Chance Encounters with Redundant America
By Ed Chasteen
Seldom do a steeple and a bell tower herald the presence of a bar and grill. But such is the case in East Lynn, Missouri, a fact unknown to either of us as Brian and I pedal into this tiny town on K Highway. The brightly painted sign on the weather beaten old church announces Fugly’s Bar and Grill. Inside over the bar is a more intriguing sign: Assembly of the Drunken Brethren Church. By happenstance we have arrived just at noon on the day of their annual hog roast. For seven dollars a plate we step up where the preacher used to stand and are the first to fill our plates from the smorgasbord of beautiful food brought in by local folks.
Redundant! That’s the word my British friends would apply to old churches across England as we pedaled past and I would inquire. No longer needed for their original use, they now served as museums or some other civic function. That word springs to mind this morning in this Methodist Church that for 17 years now has been a bar, offering spirit of a different sort to perhaps some of the same people.
This is not our first encounter this Saturday morning with redundancy. Some three hours before coming to East Lynn and the Drunken Brethren, Brian and I had come to Pleasant Hill and Sisters. For several years we had been riding from his house in Lee’s Summit by meandering back roads to Pleasant Hill. Built around a train depot where trains no longer stop, Pleasant Hill is exactly that. Neighbor’s Café is where we usually go and are headed today. Brian is in the lead as we come into town and on impulse takes a different side road past the abandoned depot. On the red brick building to our right, Brian spots the simple white sign: SISTERS. Then we see a message board on the sidewalk describing the breakfast special: Biscuits & gravy, 2 eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes, $5.99. We prop our bikes against the wall and step inside.
Laurel welcomes us. “You know, like Laurel and Hardy,” she says to explain her name. She’s one of the eight sisters in the family that runs this place. “And seven brothers,” she says. Four years now they have been here, Laurel says. Open every day but Sunday for breakfast and lunch. Open all day Saturday.
We order the special. One of the grand daughters brings our meal. She explains that they make their own bread and brings us some. With room for 26 at their six tables, a tiny kitchen, walls hung with quilts and family pictures, diners talking to one another from table to table and the staff treating everyone like family, being here is like being home. Even the several trains that rumble past just outside the window at the track-side end of the room remind me of my grandmother’s when I was a boy and she lived near the track. “We’ll be back,” we say as we leave.
And by 3:45 we are back. They also make their own pies. Tonight’s special is lasagna. They told us that at breakfast and we had planned to have it. That’s before we learned of the Drunken Brethren’s hog roast. So Brian orders the pecan pie and ice cream. I get the bread pudding with warm caramel sauce.
Back at Brian’s place by six, Dave, my other son, joins us and we drive to the Pizza Shop. We’re waiting for our order as we watch Kansas and Colorado play on the TV across the room. We’re talking among ourselves as we watch. A man appears at our table, holding four boxes of pizza. “You’re MU fans aren’t you.” “Yes”, we say. Apparently he’s been listening to our conversation. “I wouldn’t give these to you if you were KU fans,” he says. And he leaves.
What a day! Great riding! Great food! Unexpected good fortune! New friends. My two sons! And now I get to tell all of you!