KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Memoir: 613 words

Inside or Outside Meat?

by Terry Barr

The portrait of FDR hung perfectly on the arched wall above the cash register in Cliff’s Barbecue. In back, framed in ways some of us understood all too well then, but not me because I was too young, too trusting of surfaces, were the cooks: several Black men with white paper hats, always bent down, always frying or chopping, while Cliff and Mrs. Cliff stood up front, obviously proud of who they were. The Life Savers rolls and Tums cylinders sat in front of them, and it all seemed so close, so good, so “meant to be.”

Because this was the early 1960’s, through that kitchen was a back window. A “pick-up window,” in these Alabama days before “drive-thrus.” I could see patrons lining up at that window, though we never did, my family that is, because we didn’t have to; we were privileged not to. We could “dine in” at any table or booth we wanted with those of our kind, even though our kind were all strangers to me, people from parts of town we only drove through to get somewhere else.

Our kind was also privileged enough while waiting for our slaw-topped barbecue or steamed cheeseburgers, no onions, to flip through the mini-jukeboxes at our booth. My brother and I loved the flipping, and we’d beg our mother for just a nickel to play one song even though the singers weren’t the ones we really liked. Not Elvis, not The Beatles, but those on the country/gospel side of life: Tammy Wynette (“D-I-V-O-R-C-E”) or Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”), or Buck Owens, George Jones, and Porter Waggoner. And naturally, Tennessee Ernie Ford’s rendition of my grandmother’s favorite song, “How Great Thou Art.”

Once, I did get that nickel, and I played The Wilburn Brothers singing “Wings of a Dove.” I knew the song well from watching the Wilburns every Saturday afternoon on their syndicated show that appeared just before “The Grand Ole Opry.” As my brother drank his Pepsi, and I my RC (forbidden house colas as we were exclusively Coke drinkers in our own home), the song tinnily rang throughout Cliff’s dingy (or were they merely off-white?) walls from his worn-out speakers.

I think of Cliff’s often, especially that booth-side revolving jukebox. How wonderful it was to flip through the 45 sides, to see the promo pictures of country stars in all their various hairdos and sequins, and cowboy Stetsons.

Their guises.

Like the guise of Cliff’s itself: a family-friendly establishment that refused to serve beer, or wine, or certainly mixed drinks.

And, of course, any Black patron on the inside.

It’s funny to me now, the reality of Cliff’s, in that sense of funny/sad/horrible that permeates notions of class, race, and literature in the American South—but back in that gravel-dirt parking lot where dust mixed in with the contents of the brown paper bags exchanged for coins through a window that was shorter and thinner than any window in our house, the hungry waited calmly and patiently for delicious, hickory-smoked meat. Who knows how far they had to walk or drive to actually eat it? Who knows what they thought for years of those who didn’t have to carry out their suppers?

And who knows if they knew or understood that the smiling face of our country’s longest-termed president appraised only the exchanges on the inside, approvingly or not. If that appraisal was forbidden and unknown to these outer customers, though, its attendant irony was surely lost on me, then, and on those of my kind, dripping with sauce as we listened to the hymns and ballads of our fathers on the inside.



Publisher's Note:

“Wings of a Dove” was written by record producer Robert B. “Bob” Ferguson (30 December 1927–23 July 2001) and recorded in 1960 by country singer Ferlin Husky. Lyrics at:

Terry Barr’s
Issue 6, Fall 2016

essay collection, Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings From My Alabama Mother, is published by Red Dirt Press. His work has also appeared in South Writ Large, The Bitter Southerner, 3288 Review, Blue Lyra Review, and Full Grown People. He lives in Greenville, South Carolina, with his family.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Interview with Terry Barr in 3288 Review (12 February 2016)

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