The small-town gossip over affairs, engagements, overdoses, prom dates, nasty looks, and ex-husbands ebbs and flows with the gossipers, who offer such delicious secrets.
Stephanie, an employee, offers some crude remark to Jan Eley Askew, co-owner of the restaurant, who admonished, “We got company!” to her. But Sandra Askew, the other owner and Jan Eley Askew’s sister, laughs deep in her throat, closes her eyes, and folds her hands over her eyes in a moment of exasperation and humor. Anyone can tell Jan Askew is her sister.
Jacquelyn Swain, another employee, constantly adds her innocent and girlish laugh to the chorus, chiming in every now and then with her thick drawl. All the while, Allen Askew, manager of the restaurant, sits a table away, opting to adhere to his own mind instead of indulging in the conversation of his family and employees (which are really one and the same).
Every once in a while, the ringing of the telephone lags behind and pierces the otherwise natural sound of chitchat. Allen Askew answered the telephone with a “Yello.” The employees tell jokes about mooning petty people, the Andy Griffith Show, and going to get margaritas.
And then someone brings up Kendrick Milton, also known as “Dickey,” the man who has been working at Holcomb’s Barbecue for years. Allen Askew referred to him as “dependable. You don’t find many like Dickey.”
Dickey’s wife died the other week. She was sick and he was burying her today. The employees debate what to do; to buy him flowers? Give him leftover barbecue? Give him money?
They all reach into their wallets and pool money for Dickey. An employee asked what about a card? No, no card another responded. “He doesn’t care about that,” said another employee, just get an envelope, and everyone will sign it. A chorus of agreement chimes together signaling a resounding accord. However, Allen Askew sits, silent.
Allen is not an ill-tempered man but a tired man. He underwent quadruple bypass surgery less than a month and a half ago. Because of that, he can’t make his famous barbecue chicken, to the dismay of countless customers requesting it all weekend. All that is left on the menu is pork, stew, sweet tea, slaw, and Lay’s potato chips.
It’s the first day of turkey hunting season, and the employees have had turkey hunters in and out all day.
Where’s the turkey at?” asked Allen Askew.
“Still in the woods,” said one of the hunters.
Then there are two kinds of regulars—the ones the servers love to see, and the ones that they pawn off to the new servers because “nobody here wants to deal with them,” said Stephanie.
Some employees have been working since 8 a.m., while others have been working since 4:30 a.m. Either way, when the clock hits 7 p.m., the crew begins to clean, package, load the trucks, organize the sauce bottles, turn off the lights, climb into cars, drive down the gravel driveway, and close and lock the gate.
And some will be back at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow to start it all again.
Allen Askew adheres to the strict policy of consistency. “People who haven’t been here in 20 years come back and say it tastes just like it did last time,” said Allen Askew. That’s what people are looking for when they come to Holcomb’s Barbecue in Greensboro, Georgia—the company and the barbecue that are both damn good.
Dori Butler is a senior majoring in journalism in Grady College Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.