Calling In Sick With Spring Fever

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

I’m calling in sick today.  Well, not actually calling.  But saying I’m typing in sick really doesn’t make any sense.  And, of course, I’m not really sick.  It’s just spring, and the symptoms of spring fever are setting in strong.  It’s also not like there isn’t work product here, so you’re not seeing much of a difference anyway.  Just understand that my mind is outside on a sunny day when I’m typing this.  And I will make no attempt to tie this column to Georgia politics, as is my occasional Friday custom.

When my father was a boy, his Dad got him up one Spring weekday and took him fishing.  It was unannounced, and as I understand it, unplanned.  The following day my grandfather had to write an excuse note to Dad’s teacher.  Being an honest man, he refused to claim that Dad had been sick and he saw no need to trivialize the fact that his son had better things to do on a bright and sunny day than spend it in a school room.  The note went something like the following:

During this time of year, a young man’s thoughts turn to important endeavors that are often not confined to the classroom.  One of these matters of importance is fishing.  Please excuse Charlie from his absence yesterday, as it was a sunny day and he was too well to attend.

Being from a small farming community where everyone knows everyone has its advantages.  The teacher, being quite familiar with my grandfather, just smiled at Dad as he presented his excuse note and continued on, as it was clearly valid to her.

A few decades later, I wasn’t feeling well on a similar beautiful Spring morning and found myself in the school clinic.  The volunteer mom serving nurse duty decided I needed to go home, and called my father at his office to come get me.  He left downtown Atlanta and drove to Fayetteville to pick me up, and quickly surmised that he was experiencing less than an emergency situation.  I know this because his first question was “Do you think you can handle eating lunch before we go home”.

I struggled to eat two plates of barbecue and Brunswick stew at Melear’s before we left, and seemed to forget that my head hurt. Or was it my stomach?  I couldn’t really remember at that point.

I had passed Dad’s test, and we then proceeded to stop at the house only long enough to pick up a couple of fishing poles and the tackle box and head over to Uncle Frank’s lake for the afternoon.  I’m fairly certain we caught a few bream and maybe a bass, but that wasn’t really significant.  I do remember we had a great day being together and it was much better and more memorable than any particular day I had in school that year.

I won’t be going fishing today, as it’s been a quarter century since I’ve owned any fishing gear.  My type-A personality no longer has the patience to enjoy what was once the perfect afternoon activity.

I will, however, be taking a large chunk of my afternoon to visit Harold’s Barbecue in Atlanta.  Melear’s in Fayetteville closed a year or so ago, and Harold’s has announced it will go the way of so many other institutions like it after next week.  It’s hard enough to operate a small business these days.  Harder still in an era of fast food to estimate the amount of food you’ll need the next day as you prepare the main dish that requires being smoked over hickory coals overnight.

Harold’s and Melear’s were venerable institutions in their day.  For many of us, they’re now pieces of memories that connect us to people and events from much earlier times.  They, like those they connect us to, can’t be replaced or replicated in the modern world.

As an upside, Sprayberry’s Barbecue in Newnan is still around, and still has some of the best Brunswick stew available.  It was the chosen barbecue home of Lewis Grizzard, so at least there are a few pieces of him left to visit.

But today I’ll say goodbye to Harold’s with some chopped pork, stew, and a piece of cracklin cornbread.  Mentally, I’ll be outside fishing.  After all, it’s a sunny day.  I’m too well to be doing anything different.


  1. Cassandra says:

    That’s a nice tribute to Pork Palaces, Charlie, but we have the business of the Nation to consider. .

    Now then, I have postulated that POTUS will be tweeted into office and that the popular vote be durned, he’ll win it in the electoral college. POTUS is a Chicago pol, no tougher a match, he’s calculatin’, cajoling, using all the forces of Federal largesse, to win those 270 collegiate votes.

    Univ of VA Larry Sabato has taken my worst fears and quantified them for those math-minded political wonk/ettes among you:

    BTW, Sabato also predicts presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney’s faith will be an issue. I think he is wrong on that one, but I predict pol-ops will frame the choices along these lines:

    “2012: YOUR CHOICE: No controversial president with unemployment over 8% could possibly be reelected. No Mormon candidate, especially one who lacks a common touch, could possibly be elected.”

    • Charlie says:

      Threadjacks are the height of rudeness on a blog. You’ve been around long enough to know both how we feel about them, and that all Morning Read posts have been designated open threads.

      • Cassandra says:

        Whatever. I didn’t get that memo. Don’t let me interrupt your Pulitzer worthy “Ode to Pork”

  2. AMB says:

    Stopped at Sprayberry’s. Was just eh. Try Hickory House over in Northlake (near Tucker). Real BBQ. Delicious Brunswick stew.

  3. CobbGOPer says:

    Man, I didn’t know Melears closed. I first went there with my grandfather in must have been 1983 when they lived off Snead Road (before it was paved).

  4. Dave Bearse says:

    I never dined at the Melears in Fayetteville. Is the Melears on US29 in Union City history too? I ate at the Union City Melears about a half dozen or so times during most of the 90’s.

    Likewise it’s been a decade since I’ve dined at Country’s Barbeque in Lagrange or West Point a half dozen times per year. Country’s is good if you like mustard-based BBQ. It’s geographically out of your range if your range is the near south side of metro Atlanta.

    Not the Harold’s on McDonough Road? It’s been about two to three years since I’ve eaten there, with tables hard to come by at lunch time. I’m surprised.

    • Charlie says:

      The Melear’s in Fayetteville was run by Kenny, former and longtime Chief Magistrate Judge of Fayette County.

      The Union City Melear’s was run by either Bill or Harvey if my memory serves, both of whom were Kenny’s brothers.

  5. saltycracker says:

    You amateurs – BBQ & music: the Rhythm and Ribs Festival is in St Augustine this weekend with competitors from around the South. ZZ Top is at the amphitheater and the Beach Boys are coming.

    As a side the HMS Bounty is in on an East Coast tour headed to Savannah to meet the tall ships next weekend.

    • jiminga says:

      My daughter, her husband, my wife and I will all be in Savannah to see the tall ships, as well as actually sail on one. Fun times.

  6. Mmm… BBQ. I haven’t had breakfast yet and that’s sounding like a darn good choice for lunch. Here in Powder Springs we have Johnny’s, though I’m not a fan of their normal vinegar based sauce, so I opt for a container of sweet sauce – on the side. (I like a little sauce with my BBQ, not a little BBQ with my sauce.) Otherwise, we go to Hiram for Jim ‘N Nicks. Yum. Hope you had a fantastic Friday!

  7. Three Jack says:

    Thanks for the column Charlie. It brought back great memories of hanging with my grandfather at Complete Auto Transit, then heading over to Harold’s for lunch. Also dad grew up with the Sprayberry boys in Newnan so I have spent many an afternoon at the original location before or after heading over to Cousin Tommy’s pond to fish (now the home of Powers Crossroad Festival every Labor Day weekend). Hard to believe we lost Melear’s with Harold’s going down next…neither in their heyday could be replaced.

  8. Charlie says:

    Harold’s to stay open at least a month longer:

    Last week, Billy met with the staff — mostly family members — to announce what seemed inevitable to them all: Harold’s would be closing for good.

    “It didn’t seem like we had a choice,” he said. “We used to go through 15 to 20 hams a day. Lately, we were barely going through one.”

    There wasn’t even enough money to pay the phone bill, Branyon said.

    But when word spread last Thursday that Harold’s was shuttering, customers returned in droves — enough to have bought a reprieve for the beloved eatery.

    “Hugh Hefner has the only other job I’d want, so I hope we can keep it going,” said Billy Branyon, adding that Harold’s will stay open for “at least a month, hopefully longer.”

    “We’re seeing people we haven’t seen in years,” he said.


    I’ll note that I did make it Friday with 4 others. The waitress (said she’d been there 30 years) kept apologizing for them being down to just pork, stew, cole salw, and tea. And kept thanking us for understanding. The place was reasonably crowded by the time I left. And because the crowds have been good this week as well, Harolds may be around long enough for a few return visits on some of these Spring days we have ahead where I know I won’t want to work anyway.

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