Dear Editor:

In the midst of a global pandemic, there is certainly enough bad news to fill the evening news and our thoughts. 

But, even in the middle of such times, simple pleasures can be found in daily life. Such has been the experience for my husband Brock and me. 

We have not yet been brave enough to eat in a sit-down restaurant, but we have eaten takeout food several times while away from home. The restaurants did not have any outdoor seating available, so we were forced to look for a picnic table somewhere nearby. These searches flooded my mind with memories from my childhood — memories stored away for over 50 years. Perhaps some of you have similar memories of family trips, in your un-air-conditioned car, searching for a place to enjoy the lunch from your cooler...the search for a “roadside park.”

The search was not so difficult 50 years ago. Roads were frequently dotted with areas you could pull over and park, sometimes near a stream, with picnic tables. Occasionally the roadside parks may have a concrete “grill” area, but I almost never remember seeing one with a bathroom (which of course would have been an outhouse!).

Which of course brings to mind the subject of a toilet. My parents, Sue Nell and Leroy Stapleton, took our toilet with us. In our case, it was an enamel “potty pan” in a paper Piggly Wiggly bag. This was for emergency use. We used the pan on family trips for many years. It could also double as a “throw-up pan,” as my late sister Jan always got car sick, especially on the winding hilly roads leading to Gatlinburg, Tenn. 

I did not care for the potty pan; I preferred to stop at a filling station, but that experience was also not without trauma. I can still recall my embarrassment when I had to ask the man in the filling station for a key to the ladies’ room, which was usually located outside and around the corner. Such keys were usually attached to a large piece of wood saying “ladies.”  

After bravely getting the key, the next fearful event was to open the door to the bathroom; one never knew what condition the toilet would be in, and most of us know it was often less than “fresh and tidy.”

But I digress; back to the roadside park. As a child, I loved opening the Igloo cooler and finding the fried chicken and pineapple sandwiches my Momma packed...usually washed down with sweet ice tea from a mason jar. Brock and I have been reminded recently that eating food outside on a picnic table just makes food taste better! The sunshine gives a lovely visual appearance, and the fresh air and breeze just adds to the ambiance. 

But roadside parks are somewhat a thing of the past. There are some picnic areas available, but just not the same as the ones of my childhood.

So, where have we found adequate substitutes for a roadside park?

After recently purchasing fried chicken at Hardee’s in Lincolnton, we went across the street and ate at the picnic tables behind the Baptist Church. A few days later we ordered fried shrimp from our favorite place in Darien, B & J’s. Those yummy shrimp were gobbled up while seated at a picnic table behind the McIntosh County Courthouse. The next day, we ate a salad from Mellow Mushroom on St. Simons on a bench near the pier.  

These meals eaten outside were perhaps some of the most pleasant eating experiences we’ve had in quite a while. There may be only one “fly in the ointment,” however; we wonder if we were eating at a place without permission that may have a security camera recording us.

Thank goodness we did not have to worry about security cameras 50 years ago while picnicking. Sometimes we did not use the “potty pan” or “filling station” route when needing to use a toilet; we simply hid behind a bush, near the roadside park!

Fay Stapleton Burnett

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