’s looked gigantic inside and way too fancy for us. There were men in there eating with suits and ties on. Since the men in our church didn’t dress up like that, I figured these fellows must have been pallbearers going to a funeral.

Then I saw the person that I now know was Ruth Renfrow behind the counter working furiously. This lady had on a white uniform and orthopedic shoes, so I had her figured as a nurse.

The three of us eased in quietly to an empty wall-side table and took a seat. Our low-key entrance backfired on us however because no one noticed us come in, not even Ms. Ruth.

We sat patiently for about 30 or forty minutes while my Daddy nodded at people he knew who passed by the table where we sat.

That half an hour seemed like an eternity and the place was so crowded that people were accidentally elbowing us when they passed by.

My folks were too polite to yell out to be noticed by the waitress. She looked pretty frazzled herself at this point.

My Mother, always the minute person, said “This beats all I’ve ever seen. Terry South, you take me home right now!”

I was disappointed of course, but that big city atmosphere had made me nervous too. So we eased out of the cafe without saying a word.

Mother was as mad as a wet setting hen, but my Daddy was unruffled. I was just hungry more than anything else.

We jumped in the pick-up and drove home where my Mother fixed us peanut butter and banana sandwiches which suited me just fine.

The sad thing is that we never tried to venture back to town for the three of us to eat out again... ever. I never had the opportunity to eat at Renfrow’s when Ms. Ruth was in charge of the cooking.

Although I know my Mother Velma South was the World’s Best Cook, that remains the one culinary experience that I truly regret having missed... on the Sunday we almost ate out at Renfrow’s Cafe.

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