Hamburgers the way they used to be

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Students, our lesson today is on shrimps and cow meat.

Athletes are not the only things that have discovered steroids.

Remember when a hamburger was just a juicy hunk  of ground steak in a bun? Oh, there might be a slice of ‘mater in there. Maybe some pickles. Perhaps a slice of onion and maybe some lettuce. But it was basically just  meat in a bun, like the delicious ones Lon Clearman sold in his little hole-in-the-wall hot dog and hamburger joint. It was called Wimpy’s Place, after the comic strip character in Popeye who loved his hamburgers as much as Popeye loved spinach.

One day, he put some cheese in there and called it a cheeseburger. I remember first cousin/best friend James raving about it, and I couldn’t wait to try it. It lived up to all expectations.

There’s a myth going round that when you get old, you lose your appetite. Hah! I’m old, ancient, antique, and my appetite is just as hearty  as that of  teen-age boy who was the wonder of the all-day singing dinners on the ground. Up one side and down the other of that  groaning long table, tasting  everything.

My pot belly tells me to slow down, but my mouth tells it where it can go.

Somewhere along the way, some eatery came up  with a four dollar hamburger. Then another one said it would sell you a four dollar hamburger for two dollars. And they started growing. The hamburger places have the greatest poster makers in the world. They show impossibly beautiful girls trying to get their mouths around a burger so tall and so packed that you’d need an industrial compacter to mash it down to eating size.

Those posters can make your tongue slap your brains out. They show in HD, hi-fi, 3-D  super perfection the juices oozing out of the meat, and the whole vegetable garden in there. Ahhhhh.

I was gobbling some shrimp the other day, and I remembered the first shrimp I ever tasted. One, far as I know, had never crossed over Hell’s Creek into Lamar County, and I wouldn’t have known what to do with it if one had.

I don’t remember all the details. I was a student at East Alabama Male  College, no car, almost no money. But I was in Birmingham one weekend for a football game, I suppose. I was staying with a  fellow table-hop at Mrs. Tapscott’s boarding house. That night we were double-dating. I had a date with Elwanda Hankins, the main beauty of the high school class behind me. She worked or was going to school in Birmingham. We saw a picture show at the Alabama Theater, “Detective Story,” with Kirk Douglas. Wonderful movie, kind of the inspiration for dozens of TV cop shows..

Somewhere along in there, we stopped at a drive-in place that specialized in shrimp baskets. We got one…or two.  There must be some way to fix shrimp that I don’t like, but I haven’t found it yet, and I have searched diligently. I rank right behind Wayne Shell as a devourer of shrimp.

I was staying that weekend with George Kirchoff’s folks. Don’t remember much about them or the place. George was a fellow table hop, along with Joe Brock and the Tapscott twins and a guy from Andalusia. Mrs. Tapscott had a wonderful cook. Wish I could remember her name. I do remember, about once a quarter, she’d come in loaded. Make Mrs. Tapscott so mad! But she, the cook, was so good, Mrs. Tapscott was afraid to fire her.

So, even though it was off-campus, my college education taught me something, to love shrimp. And that was worth every bit of that $35 a quarter tuition.

I’m not complaining, you understand; but it’s amusing to remember how good just a good, basic hamburger, like the ones Lon or Myrtle sold, could taste.

PS. On a whim, I googled “George Kirchoff, Birmingham/Homewood” and discovered that my old table-hopping buddy was an internationally-known engineering genius.

Who would have thought…

 

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.

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