When I grew up in the cotton mill village of Tuxedo, NC, we had a restaurant called Freeman's. This business was established in the early 1940's and catered to the farmers, mill hands, and truckers who drove US 25 having just driven a steep section of road coming from Greenville, SC. Mr. Freeman, the original owner served breakfast and fast foods. In addition gasoline pumps were accessible in front of the restaurant and in the back room of the restaurant was a pool table where the local boys enjoyed playing for a nickle a game. Now this was a little before my time but in later years under new management, the restaurant became the favorite hangout for the youth of our area. A jukebox was installed and we sat in nice leather seats eating our burgers, fries and drinking Coca Cola.
As the years rolled by the restaurant was the hub of the community. Each morning the men folk gathered to drink coffee and eat their breakfast. The owner had hired three ladies who knew how to cook country style food and each day the restaurant filled up and those who were working nearby farming or in construction stopped by to discuss the latest sports, politics, or the headlines in the morning paper. The discussions were lively and the old jukebox seemed to never stop playing the old country tunes of Jim Reeves or the latest Elvis hits.
Freeman's closed in the mid 1970's after the cotton mill closed and a new highway diverted main traffic around our small textile village. The cotton mill closed and now our little village is all but a ghost town but memories are deep of those days sitting in the restaurant with friends and I for one miss the camaraderie the old jukebox.
Recently I was helping a family member who is now going to auctions and buying scrap metal which he resells, hopefully for a good profit. We had gone to Fountain Inn South Carolina, a small town just below Greenville, SC and about 40 miles from our home in North Carolina. We had loaded the big truck with scrap metal and since it was neigh on lunch time, we set out to find a place to get some lunch. Driving South on Highway 14 we soon came to Pete's Diner. From the appearances on the outside looking in, Pete's looked to be a great family style restaurant. The rush hour had been over for sometime since it was well past high noon. We went in and had a seat. A waitress told us,"You all can eat here if'n you behave." We had no intentions of not behaving but took her remarks and smile as a friendly gesture made to break the ice. For sure our looks left no doubt we were not locals.
I looked around the restaurant and saw the usual high school football schedules, calenders,a few old photographs and some plants in desperate need of water. The drink box was full of Sunkist and Pepsi and a few desserts in glass covered counter tops. One of the most noticeable features were the ash trays on each table. Ash trays have long g disappeared from eating establishments in our state so I found this a bit unusual even though I no longer smoke but al that I saw were free of ashes or cigarette butts..
After looking over the menu of blue plate lunches, we both decided on chopped sirloin covered with gravy and onions, fries and cole slaw. The meal came quickly and tasted pretty good too. The waitress brought us ketchup and some of that great Texas Pete hot sauce just in case the salt and pepper weren't enough to jazz up those chopped sirloin burgers. I suppose there are lots of diners like Pete's which I found out later was owned by a "four in ner from India or one of those Eastern countries." For the record it didn't make no never mind, we were hungry and the grub was good. For some reason the fast food joints of which there were many, one on every corner and city block just weren't appealing to either me or my brother in law. Good country cooking in local family diners is hard to beat and if I am in Fountain Inn again at dinner time (that would be lunch time for the educated) I will definitely go back to Pete's Diner. The food and service were down home and with a simple flair that reminded me of Freeman's.