Christopher Morley's "What Men Live By" – A Lost Essay – Lost Essays
The following contains parts of an interview conducted by Rouge Teacher magazine. The material is used with permission from the editor, Thomas Watts.
The only thing progressive about Martin City, Kansas is the slot machines at the local casino until Sylvia Gomez accepted the job as a seventh-grade teacher at Martin City Middle School.
Martin City, a town with a population that does not reach the elevation of the county courthouse, has, for years, existed in quiet comfort.
Sylvia is not new to teaching, although she is new to Martin City. She has an extensive record of excellent rapport with parents, students, cohorts, administration, and the public.
Relocating to Martin City was not her choice; her partner Margaret’s parents passing, Martin City locals, was the catalyst that found Cynthia in this not-so-familiar location.
“Margaret and I had discussed moving out of the urban sprawl; we just did not realize it would happen so fast or could have ever imagined the events that would bring us here,” Cynthia stated in a recent interview.
“The sudden and tragic passing of my wife’s parents undoubtedly tore at all our being. She (Margaret) felt that it would be a benefit to return to Martin City, to find closure.”
She continued in the interview to discuss how the couple fell in love with the area and community.
“At first, I was leery of being an openly married lesbian couple.” However, she explains that soon that apprehension subsided, and the couple felt right at home.
“It felt like we belonged, and as soon as the teaching position opened up at the middle school school, I truly felt that this was the best decision we had ever made.”
Cynthia proved to be an excellent teacher, and her students and the community’s response to her were highly positive.
“We were ecstatic to have her on board.” exclaimed the principal of Martin City Middle School, Douglas Chase Elms. “We all loved her from the first day. I will confess that I was apprehensive, with regards to Cynthia and Margaret’s inclusion, but will admit that all openly welcomed the couple.”
While the personal choices of the couple might not have created a ripple in the community, Cynthia’s classroom procedures would soon prove to be a bit much.
“Teachers, myself included, create groups in the classroom. These groups could be for an activity, a game, or specialized instruction. Teachers sometimes count off the students or draw straws; there are countless ways to create in class groups.”
“I wanted this group creation to mean something, to teach something. So I began grouping children by LGBT?.” She states with pride.
“It was solely an attempt at classroom organization. My tables were labeled L, G, B, T, and ?.”
Cynthia admits, “I wanted to start a discussion; I wanted to be a conduit of progressive ideas.”
She confesses that this confused the children at first, and her students asked many questions. “Similar to other topics people truly don’t understand, after the knowledge is in place, the silliness and bias fade away.”
The children did have questions.
“I would address each question with honesty and remained non-biased in my answers; soon, the students found this grouping not odd but part of the classroom sphere. In only a couple of days, it was another part of their vast, diverse world.
The students soon understood that members of the L, G, B, Q,? community was no different than them, individuals who loved and learned, achieved and supported each other with dignity and respect.”
“I knew I could use this opportunity to increase the students understanding and knowledge about their peers, themselves, and with the world outside of Martin City.”
Her classroom actions soon found their way to the public forum.
“Synthia, initially, was not transparent,” Elms stated, “but once the stakeholders witnessed the results, we understood her motives, we were sold on her plan.
“She took and opportunity, what could have been an empty moment in her classroom, and turned it into a valuable lesson.” Elms proudly admits.
Elms stated, “We have all grown since Cynthia has arrived and allowed us to find that labels we were ignorant to what these labels represented, that we, as a campus limited ourselves with our ignorance.”
Cynthia admits that her rouge behavior was out of place in such a conservative campus but went on to say, “It is not for every teacher, campus, or district, but I knew, in my heart, that Martin City was ready to grow and understand others.”
“I had no idea how much support I would receive from my peers and parents. An overwhelming feeling of tolerance permeates on the campus; this feeling finding its way into the children’s homes and soon to the town at large.
Currently, her ideas are gaining national attention.
“I am getting email daily from other teachers and administrators who would like to find ways to teach acceptance and tolerance on their campuses; I am humbled to have created a ripple that I hope soon will become a wave.”
I top off the tank under the watchful eye of a fellow pumper. Like every other station in every other town along every other road, that one person is always there, always ready to start that conversation, “I had a Harley.”
“Oh yeah?” I respond.
“’85 FXSB,” he states.
“Damn,” I reply.
“My buddy and I went coast to coast in ’88, over 4000 miles in two weeks.”
“Really, that’s wild.”
Securing the gas cap, I mount the machine and switch the ignition to on.
“Where you headed?” he asks.
He shifts his head and furrows his brow – “What the hell is in Mississippi?”
I hit the starter and allow the bike to help bring an end to the conversation; with a raised voice, I proclaim – “Spirit!”
I rumble down the road, east out of the hills of Arkansas, looking to find my way across the Mississippi River and into the lowlands of the Delta, with his question still in my mind.
What the hell is in Mississippi?
I believe that a spirit exists in Mississippi. A nonlinear spirit whose growth, like a plant, weaves and meanders in pursuit to find its sustenance, a spirit that accepts that we are of a single existence and our expression is pure when delivered without pretense.
I believe that that spirit exists in the Blues. A dissonant, inharmonious combination of rhythms and harmonies that, born from experiences deeper than my own, create a purer tonal expression.
But that is just my opinion, and who am I to talk about the Blues –
My life is linear.
Currently, right angles make up my order. Straight lines build my home, my relationships, my future. I am comforted by the order or the right angle. It maintains my uninspired infrastructure and keeps well-planned progress moving along.
I exit Arkansas by traversing the mighty river on highway 49.
The Helena Bridge spans nearly a mile and towers high above the water. Since 1961, its rigidness and strength have stood against the power of the current.
Impressive, but its form is soulless in its rivets, iron, and angles.
My destination is Clarksdale, MS. Known by some as the epicenter of the Blues, a town that lays claim to the Crossroads, the mythical intersection where Robert Jonhson sold his soul for a guitar tuning.
I enter into Mississippi, flanked by the fertile lowlands of the Delta and the random casino resort.
Clumps of trees divide the fields.
My machine rumbles, disturbing the peace and tranquility of emptiness; I ponder nonlinear expression in language and art.
An inspiration that is born from a tree’s random pathway of growth creating beauty that poets write about and an artist paints.
Without nerves or muscles, the tree pulls toward the sun, tearing through rock and twisting its form into a joyous tangled mess of life, unique and celebrated.
“I think that I shall never see – A poem as lovely as a tree” – Kilmer wrote.
Van Gogh’s Olive Trees, whose branches pitch dissident into the Yellow Sky, while those with the Alpilles in the Background curve softly, express years of emotion beset by a nonlinear life.
Do straight lines lead to an artist’s success, spiritual success, or is true and pure expression born from chaos?
Was Van Gogh’s style crude, Kilmer too simple, or the Blues not real music?
Or as Whitman stated, the “clearest expression is that which finds no sphere worthy of itself and makes one”
What expressions make the greatest impact or leaves a lasting impression of influence?
Are the Blues the equivalent to Van Gogh?
Blues music, a nonlinear expression, created from inspiration and emotion, not just the systematic and safe practices of major, minor, and modal scale?
Vincent, an artist, self-taught painting from the soul creating abstract that stirs the spirit, was rouge in his expression but subsequently inspired the world after his death.
Robert Johnson, a blues guitarist whose music and presents, arguably, allowed the world to experience the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, expressed his emotions through the rouge music known as the Blues.
Is Robert Johnson as large of a contributor to the world of art as Van Gogh?
In Clarksdale, I secure my lodging in a shack on the main grounds of The Shack Up Inn. The Shack Up Inn is a collection of unique and eclectic lodgings, holding true to my nonlinear expectations.
My temporary home is the Pine Top shack named after the legendary blues piano man Pine Top Perkins, an individual who knew Robert Johnson and had a left hand that would “roll like thunder.”
An upright piano sits in the corner of the shack in desperate need of a visit to the crossroads.
Clarksdale, Mississippi, ground zero for the blues; I bum around the town and find only a few open joints on this weeknight.
The blues are alive, and I spend a few minutes and dollars on seeing Ike Turner’s cousin’s band play.
A make-shift stage and folding tables transform the abandoned store into a live music venue, and it could not have been more perfect.
Rain begins to fall, and I head back to the shack. Soft rain and road spray wick through my jean and into my boots. The road is dark on the way back to Pine Top’s shack; the shack is darker.
I sit on the porch and look intensely through the rusted screen. The clouds give way, and the rain subsides as my eyes look beyond the field and into the dark foreboding shadows of the trees.
Kilmer used his pen and Van Gogh his brush; those who called the Delta home used their voices.
The music was the medium. The inspiration was the world. The world is the spirit.
The Mississippi morning air is thick and heats up quickly as I top off my tank.
Securing the cap, a gentleman approaches me.
“Nice bike; I had a Harley once.”
“02 Sportster,” he states.
“Damn,” I reply.
Seventy -four years ago Clark Gable was here, “cabin” number 6 – Boots Court, Carthage, Missouri.
Tonight, I sit a voyeur.
Seventy-four years ago, Clark Gable was here, fresh out of the service, still mourning the death of Carole Lombard.
I feel the movement of air – as his silhouette moves towards the door.
Eighty-four years of memories thrive in these four walls my senses discard all other and focus on Clark Gable’s visit seventy-four years ago.
I fight the bitterness.
Seventy-four years ago, 1947, Clark Gable was here, do I smell the Lucky Strike? Is blue smoke rising – drifting slowing before diverging.
I am olfactory overtaken.
Seventy-four years ago, Clark Gable was here, his voice, torn from tobacco, blustered firm statements between drinks.
I listen intently.
Seventy-four years ago, Clark Gable was here, tonight he is here, Boots Court is still here, that is why I am here.
Sticks and stones might break our bones, but words, in particular antonyms, will certainly destroy us.
A war is breaking out, a conflict of opposing opinions centered around the acceptance of the division created by the antonym. While one side sees a necessity in the antonym, the opposing faction sees the words as destructive.
The latter identifies the antonym as a device that divides cultures, societies, and families due to the words’ decisive differences.
A recent event held in East Dover, Vermont, the free-thinking organization better known as The Liberation of Thoughtless Minds Coalition or (LTMC) presented the argument against the antonym.
Antonyms, in the LTMC’s opinion, create difference and an extreme divide among the population.
“This part (the anonym) of the English language is tearing us apart,” exclaimed Neil Burgess, an original member of the LTMC.
His sentiments were shared with the vast majority of the attendees, evident by the group’s t-shirts promoting anti-antonym.
“The antonyms are out of control!” the group chanted between speakers.
LTMC does not have an issue with all anonyms.
“We are fine with Complementary and Graded anonyms,” exclaimed David Delany, the acting president of the LTMC, “we only have an issue with the relational antonyms.”
According to the LTMC website’s FAQ page, the group does believe that opposites can exist, but the group is opposed to opposites being a necessity.
“If we eradicate relational anonyms from our language, we will eradicate prejudice and racial inequality from our lives,” Delany announced to an exuberant response from those in attendance.
“Relational antonyms lead to war and social injustice.”
“Without a master, there will be no servant; without borrow, there will be no lend, no slavery to man or money.”
Delany extended his rhetoric by proclaiming, “Anonyms have created the institutions that have led to destruction, the pathway to misery is pathed with anonyms.”, he shouted under the deafening roar of the crowd.
The LTMC acknowledges that the mission of exiting misery and division from society by removing relational antonyms will not be an easy task.
During a short break-out session, I sat down with Mr. Delany to discover more about the LTMC’s mission and the struggles to get more people on board.
“Our biggest struggle is pre-fixes,” Delany confesses.
“Any English speaker has the ability to create his or her own antonyms simply by adding a prefix to over one million words.
“A simple in-, un-, non-, etc. upfront will create opposition – Will create division.”
“We attempt to stay ahead of the antonym, but we find they (the antonyms) are growing each day exponentially.
The LTMC has, they believe, found a way to stay ahead of the antonym.
Delany explains, “We have created software that continually monitors social and political issues globally. An algorithm combines the identified issues with all possible combinations of antonyms and produces a report of future oppositions.”
“We can see the future.”
“We are continually adding antonyms to our list (found on the LTMC’s website) of the most detrimental words to the advancement of a peaceful society.”
Delany does admit that, if the LTMC is successful, peace with come with a price.
“To rid our lives of hate, we must lose love,” Delany expresses with a grim but confident tone and adds, “within a few generations, without the words, the emotions will come to pass.”
A hint of smoke fills the cabin of the Douglas DC-3, 6,000 feet above East Texas.
Two crew and seven passengers, en route to the next show, be-bopping and energetic from previous engagements, three sold-out nights, a recently signed record contract, and the resurgence of the lead singer’s career, are unaware of the horror that lays ahead.
The plane’s owner and band’s leader is a rockabilly icon, teenage idol, television star, and a victim of his successes.
His rise and fall led him through many struggles, but the future was bright. New opportunities were certain, and at only forty-five, his life was beginning.
The passengers, concerned but not overly alarmed with N711Y’s situation, living was on their minds. Renewal and resurgence on the horizon.
Pilot and co-pilot bumble in their actions, every decision they make, as smoke drifts through the 14 seat aircraft, errors in their duties.
With the band’s future renewed, confidence is rebuilding, and his assurance of being a sober, respected, musician not just an aging teen idol.
His mind is on the future while appreciating his celebrated past of music and entertainment, millions of albums sold and memories of gold records, and starting a band as a teenager with an 18-year-old guitarist named James Burton.
N711Y, a moody machine.
Earlier that day, December 31, 1985, the passengers and crew loitered around the airport during a lengthy delay.
N711Y was having issues.
N711Y was always having issues, no cause for alarm.
These usual troubles were not accepted by all band members, who regularly voiced concern about traveling on the vintage plane.
December 31, and the air was cold.
The onboard heater, indiscriminately, blowing cold, blowing hot, overheating, a nuisance to both crew and the cold passengers in the magnesium tube.
New Years was only hours away, and a music starved crowd awaits the band to help ring in 1986.
For five decades, he entertained on radio, television, movies, and live. He was born with a pedigree for music and entertainment, a musician whose soul was tuned to Rockabilly and country roots, whose success veiled his loves and promoted Pop music and good looks.
He rose and fell but came out with a fresh look on life.
N711Y has issues but also a fascinating history.
She is a Douglas DC-3, vintage 1944. An aircraft whose history is rich as her current owners. Initially, Richard Dupont’s property and once Jerry Lee Lewis’s possession, this aircraft had taxied the rock-n-roll royalty along with the rich and famous.
Today the forty-five-year-old owner is only thirty minutes away from Love Field, in Dallas, Texas. His band and fiancé fill the plane with exuberance and merriment of the good life.
Last night his final words to the crowd were, “Rave on for me!” as he finished the band’s final song. Rave On, a Buddy Holly cover that, only posthumously, would weave irony into the story of this musician’s life.
Smoke becomes thick throughout the plane as the pilot and co-pilot radio for radar vectors to available landing strips.
As smoke fills the cockpit, radio communication becomes difficult, as the distressed pilots struggled for their words.
Choking for air, the pilot ditches the plane in a haphazard landing. Smoke turns to fire, and soon, N711Y’s fuselage is engulfed in flames.
The pilots, severely burned, escape through a window, and stumble about while the N711Y lays consumed in a fire in an East Texas farmer’s field.
Once the flames subsided, recoverers found all nine passengers’ lifeless and burnt bodies huddled around the plane’s door, a futile attempt to escape the inferno.
Today the tail of N711Y is on display in the community museum, next to Dollar General, in Del Kalb, Texas.
N711Y’s rudder was last seen at Air Salvage of Dallas.
“If you went on a family road trip during the 50’s, 60’s, early 70’s, you pretty much had to stop at Stuckey’s…they were the only ones…miles and miles and Stuckey’s was the only thing you saw” – Tim Hollis (author)
As The Great Depression placed strain and stress over millions of Americans, W.S. Stuckey Sr. was developing an idea that would change the American roadside forever. Although times were tough, W.S. was an innovative individual with a D.I.Y. attitude and can-do spirit. A life long entrepreneur, W.S. utilized what was around him, the seed of a native species of tree and tourists on their way to Florida. With these two, he would create and build what would become a roadside empire, the Stuckey’s Pecan Shoppe. Growing into a franchised model that would reach a number of over 350 stores with pitched aqua roofs located across America.
With a thirty-five dollar loan, he secured a truck and W.S. went to work collecting, gathering, and shelling the abundance of commodity that was falling from the sky. While unsure of how advantageous the pecan would be, by the mid-thirties, W.S. Stuckey had opened his first roadside stand selling the nuts.
The rest is Pecan Log Roll history.
Well before Stuckey’s red and yellow signs lured the tourists and travelers off the highway, pecans grew native in the southeastern United States. The pecan tree, (Carya illinoinensis) a species of hickory, called North America home long before W.S. Stuckey Sr. and his wife Ethel, utilized the seed to produce “Fine Pecan Candies”.
Centuries prior to the European migration, Native cultures made use of pecans, for both nutrient and trade. It is believed that Native Americans used the pecan in a variety of ways including brewing a fermented drink. While the Stuckey’s did not create beverages with the native nut, W.S. and his wife Ethel would produce the item that would become their trademark, the Pecan Log Roll.
The idea to sell candy was born out of the ever-innovative and non-static mind of W.S while tending the pecan stand. With fervent excitement, W. S. burst into Ethel’s and her sisters’ bridge game and vetted the candy idea. With no previous candy making experience, the duo got to work at making Pecan Candy.
A variety of candies such as divinity, pralines, and taffy would soon fill Stuckey’s shelves, shoulder to shoulder to the popular shelled pecans, but the Pecan Log Roll would rise above them all to become the totem of Stuckey’s.
Stuckey’s did not invent the pecan log roll, in fact, pecan log rolls were common in the south, but it would be the Stuckey’s recipe that would become the benchmark in which all others would be measured.
Stuckey’s would start with a maraschino cherry nougat dipped into melted caramel. This goodness would then be encased with pecans. These portable pecan pleasures picture would be plastered on Stuckey’s billboards around the country, and become Stuckey’s signature candy.
The building of the Empire
W.S. had grown his business from roadside stand into three brick and mortar locations before the beginning of World War II. Stuckey’s growth proved that his business filled a need but America’s involvement in the war would hamper Stuckey’s growth and actually result in the closing of two stores, but this set back did not break the spirit of W.S.
As soon as peace returned so did his business. Veterans returning from the Pacific and European Theaters found an America full of growth and opportunity. A transformation had occurred. Suburban neighborhoods developed bring norms and standards to the masses with all-electric ranch-style tract homes. America was experiencing luxury. Deep chest freezers did away with the need for the ice houses and food lockers, and while taut wire clothe lines provided adventurous backyard child play, automatic clothe washers began to find their way into homes across America.
Automation aided in not just housework but in all aspects of life. America and those living the dream found themselves in routines, forty-hour work weeks, alarm clocks, and t.v. dinners. Soon a break from the regimen of suburban life was developed, the vacation.
America set out to take advantage of this golden age of travel. Amusement parks, campgrounds, and beaches called and the masses answered. Station wagons filled with picnic baskets and gear began transporting war-weary veterans, exhausted housewives, limp loggy labors with baby boomers in tow to vacations of leisure and luxury.
Stuckey’s was there waiting on the roadside to offer respite for the road-weary. Tim Hollis states, “(Stuckey’s was) somewhere to break up the monotony.”
In a time when travel could be a little less comfortable than today, Stuckey’s locations were an oasis for thirsty V-8’s, filled with wide-eyed children, and parents that could use a break, all with a need to Relax, Refresh, Refuel.
Miles of roadway created an artery carrying families across the voids of America. This deluge of travelers down pavements of progress created possibilities of profit. W.S. Stuckey Sr. found profit along America’s highways and turned a name into an iconic brand that would become synonymous with cherished memories.
Stuckey’s helped create family moments and memories on the side of the road.
Stephanie Stuckey, W.S. Stuckey Sr.’s granddaughter, and current CEO believes that, “What is woven throughout those (memories) is a warmth and sense of being with family and a fun time.”
Stephanie Stuckey hears stories from people who remember the talking Myna Bird, who would say, “My name is Polly and I’m not for sale,” as well as other memories of the store. The mechanical pony ride in front of the store is also a well-remembered memory. Stephanie believes Stuckey’s was a place where travelers could, “find highway happiness.”
Initially, W.S. would offer franchises to husbands and wives. These couples and families would set up a life in the Stuckey’s and actually live in the store. Stephanie has met quite a few people who grew up in a Stuckey’s store. Stephanie feels that the husband and wife teams took pride in the stores, “creating a special feeling.” W. S. Sr. believed that this concept would give the franchisee an interest in the store being successful.
Stephanie enjoys sharing the story about a family traveling from New York to Florida. Along the way, a winter storm and a flat tire had stranded them on the side of the road. The family walked to a Stuckey’s where they found a franchise family that welcomed them in for the night and aided in getting the flat fixed the next morning.
W. S. Sr. was very hands-on and, “cared very much about the look of the store,” Stephanie explains. He would conduct impromptu visits but conduct research first to assure he would know the names of all the employees at a location.
“We were an experience…we were the first,” Stephanie proudly proclaims.
Stephanie Stuckey describes her grandfather as a “visionary thinker.” W.S. Stuckey Sr.’s vision resulted in creating the first store on highways and interstates to offer gas, souvenirs, clean restrooms, and snack-bar. As Stephanie puts it, “first to offer that roadside experience.”
Sr. is remembered as a generous man. An early riser who was constantly investing and reinvesting in a multitude of businesses. W.S. Stuckey Sr. business ventures included furniture-stores, motels, Dodge/Plymouth Dealership, tractor dealer, sold railroad cross ties, drilled for oil in Texas, African-American night clubs, a timber company, and Stuckey’s Stores.
Even with all these irons in the fire, “Stuckey’s (stores) was front and center,” Stephanie explains, “(he) carried candy everywhere constantly giving it out,” promoting the brand and passionate about the success of the store he created – “America’s Stores”.
Stuckey’s was an American store, a store for every traveler, no matter their race.
Stuckey’s began in Georgia, at a time when Jim Crow Laws where firmly indoctrinated into everyday life. W.S. Stuckey Sr. offered his roadside experience to all regardless of race. This should have been economic suicide but did not hamper any growth. Ultimately the ’50s and ’60s found Stuckey’s expanding at an exponential rate. W.S. Stuckey Sr. has been quoted, “Every-highway traveler is a friend.”
W.S. (Billy) Jr., W.S. Sr. son, was asked by author Tim Hollis how Stuckey’s got away with allowing all travelers to use facilities at a time when it was not just personal it was judicial. Billy feels that Stuckey’s were located far enough away from communities that people did not notice. They were welcoming everyone into their stores to relax, refresh and refuel. Today the Stuckey’s family is extremely proud of their openness to everyone in an era full of prejudice.
Growth and decline of the brand, roadsigns, and innovations
Stuckey’s has, “more inventory in billboards than candy,” W. S. Sr. would exclaim.
W.S. Stuckey credited billboards as the real secret to the success of his stores. Large yellow and red signs with quirky slogans such as “eat and get gas” would appear every few miles.
Billboards were not a Stuckey’s idea. Burma Shave and others had exploited the billboard long before Stuckey’s had any dreams of manifest destiny. Stuckey’s signs did induce excitement in the travelers especially the children.
W.S. Sr. was not only a visionary he was an innovator. Today gimmicks and giveaways are common among businesses. With every new competitor, a need to stand out is required.
In Stuckey’s heyday, there was no competition. Stuckey’s iconic red script on yellow signs stood proud across America. Confident that no other would be offering Pecan Roll Logs, Fine Pecan Candies, or talking myna birds on the roadside. This confidence and lack of competition did not limit Stuckey’s innovation of promotion, marketing, and growth.
Some of the most remembered are the Stuckey’s Coffee Club. The coffee club cup was an aqua, red, and white Fire King brand cup. In addition, was loyalty discounts on gas and giveaways for the kids. Stuckey’s even introduced travel computer kiosks as well as Stuckey’s branded motels and campsites, Gold Rush Certificates, and who remembers the Stuckey’s jingle with the catchy chorus, “every trip’s a pleasure trip when you stop at Stuckey’s.”
W.S. Stuckey Sr. would stay in the leadership role of Stuckey’s until his untimely passing at the age of 67 in 1977.
Stuckey’s would enter into some transition during the next seven years. Between 1977 and 1984 there will not be any family involved with the running of the company. A merger with the PET Dairy company for 15 million in PET stock removed ownership from the family.
In 1984 W.S. (Billy) Stuckey’s Jr. purchased the company back with plans to restructure. Billy had served in Congress for 10 terms and was a successful businessman in his own right. Billy had acquired the sole right to place Dairy Queens on interstate highways in the continental United States.
He incorporated the Dairy Queens and the Stuckey’s. Slowly the iconic roadside stop began to morph into a DQ Stuckey’s hybrid. Billy also create a Stuckey’s express and began offering Stuckey’s products to be sold in larger chain grocers.
W.S. Stuckey Jr.’s intervention surely kept the brand alive and kept it from fading into obscurity like many of the other brands of the time.
“(Stuckey’s was) woven in with the whole roadside Americana…with Howard Johnsons, Sea Rock City…we were part of that era and experience” Stephanie Stuckey
Stuckey’s was the alpha and seems to be omega of the original group of roadside establishments of the mid 20th century. Stuckey’s peers such as Howard Johnson’s and Big Boy’s, while each numbered more than 1000 in 1979, today they’re a limited presence. Others like Bonanza Steakhouses and Burger Chef have all but faded into memory.
A few of these icons still exist in some transmuted form, none have weathered the storm of change as-well-as the Stuckey’s brand. In fact, Stuckey’s footprint is larger than it was before with products being sold in a variety of travel plazas, gift shops, and groceries across America.
Tim Hollis reports, “In reality, their products are being sold in more places now than when they were at their peak.”
Stuckey’s weathered the storm of oil embargos, recessions, and an overwhelming market of competition. While not as predominant on the roadside, the brand still produces the Fine Pecan Candy’s.
The Future of Stuckey’s
Several years ago W.S. Jr. stated in an interview with Tim Hollis, “What the company needs is some young person with the vision and energy to revive it.”
W.S. Jr’s daughter, Stephanie Stuckey, has taken the reigns and looks to improve, promote, and expand the Stuckey’s brand. She also has a mission to visit every Stuckey’s store in the year 2020.
“I want to know the good, bad, ugly…what can be done jointly with owners to bring the stores back to more of what they were in the heyday.” And just like W.S. Sr. she plans on doing her homework before the visit.
Stephanie believes that the brick and mortar Stuckey’s store is the “last bastion of experiential opportunity for retail”. She wants to, “restore some of that nostalgic feel”… and “pay homage to all those families that stopped at our stores in the 60’s and 70’s”…by bringing “that good feeling back.”
Stephanie, like W.S. Sr. and Jr., is a visionary thinker and as author Tim Hollis refers to her, a “dynamite stick…who certainly has big plans”.
Stephanie Stuckey, a lawyer, environmental advocate, and expert in sustainability looks to incorporate environmentally conscious protocols into the Stuckey’s business practices. Beyond manufacturing, there is talk of placing EV charging stations at Stuckey locations.
As for her plan, she hopes to improve e-commerce and business to business sales. There is also a desire to bring the production of the candy back to a family-owned manufacturing facility. While there is no plan to change the original Pecan Log Roll, variation to the icon is being discussed as well as offerings that fit the unique diets of the twenty-first-century lifestyles. Of course, she would love to expand the franchise operation.
Stephanie realizes that Stuckey’s is part of a “collective history of so many families that vacationed in a certain era… I am proud but also feel protective of that.” She wants to, “make sure I am doing dignity to their memories.”
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I sit at the apex of the boomerang shaped counter. The formica top well-worn from years of fidgeting coffee cups in the hand of patrons. Two heads bobble in the rectangular window across from me. The heads dance with a synchronized rhythm.
The hidden torsos, limbs, and hands create, build, and produce with a second nature muscle memory; two eggs, easy, up, over hard, bacon, crispy, burnt.
The atypical waitress’ tattooed hand hurriedly scribbles the order on the ticket. The ticket’s destination is a carrousel that lazily hangs in the rectangular widow. With a movement sharp and heavy she clips the ticket, seeming satisfied to give the bobbing heads something to do.
Suddenly an arm and hand appears, plucking the ticket and disturbing the balance of the carrousel. Random words, like an unfamiliar language, echo from the rectangle window. Suddenly smells and sounds tingle, tantalize, and tease the senses. Whipping, clanging, sizzling, the smell of pork belly.
Outside, drizzle and thick air produce a gloomy morning in Abilene, Texas, inside dry and comfortable accepting and welcoming.
The Dixie Pig Cafe shows its’ age with a thick build up of grease and gunk. A protective film that lets dust slide off, disinfects, and in the right light produces a great shimmer and shine. The gleam and glitter that epitomizes an All- American cafe.
Around the perimeter of the cafe, booths sporting vintage vinyl as smooth and satisfying as any silk allows for an easy and satisfying slide into the embrace of the booth.
Booths, the couches of restaurants.
This like many other breakfast mainstays across America plays host to a variety of individuals every morning. The patrons’ diversity reads like a Dr. Seuss book; some tall, some small, some happy, some sad, some homely, some hot, some rich, some not.
I sit in this hodgepodge of heredity awaiting what we all came for. What we all can agree on. Breakfast.
The framed heads bob and sway, creating, build, and producing. I eagerly sit while the waitress moves to and fro, like a shark, seeming to stay in constant motion in the moat between me and the window.
People enter, people leave. Some exchange pleasantries, others not. Egos, attitudes, and prejudices are check at the door. There is not room for that while we break breakfast bread. Aka Toast.
Soon the bobbing head’s hand appears. Gingerly, with light pressure, using only a thumb and two fingers presents the creation to the window. Once the plate is properly seated, the hand rings a bell and the head produces more unfamiliar sounds.
The waitress’ heavy and sharp movements deliver the plate. The perfect plate, the plate known as breakfast.
Breakfast unlike lunch and dinner, is a time we can all get along.
There is not hate with a hash-browns, or ego with eggs. No pompous with the pancakes or gripes with the grits. There is sincerity with the service and syrup and love with the lox.
Breakfast is patient, breakfast is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast.
It does not dishonor others.
Breakfast never fails.
Too bad breakfast is not served all day everywhere.