Clarksdale (we can swim any day in November)

Several weeks ago I met my parents in Oxford, Mississippi for a pre-Thanksgiving celebration. (I worked on Thanksgiving day…shout-out to Dari for supplying the in-law leftovers and wine combo of that night’s Friendsgiving.)

I took highways on the way back to Arkansas, because I haven’t been to Clarksdale in years. First stop was Rest Haven, this Lebanese diner that’s been around for at least half-a-century. I get the same feeling from Rest Haven that I used to get from smoky poker Sundays at my Irish-Italian grandparents house in Vicksburg. Maybe it’s because the middle-aged daughter cooks in scrubs and has the same glossy, dark curls as my aunts. Maybe it’s because of the gruff, chain-smoking old  man  in a khaki windbreaker and a Hard Rock Cafe cap, who leans against the counter in a shaft of mid-morning sun, scoping decades of highway traffic through the open door. A brown paper take-out bundle waits at his elbow (kibbe sandwich) and above his head, there are framed department store photos of three generations of family. (My favorites are from the early-90’s.) Then he returns to his table, rolling silverware, cigarette dangling between two fingers.

I always ask for the coconut cream pie. They have the best. But that day, I had to settle for chocolate and endless cups of coffee. By 11 a.m., the old-timers rolled in for lunch. A white man in a camouflage cap sat beside the owner, but they spoke little. A black preacher came in just to speak with them, then headed out. Everyone who came in knew everyone else. It’s like Luke’s Diner, except that Clarksdale is a far-cry from Star’s Hollow.

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