Copyright © 2010 by R. E. Bradshaw
Available at Amazon.com in the Kindle Book Store
Harper blinked a few times, letting her eyes adjust from the bright winter sunlight to the interior of the Tarr Barr and Grill. It had been a clear, but crisp February day and the golden sunset was pouring in behind her, as she hesitated at the door. When Harper was sure, she could see in front of her, she took a step toward the bar. The old wooden floor creaked beneath her.
Harper read about this bar in a neighborhood magazine she found, in the Welcome basket, on her doorstep. She was a new resident of Kerrville, which was located just outside of Chapman’s Mill, in the research triangle area of North Carolina. She used the local magazine, as a guide, to get around to restaurants, dry cleaners, Wally World, the hardware store, all the essentials for a new homeowner, in a brand new town. Now, after a week of unpacking boxes, Harper was ready for a drink, even if it was alone.
The Tarr Barr and Grill had been around, in one form or another, since the late 1800’s. The ownership passed from generation to generation, of the Tarr family, and was now in the possession of Jane Tarr, a 61-year-old former Business Professor at the University of Carolina at Chapman’s Mill. She took over the business twenty years ago and built the present manifestation of the bar. A microbrewery, out of an old tobacco warehouse and wood from torn down, flue-cured tobacco, barns. “The atmosphere celebrated the cultivating of tobacco, the heart of the North Carolina farming industry for more than four centuries,” the article stated. A picture of Jane accompanied the article, and Harper was sure the plump woman with short blonde hair, smiling and gesturing to her, was the very Jane herself.
Harper stepped over to the woman and accepted her outstretched hand.
“Welcome to the Tarr Barr. My name is Jane. What can I do for you?”
The words drawled out with the southern charm Harper had learned was the accent of the well-educated southerner she interacted with, in her first few days in North Carolina. She had also experienced the less educated southern charm that was sweet and hospitable, and the put on charm of the southern “gentleman” who openly suggested un-charming things. Jane’s charm seemed genuine. Harper found herself relaxing, in the warmth of her welcome.
“Hi, I read this was the place for a good beer and a great burger.”
Jane ushered Harper to a seat at the bar. “Well, I do hope we live up to our press. Have a seat and I’ll step behind the bar and wait on you, myself.”
While Jane crossed behind the bar, Harper looked around. The place was exactly as the article had described. The faint smell of curing tobacco lingered in the air. All around on the walls were the ephemera of what had once been the “World’s Greatest Tobacco Market.” Harper visited her father’s parent’s tobacco farm every summer in Wilson County, North Carolina, until she turned sixteen. She even harvested tobacco for money, when she was old enough to work on the farm. Harper totally understood the pride and heritage of the now reviled tobacco farmer. In addition, she held the same position her grandfather held; the cigarette companies ruined the tobacco farmer. She wished her grandfather was still alive to see this place, but he passed away of lung cancer three years ago, with a cigarette in his lips. Harper never smoked and never would, but she loved the smell of tobacco curing and this place brought back so many fond memories.
“Hey, where did you go?” Jane was speaking to her.
Harper refocused on the present, “The smell, it reminded me of my grandfather. He was a tobacco farmer.”
“I hope it was a pleasant memory,” Jane smiled at her.
“Yes, m’am, it was,” Harper replied softly.
“Do you need a minute to check out the menu?”
Harper was so tired of making decisions from the move; she sighed and looked at Jane. “Why don’t you fix me up with your favorite, I’m sure it will be delicious.”
“A pork barbecue slaw burger with fries and a frosty mug of golden amber beer, we call Brightleaf. Does that sound good to you?”
“It sounds amazing. Thank you,” Harper answered.
Jane poured the beer and disappeared into the kitchen at the end of the bar. Harper sipped from the icy mug and was pleasantly surprised at the full flavor of the home brew. She studied the objects on the back of the bar. Here and there were pictures of a smiling Jane with Michael Jordan, Dean Smith, Roy Williams and other Carolina players. Tar Heel basketball memorabilia filled in around the pictures. Jane was obviously a fan. The top of the bar back was lined with softball trophies and pictures of women’s teams wearing uniforms with “Tarr Barr” across the chest. Harper studied the pictures, as best she could, from her seat at the bar.
The pictures were in frames with the year prominently displayed on the front. They went back fifteen years, starting in 1994. Some of the players appeared to be the same for a few years then fading back as others took their places. Beginning in 2004 there appeared to be a core group of five women who remained with the team up to the most recent picture. Harper was captivated by the women, who genuinely appeared to be having so much fun together. There was a tall, tanned, dark haired, very pretty woman who was always standing with the cute blonde, with a crooked smile and dimples. Another one was a little stocky, with a smile that seemed to be so welcoming. There was a small one that looked like a young Shirley McClain and the last of the five had to be an elementary school teacher; she just had that look. The women looked to be in their early thirties or late twenties and appeared to be great friends.
Harper was lost in the pictures when Jane returned with the steaming sandwich and fries and a fresh mug of beer. Harper loved Carolina Barbecue and this looked and smelled heavenly. She did not realize how hungry she was until she felt her stomach roll over and growl, at the sight before her.
Jane spoke up, “I hope you like my barbecue. It’s an old family recipe.”
Harper took a bite and chewed slowly, relishing the flavors before she swallowed. She smiled at Jane and gave an approving nod.
“That’s really good. Now I know where I’ll be eating my barbecue,” Harper said after swallowing her first bite.
Jane cocked her head and asked, “Are you just passing through or a student at the University? I can hear a familiar accent and I’d bet money you are from Oklahoma, Southeastern Oklahoma to be exact.”
Harper almost choked. She coughed a little and her eyes watered. It took a minute for her to gather her composure, and then she finally gasped out, “How in the world did you know that?”
Jane chuckled, “One of my girlfriends in college was from Durant and you sound just like her.”
“Well, yes m’am, Boomer Sooner born and bred, about fifty miles northeast of Durant, in Antlers, Oklahoma, USA,” Harper said, smiling brightly through her thickest Okie drawl.
“What in the world are you doing all the way out here?” Jane inquired.
“I’m doing research for my doctorate at UC. My grandmother lives in Wilson and she’s the only family I have left, so I thought I’d spend as much time with her as I can. My name is Harper Lynch, by the way.”
“Jane Tarr, it is a pleasure to meet you Harper. Let me guess, your mother loved To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“Right again. She would have named me Scout, but Daddy wouldn’t let her.”
“Are you living here in Kerrville?”
Harper had taken another bite of her sandwich and only nodded yes.
“Well, welcome to the neighborhood Harper Lynch. I must say, you look rather young to be working on a doctorate.”
Having just dispatched with a fry, Harper began the story she had told so many times, it was a memorized speech. If she just flew through it, the emotions would stay where she had put them, way back in a special place that she visited less and less often, as the years passed.
“The summer between my junior and senior year in high school my parents were killed by a drunk driver. I had enough credits in December to graduate, so I did and started taking courses, at Midwestern Oklahoma, that spring. I played softball and went on full scholarship in the fall, after I turned seventeen. I graduated with a B. A. in Biology with an emphasis in Anatomy, at twenty. I graduated last spring with my Masters in Exercise Physiology. I’ll turn twenty-four in June.”
Jane’s eyes showed deep concern as she said, “That’s a lot to pack into a young life. I know athletes have a tough schedule and to complete all that difficult course work in such a short time is amazing.”
Harper simply answered, “I had the money from the accident, so I just stayed at school during all the breaks and took classes. I am an only child. I had no family to go home to.”
“Well enough of that,” Jane must have sensed the mood shifting and tried to lighten it, “I’m glad you’re here with us now, and you play softball; that is a plus in here as you can tell.” Jane pointed at the trophies.
Harper finished off the sandwich and slid the plate away from her. She looked at the trophies Jane indicated.
“I was admiring your brass, while you were making my sandwich. I would love to get in on a league. I play slow pitch or fast, it doesn’t matter. Can you hook me up?”
Harper was hoping Jane could point her in the right direction. She dearly loved softball and had played since she was four. The last two summers she played on a co-ed, slow pitch traveling team, but now she needed to play in a local league considering the amount of time she would be working. What she really wanted was to play on the Tarr Barr team, she wasn’t sure why, but she suddenly wanted to know the women in the picture.
Jane smiled back at Harper mischievously. “What position do you play, where do you hit in the line-up and what’s your batting average?” Spoken like a true scout.
Harper was proud of her career and stats and spit them out matter-of-factly, “Third and shortstop mostly, bat third, fourth or fifth, and my batting average in slow pitch is around .650 to .750 depending on the competition level and .435 in fast pitch.”
Harper could see Jane’s face light up. The wheels were turning, as she looked up at the picture from last year. Jane turned back to Harper, eyes gleaming, “I think you would fit right into our line-up. Our shortstop is pregnant. Would you consider playing on our team? They’re a great bunch of girls. You can meet some of them tonight. We are having a team meeting before the season starts in April. We practice in March a few times a week. Does that sound like something you might be interested in?”
Harper said yes before she even thought about it. She looked at the pictures again and knew she needed these women in her life. She had no one in this new town and the prospect of meeting new people appealed to her. These women looked like fun and she wanted in on it.
Jane refused to take payment from Harper for her meal, “Call it a welcome to the team meal.”
The team was meeting at nine, which was a few hours away, so Harper excused herself to go home and take care of Jasper, her dog. The other reason she needed to go home was to drop off her car and call a taxi. She never drove when she had more than two beers and tonight Harper thought she might have a few more than two. Harper was hoping tonight would be the beginning of her new life here in Chapman’s Mill, North Carolina.