Ripple Creek Bar-B-Que
So, it’s two days before Memorial Day, Chuck and I have been cooped up at work for the week, the sun is out, the weather is beautiful, and nature is calling to us both.
We grab the dog plus a couple of cold ones and literally jump into Chuck’s beat-up Suburban. At the bottom of the driveway, Chuck says “Left or right?” I flip a coin to tails and shout, “left” with mounting excitement. This will take us north through the Ozarks and I’ve always loved the mountains.
Chuck and I chatter quietly about work, the scenery, and Lucky the dog who is perched precariously on the back seat. We’ve never figured out what she’s looking for, but she either watches through the windows intently or lies prone on her side -- sound asleep. Chuck never takes the same roads on these trips. What would be the point? New roads lead to new adventurers and Chuck, Lucky, and I are all about new adventures. So when we saw the sign proclaiming “Entering Slate Valley,” it garnered our interest immediately.
Slate Valley, it seems, has one of the few remaining slate quarries still in operation. The entire town seemed to be made of slate: slate benches, slate walkways, slate steps, slate fences, etc. We spent the morning exploring the quarry which was “Closed for the Holiday Weekend” according to the sign. We found a slate lined cave, a slate floored lake, and even a small slate adored park.
With rumbling stomachs we made our way to the center of town, still marveling at all of the unique uses this town had found for slate. I think we both saw the unusual sign at the same time, Chuck pointing with his left hand out of the driver’s side window, and me pointing with my right hand. Written in colored chalk on a huge piece of slate were the words “Ripple Creek Bar-B-Que.” I looked at Chuck and he looked back at me with a huge grin. Chuck and I are barbecue freaks. Chuck will travel hundreds of miles to check out new barbecue restaurants or to try a new barbecue sauce. This sign slathered icing on the cake of our fun and exciting day exploring in Slate Valley.
I could see that the building had once been someone’s three-story home, now painted a garish aqua color with stark white trim. The huge slate sign stood between two top-story windows. The eatery itself was on floor number two which was reached by traveling up a set of thick slate steps supported by wide beams. Floor number one lay half buried behind these steps, the high small windows boarded (slated) up. Prickly looking shrubs spiked the lawn in this area. A tired dirt driveway wound around to the back of the building.
The slate steps led up to an old-fashioned front porch, which held a quaint selection of rockers, swings, and deck chairs. An old man with a wiry gray beard down to his belt buckle sat seeding peppers into plastic tub on one of the porch swings.
“Howdy, folks,” he spoke with a phlegmy growl. “Hope you brought yer appetites,”
“Never leave home without ‘em.” Chuck replied as we headed inside.
A siren screamed in the background and the old man almost knocked me over getting to the other side of the porch.
“Lots of bad accidents on holiday weekends,” he murmured, spitting over the porch railing and narrowly missing the picnic tables below.
“Let’s eat inside,” I whispered to Chuck, who nodded readily.
The inside of the self-service restaurant was as quaint as the outside. The walls were dotted with small pieces of slate. Some slates in the kitchen area wore pricing and marketing blurbs. Those slabs in the dining area sported old-fashioned clichés like: “Make it or break it,” “Waste not, want not,” “The lesser of two evils,” and “Cooking with gas.”
Chuck and I bantered pleasantly with the blonde grandmotherly woman behind the counter. Chuck ordered ribs and I ordered a bar-b-qued pork sandwich -- we both asked for extra sauce and cream sodas to wash everything down.
As we sat at an old-fashioned slate topped table and polished off the succulent food, I tried to pump the old woman behind the counter about her sauce recipe and cuts of meat, but she slyly shook her head – a strange little smile playing over her little perch lips.
Later, stuffed to the gills, I inquired about a ladies room. The woman’s pleasant face furrowed into a frown and she glanced toward the front door as if expecting old Pa Kettle to come barging in. She hesitated another few seconds before ushering me through the fragrant kitchen to a small door marked “Privy” at the rear of the kitchen.
A tiny window in the washroom had been painted over, but I could make out movement in the backyard shadows below, so I scratched at a small area of the paint with my thumbnail and peered through to the back yard.
An old fashioned ambulance squatted below the window and two burly large men bearing a striking resemblance to Ma & Pa Ripple Creek were wheeling a sheet covered gurney into the belly of the building below.
Fear turned my blood to ice water and I took several deep breaths before leaving the little bathroom and making my way across the kitchen and dining room toward Chuck.
The woman watched me closely with fear or malice in her eyes. It was hard for me to tell, I was in such a state of terror I wanted to run, but I pictured Chuck, myself, and Lucky being hacked up and barbequed in the pits under this house.
“Hey, Lizzy, I found the pipe for the barbeque pits,” Chuck said as I approached. He stood by a huge stainless-steel pipe, which ran from floor to ceiling through the dining room.
“Liz, what’s wrong?”
“A little too much delicious barbeque,” I said very loudly struggling to keep my voice steady. My stomach churned queasily at the thought of what we may have just eaten.
“We need to get out of here,” I whispered quickly in Chuck’s ear. “Act natural, she’s watching us.”
Safely in our car, Chuck turned to me. “What the hell?”
“Just get us out of here. Drive slow and act natural,” I said smiling and waving to Pa Kettle on the porch.
As we headed back home I told Chuck what I had seen in the bathroom. The color drained out of his face.
“What should we do?”
“Do? We do nothing! These people are all related around here. I’ll be damned if I want to end up some hillbilly’s dinner. We do nothing and we tell no one, deal?”
Chuck and I don’t explore the Ozark’s much any more. We don’t eat barbeque very much any more either, but we have talked about starting our own business – I’m sure there are other slate quarries around.
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