Sitting on the westside of U.S. Highway #77 in Mulhall, Oklahoma, you will find Lucille’s. Highway #77 starts a long ways south of Mulhall, deep in the Heart of Texas, on the U.S. – Mexican border and runs north all the way to Des Moines, Iowa, where it turns into another little two-lane that eventually ends up in Canada.
Mulhall being founded in the late 1800’s is a small farming community that was almost wiped out a while back by a tornado that was approximately one-mile wild. As incredible as all this sounds, it is based in fact, and is very much true. This is the stuff of movie fame out on the Left Coast of America (Hollywood).
Lucille’s is a steak house and watering hole for the locals, that was built in the remnants of the old bank building. Lucille’s bar, has in the background, the bank safe that has reported bullet holes in it, from when the notorious Dalton Gang was alleged to have robbed the place way back when.
It sets right next to the railroad tracks, and for added atmosphere and charm, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight rattles by about every fifteen minutes or so, shaking the tables and vibrating the floor.
On Saturday night they move all the tables back after a certain hour, throw a little sawdust on the floor and the magic of the night turns the eatery into the local talent hot spot. Bands of not much fame (and often very little real talent so I am told) provide the music.
A somewhat tame party mixer of 3.2 beer is served and a good time is often shared by all. It seldom gets as rowdy as the “old days,” when they used to serve the “hard stuff” but the local “do-gooders” voted it down to cut down on the hooligans and drunk drivers.
Lucille’s is a neat laid-back kind of place.
A place where, if you wish, you can still order a “Red One” (tomato juice and beer) and no one will laugh at you.
Last Thursday, I made the drive north, about 41 miles to have lunch with my last surviving uncle in the family. Vern, who the locals affectionately refer to as “Ol Whitey.” I believe this nickname originated as a kid, when he was reported to have white blond hair growing up outside Laramie, Wyoming.
Whitey is getting up in years. He isn’t able to hear all that well and wears hearing aids in both ears, and even with them in, still has a noticeable hearing loss problem.
He is also starting to suffer from dementia, as age and time, take their respective toll.
So, with my appreciable hearing loss (a common curse associated with retired railroad workers in the United States) and his combined hearing deficit, we make a pretty amusing and interesting couple for lunch.
Whitey is quite the character and an interesting person to know. A World War veteran he served as a Flight Engineer (Co-Pilot) on B-17’s out of Saipan in the South Pacific Theater of action. He is no longer the swaggering locomotive engineer on the Santa Fe Railroad.
On most days he remains fairly clear and lucid, is often full of sharp wit. “Tells me all the time that he isn’t as good as he once was, and has a little hitch in his giddy-up, but I am doing what I love and loving what it is that I do.“
Which seems to work for him.
If you question him about all the junk in the barn, he will laugh and say …. “Hell, it is too valuable to get rid of, and aint worth enough to sell.” He coon hunts with an old mule named Rivers, takes his dog with him to town on trips to the bank and sings the praises of Viagra and all those round body Oklahoma women (which he affectionately refers to as “full figure” gals) and boasts a little too much in public.
As with all things in life, too many birthdays often create problems.
His dementia robs him of memory, he is prone to repeat himself from time to time, which with time seems to be getting worse. So in order to keep the peace, we have reached an agreement of sorts. So born out of necessity we came up with a plan. He and I have a working arrangement where if he begins to tell me but another story and I have heard it before or repeats himself. I just give him our “code word” as he calls it.
I just say “Shaddup Whitey” and then he realizes he is doing it again, and he says, “Oh, okay. And then he quiets back down.“
The other day while we are having our lunch at Lucille’s as he is prone to do, he would several times repeat himself. Which at that time I would say “Shaddup Whitey” and he would say “Okay.”
Now during the course of our meal, four or five times, I would say this to him.
Then towards the end of the meal Whitey at some point informs me he has to use the restroom and excused himself from the table. I am sitting there sippin’ on my glass of sweet tea and out of the corner of my eye, I notice this woman approaching the table, eying me suspiciously like a one-eyed cat in a fish market.
This cannot be good I am thinking.
She walks up to the table and rather bluntly says to me, “I think it is just disgusting the way you are treating your father and you should be ashamed of yourself!”
I stop and think about this.
(A) Do I consider telling her what is really going on, or (B) do I just shrug it off and continue with my lunch?
I opt for option #2 and tell her “she is absolutely right” and then let it go.
Whitey returns from the Men’s Room, smiles his best toothy smile at the ladies, and then says to me, “You ready to go boy?” and I nod my head in agreement. As we are walking out, I can feel the lady’s eyes boring a hole in the back of my head and I smile.
If you are ever up on Old #77 just a little north of Okie City and you want to do lunch, check out Lucille’s, you cannot go wrong. There you will find everything you need. Good food, ambiance, a touch of America that is fast disappearing.
And as an added bonus …. Perhaps Whitey and I will be there to amuse and confuse you.