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  • Writer's pictureHazel Lee

FINE DINING AT GAS STATIONS IN THE SOUTH! (On the Way to Papa and Nana’s for Christmas, in Florida)

Updated: Feb 14, 2022



On the way to a book signing, my son ran into a gas station, grabbing me a bottled water. Returning, he excitedly began describing a just-cooked buffet of candied yams, fried chicken, okra, mashed potatoes, and gravy displayed, in this tiny gas station. I learned about roller dogs that day. I had no idea what a roller dog was, but rest assured their customers did!

Roller dogs are hot dogs on a metal skewer, rotating in a glass, enclosed case with a warming light at the top.

If you travel on down to Oxford, Mississippi, you will find the best Krystal burgers with dehydrated onions, better known as belly-bombers. They are extremely popular at Ole Miss! They are considered one of the best burgers you will ever put in your southern mouth!

As we were driving on to my speaking engagement, that very experience brought back memories of one of our family summer trips to Florida. At the time, I wanted to forget it.

Time has a way of allowing us to forget the bad, and focus on the best in life.

We were going to see papa and nana in St. Petersburg, Florida. My husband and I grew up in the South. I was told always especially in hurricane season, prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. Seems this old saying could apply to our vacations, especially this one.

HERE WE GO ! come along for just this one trip! HEADING SOUTH!

€You do realize, of course, when traveling to these southern parts of the country, you automatically become a southerner. One requirement: you must mind your manners upon passing the Mason-Dixon Line.

While driving on two-lane highways, beginning somewhere around Oxford, Mississippi, start watching out for hand-written signs, advertising boiled peanuts, along with many other vegetables, grown in the South! Peanuts are pronounced “Bal’d” peanuts. Be careful you don’t miss them! As a child, my daddy and I loved them. It was one of the food chains, along with banana pudding, and a whole host of other such delicious desserts.

Visitors have been known to practically wreck their cars, driving right past some of these well-established vegetable stands. I know. my husband had to turn around several times. His work took us to the heartland, but our feet were still planted in the South. Somehow, we just never moved back.

Once finding such a wealth of southern everything at one of these stands, usually they were near a gas station. Know why? Because there were more customers stopping for gas. Have you ever stopped at a gas station, with vegetable stands galore? Who could resist running over for a cold Coca Cola, a fresh bag of roasted or boiled peanuts? I couldn’t imagi

If you do not get at least a bag or two of bal’d peanuts, well, that is practically considered a sin in these parts. Don’t forget freshly boiled crawfish! Their father would have eaten a bag before our next stop.

There is more! Cold watermelons on ice, fried pork rinds, fried pickles, fried tomatoes, fresh corn, purple-hull peas, butter beans just picked, fresh peaches, green beans, fried apple pies, and pecans. Be sure to pick up some homemade jellies for Christmas! The best! Coca-colas were a must! I have made myself hungry, talking about all this food!

Notice I did not say COKES. Oh, my goodness, smoked mullet! Their father loved them, especially with hot sauce. By the time we drove far enough to buy smoked mullet, he would have already eaten a bag of crawfish!

When a brown paper bag, full of leftover crawfish heads and tails is left, shoved under the front seat in a hot cawindows rolled up for any length of time, well, I simply cannot describe the smell!

Keep your Tums close by. You will need them. Best advice I can think of! Watch out for boiled peanut (B’ald peanut)shells flying out of the window. Well, that’s just what dads do.

With two hungry, worn-out children, we stopped for a quick bite to eat. We were half way to Florida! Watch out for what happened next! We stopped at a little diner, just long enough to grab a hamburger and a coke.


It happened! Returning to our car, we were not prepared for what we were about to experience! The second we opened the car doors, THE SMELL HIT US RIGHT IN THE FACE! THE STENCH from crawfish heads in a brown-paper bag, left in a heated car with windows rolled up! That makes for a horrible moment you never forget!

ADD THE HEAT AND TWO SCREAMING CHILDREN! That is the making of one GIANT MIGRAINE HEADACHE! OH YES, DID I MENTION THE AIR CONDITIONING WAS BROKEN? Yep. It happened within a couple hours of leaving home. Makes for a better story too. We were miserable!

Just make sure you have your tums, Zantac, Xanax, wine (Did I just say wine?) ready, to calm your nerves and your stomach! Their dad obviously forgot to throw out the bag when we stopped. By now, you are so far SOUTH, the humidity is unbearable. Like 100 percent! I mean the kind where sweat runs down your face. The moment you get out of the car, you discover you cannot BREATHE! Then, not long after you get back on the road, baby girl exclaims, “I gotta pee, mommy!” Guess what? There were no restrooms in sight!

Off the road again! I was hoping he would pull off far enough so no one could see us. You know what I mean, so you can open the door to find her a safe place. We were in knee high grass when her mean brother rolled down his window screaming, “SNAKE!” “Mommy, mommy, don’t leave me, mommy!”

Remember the sweat running down your face? Now it is running down your back. I wanted to yank him out of the car for a good spanking. As he and his father sat there laughing at my little Katie Lil and me, I felt a mean headache coming on. Remember, you have driven 10-12 hours, because that is just what dads do. They have to get their quota of miles in! Oh yes, guess what? He was able to drive 15 extra miles per gallon of gas, because THE AIR CONDITIONING WAS BROKEN. No air conditioning the rest of the way down and ALL the way back!

The worst thing happened when we got to lower Mississippi right at sunset. We pulled into the Holiday Inn. Their father made a bee line to the front desk, along with all the other dads, trying to get a room for their tired families.

As I was getting the children out of the car, Davy had unbuckled and was heading for his daddy. Before I could get my precious Katie Lil out of the backseat, a swarm of mosquitoes attacked us. No clue what kind. Just mean! I was hurriedly trying to undo her seatbelt. I was frantic!

I threw my jacket around her and raced inside. She was covered in whelps. Got the Benadryl out, while racing to get the bath running. She was itching so badly. Giving her a warm bath was the finishing touch, then rubbing my poor child down with Calamine lotion, I prayed the Benadryl would relieve her itching soon.

“HTV”. That is what my children called the hotel. We had cable (thank God!). Thank goodness for indoor pools. Their father and our sweet son (not) went for a nice swim before turning into bed. Remember the bottle of wine? Yep, it was opened and with a glass of wine (mommy’s grape juice) and a bath, I was ready to drop. The next morning, we continued our journey onto Florida, headed to papa’s.

Often times, our weather can range from freezing all the way to hot and humid during holidays, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Gulf Stream can often stir up a storm so fast. You need to check weather at all times traveling in the South.

Finally, we were almost there. One thing I shall never forget. Arriving in the early morning hours, David and I listening to the radio and the Heavenly smell of orange blossoms in papa’s yard.

We were home. I miss Florida. I remembered it as a little girl.


Windows down, the kids asleep, it was an indescribable moment. We had gotten there safely, thanks be to God.

Papa was up waiting for us, of course. He raced out the door, greeting us with hugs and kisses, grabbing the kids, helping us bring them in; we were so excited to see papa and nana.

I believe it is safe to say, our Christmas had similar moments like everyone else. The movie, CHRISTMAS VACATION summed it up. Eggnog being spiked, the turkey burning, and the usual, ‘WHO WAS IN THE BATHROOM LAST?” “COME CLEAN IT UP, NOW! That would be Papa. He was was a retired Air Force Colonel Who flew B-17s during WWII. Need I say more? After a few days, and a wonderful Christmas with our family, it was time to head home, back to Arkansas.

I am sure the grandparents were relieved to see us leaving, headed HOME! It is like a bitter-sweet experience, but all things must come to an end. We had a wonderful time.

Papa and nana had worked hard decorating the house and the tree. They had prepared so much wonderful food, filled with love.

As one grows older, I now understand quiet is good. Our routines change, and our energy level goes down. Our patience, well, you know what I mean. Early to-bed hours are a good thing.

Now. with grandchildren myself, I better understand how they felt. It just would not be Christmas without family. Watching CHRISTMAS VACATION and cousin Eddy has become a forever tradition.


We had a good 15-16 hour trip home. Lots of time to talk about our Christmas at Papa’s.

BUT, we had one little hiccup going home.

David insisted we bring all of our clothes in large plastic tubs, with our names on them, secured by tie-downs on top of our war. As we were driving up Interstate 75, in pouring-down rain, I just happened to glance out the rearview mirror. All of the plastic tubs, along with our clothes, were flying off the top of the car. Our clothes were all over the interstate!

Stopping, in pouring down rain mind you, I will always remember dodging cars as their father and I proceeded to pick up as many of our belongings as we could, in the middle of the road. It was impossible to grab everything. It was just too dangerous. But we survived.

As he pulled back onto the interstate, there we were, traveling home, no air conditioning and two worn out babies in the back seat. We were worn out too. But this is what family vacations are all about. Little did I know I would be writing about our memorable family trip many years later. The only difference, we were not getting paid for our hilarious family Christmas like Chevy Chase did. Thanks be to God we were all fine. I made it clear, only suitcases in the future!

I won that battle.

My only regret was my sweet Katie Lil being so mosquito-bitten on our way down. She survived. I will never forget that trip. Frankly, none of us will, God protected us.


and my sweet Caroline Elizabeth, (My baby of three grandaughters)

Amazing how we forget about all the little things that cause us to almost have a nervous breakdown at the time. I am sure all families have such a story. We never forget the good times!

Even though the air conditioning was broken, it was just ok. Throw in our clothes, strewn all over I-75, well, we ended up surviving that too! We still had some clothes. I never prayed as hard as I did for us, while traveling to Florida, but I thought I would die laughing when I began writing about our trip.

That is what we cherish the most as life moves forward, THE MEMORIES! I pray your family can create some fond memories, in spite of this pandemic.

Sometimes the negatives can overwhelm the positives in life. Death has touched so many lives in our families and friends, taking our loved ones, because of it.

Not one night goes by I don’t pray for our families and our country. We are all in this together, and with God’s strength and our trust in Him, we will survive.

Like parents, our children do not always understand why we as parents, strive to keep them safe from harm.

Likewise, we as God’s children, don’t understand this hurting world we live in. God does.

LET US Trust and believe in God’s words. Faith, the size of a mustard seed is all we need today. Maybe that is all you have today. It’s ok, He understands.

I must share, for just a moment, while headed to my book signing event, I was in our car,

driving south, headed to Florida. If I close my eyes, I can almost smell the orange blossoms.

I remember the carlights, shining on the beautiful orange trees and blossoms in papa’s yard. I remember the lemons on the lemon trees, beautiful!

Papa was outside in a minute, greeting us. Of course, he was. That was papa, eagerly waiting for us. A moment in time. Funny how certain things can trigger your thoughts to another time in your life.

You know what? I’m glad it did.

Thank you, Father, for all the safe trips our family made. Most of all, thank you for David, their father. He made all those sweet memories happen.

I hope you will take time to reflect on some of your special memories. Somehow, it doesn’t seem as bad now as we thought it was at the time.

Sometimes, looking back, God has a way of allowing us to forget all of the things we thought were so bad at the time. He says He forgives us as far as the East is from the West! He just takes out all of the bad stuff! Perhaps the word “delete” would be a better description of His forgiveness. How wonderful is that!

See the resemblance?

It is time we do the same. If nothing else, let this be the one thing you do: forgive and forget! You will feel better if you do; I promise that! Take advantage of this special time to create your own memories of love, hope, joy, and forgiveness, and most of all, peace.

Spend time with our Lord. Learn to know Him, not just about Him. Until then, God’s peace and love be with you and yours always!

Proverbs 3: vs. 5 & 6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding .

Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”

And we all said Amen!

MR. LINCOLN, HYBRID TEA, A FAVORITE only wish you could smell it!

MY 62 YEAR OLD BIBLE! NOT ONE LETTER IN THIS OLD BIBLE HAS CHANGED, only me! I love Jesus more everyday!



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