In the summer, Daddy used to take me to Bradley’s. He’d pull to the front of the house in the black Toyota SUV (though I know he secretly pretended it was his very own truck) and I’d eagerly jump in the back seat. Though it only took about twenty minutes, the drive down Centerville Road seemed to take decades. It was a peculiar drive to me. Our very urban town would gradually melt away as the stores and the restaurants turned to neighborhoods which turned to small, country churches, which turned to tall pines divided ever so often by a quaint house. It was as if our car was a time machine taking us back to an Old North Florida, where the land was untamed and untouched.
Finally, when the houses had all but disappeared and the trees grew so thick the sun barely peeped through, a lake would peel aside the growth in a glorious mirror. This was on the left side of the road. To the right, directly across from it, was Bradley’s Country Store. A Tallahassee staple since my parents were kids, the small, unobtrusive structure was anything but impressive. Brown steps lead up to a brown, rickety porch with brown rocking chairs and a brown screen door all surrounded by a few brown picnic tables dotting the front lawn. Behind the store, a dark brown slaughter house peeped menacingly towards the road.
Mr. Bradley, a monarch of the community, was rumored to eat liver and eggs every morning for breakfast. He claimed the land and created the now coveted Bradley’s brand far before anyone had dreamed of making that “neck of the woods” their home. And now, his sausage (among other products) is shipped nation-wide.
Though unimpressive to the naked eye, to a little girl, beyond the brown screen door was a treasure trove. Nick-nacks, old-timey candies and tacky ornaments was just about heaven on earth. But best of all, and the reason for the long journey, was the sausage dogs- of course always accompanied by cold Cream Soda.
Daddy and I would pull into the dirt lot out front and walk up the steps, setting the bell off as he opened the creaky door for me. Through the shelves of various pickled items and old southern cookbooks, we’d head straight to the back. There, against the wall, was a glass cooler of sausage. Behind this, on various racks, sausage and other pork products hung in a grizzly display. For me, the borderline grotesque scene was paradise.
Daddy would get me my sausage dog-mustard, mayo and onions- and him his- mustard and mayo, hold the onions. We’d wind back through the handmade soap isle to the front coolers and gather two cold glass bottles of Cream Soda, then pay at the front. In a matter of moments, we were out on the front lawn, sitting on a moldy, weather-beaten picnic table, with mustard mustaches on both our faces. It was perfect symbiosis- hot dog, cold soda, hot dog, cold soda, and so on, until, alas, it was all gone.
For a while we’d sit in silence and let the hot summer sun warm us to the point of a food coma. Finally, Daddy would look at me, a sleepy, dreamy look in his eyes, and tell me it was time to head home. I’d nod in mute response and we’d both lumber our way to the car. Soon, the tall pines would begin to thin, and the houses thicken, and then the small hidden churches became stores and restaurants and traffic, and we were back in the present.
It’s been a few years since I visited Bradley’s Country Store. Probably around ten or so to be exact. Somehow, you lose time for things like that when you grow up. The world, however, begs to differ when it comes to the sausage. The small, nowhere shack ships Bradley’s Sausage to restaurants all over the country, and I’ll often see if on a brunch menu or two.
And now, senior year of college, Christmas Break, I have found time to take a trip down memory lane. The long winding road seems about the same, with maybe a little bit more houses and a little bit more traffic. But, I still get the giddy, childish twinge when I see the lake dazzling in the distance. Then, there it is, as brown and plain as ever, proudly displaying “Bradley’s Country Store.”
Of course, it’s all decked out and ready for Christmas. Various neon-colored ornaments hang from the tin roof, dangling in strategic places on the front porch. A pig statue sits calmly in the corner sporting his santa hat. And
the last touch: different colored lights string the length of the entire porch and frame the front door. Other than the seasonal decor, nothing has changed. I step inside to be greeted by the same shelves of pickled accoutrements, multiple jam variations and old southern cookbooks.
The familiar white cooler gleams proudly against the back wall. After snapping a few pictures and re-living a memory, I reconvene with my family on the front porch. My sister has already attacked the footlong sausage dog in her hand, the familiar mustard stache on her face. Greedily, I reach for the dog. Before she can blink, protest, or snatch it away, I have it in hand. There it is- the mustard, mayo and onions. Just how I like it. But I can’t dive in yet. I give my prize a good, long stare. What if it isn’t as good as I remember? What if it’s just a childhood fantasy I want to relive?
“Just give it back already.”
Time is up. I take the bite.
And it’s still just as good as I remember.