It’s something my grandfather would have done for sure. He worshiped at the altar of the day trip. Caves, boat rides, half-obscure museums — and restaurants. There were always restaurants, little edge-of-the-map places he’d heard of or read about. So I know that had he learned of such a thing as Fayetteville’s Fried Turkey Sandwich Shop, he would have piled us into his car and driven the two hours, no questions asked.
It would be enough just to go, but there’s also this: Thanksgiving was by far my grandfather’s favorite holiday. He liked the pomp and circumstance of Thursday night just fine, the meal we dressed up for, the good china and the fancy silver and the carving knife with a name — Bertha — that now rests in my own kitchen drawer. But Friday lunch, a lunch of leftover turkey sandwiches, was where he centered his entire year. He loved the gentler ceremony, the ease of it. That sandwich, built his way: wheat bread, mayonnaise, Durkee Famous Sauce (a mustard-mayo hybrid; go find it right now), lettuce, sliced bird, and a little freshly ground pepper and salt. To round out the meal: a glass of milk and a confoundingly strange square of tomato aspic. As we grandkids got older, we switched out milk for beer. This, I confess, helped with the aspic.
I like the big meals fine, but I’m my grandfather’s grandson. Give me a turkey sandwich in the wash of the day after, and I’m a happy man.
Taking my kids — two boys, aged 5 and 2 — to an actual restaurant is such a demonstrably bad idea that you’d think I’d learn not to do it again. But to be a parent is, for me, to choose a kind of selective amnesia: I have an unshakable feeling of doom about this, but what the heck? Let’s go find out what The Fried Turkey Sandwich Shop is all about.
The restaurant’s foremost delight is its lack of pretension: It is what you think it is. You can get your sandwich in a dizzying array of options: turkey with cranberry sauce, turkey with stuffing, turkey with cranberry sauce and stuffing. All this on Texas toast. Gravy on the side. There are other menu options, but listen to me: You have come all this way to The Fried Turkey Sandwich Shop. Unless you are a local and can return tomorrow, you are a special kind of fool not to order the fried turkey sandwich.
The boys were hurricanes. They were boys. I got the little one locked into his high chair and threatened the big one with the taking away of all the Legos for all the days, and I went to get us drinks. When I came back, they were screaming and hitting each other with the table flag. Please, I said to them. Please do not do this. Rise above yourselves.
The food arrived, and I was three or four bites into my Fried Turkey Day (turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy) before I realized something was wrong: The boys were silent. I couldn’t remember the last time the boys were silent. Here is how to silence them: turkey sandwich, turkey strips, fried okra. Why did no one tell me this? I want to sing to the wonders of downtown Fayetteville, and to the joy of pulling off the road on Fort Bragg to watch the planes take off from Pope Field, but I can’t, really, because all I remember is that the boys were briefly struck dumb. Or, rather, shot through with awe. They were given the prayer of the turkey sandwich.
My grandfather died three years ago. He’d have loved The Fried Turkey Sandwich Shop. It was him I thought of there in that nearly silent parenthesis, the boys chewing and happy and, for the moment, doing each other no lasting harm. It was him I thought of while I ate my own sandwich, nothing like his, and, of course, exactly like it. And it was him I thought of on the drive home, the boys in the back seat, working first through the higher end of the decibel range and then both — both! — falling asleep. A quick sandwich, simple and delicious. Two hundred flattening miles to the Sandhills and back, a handful of them quiet. I was thankful, is what I’m trying to say — thankful to have been taught to chase after the right things. Thankful to have been taught to chase at all.