It was lunchtime. For me, lunchtime in Paducah, Ky., means only one thing.
Pork sandwiches at Starnes BBQ.
I was in Paducah with my wife Lisa and mother Phyllis. Lisa is an avid quilter and eagerly waited for six months to attend the largest quilt show in America. Paducah and the American Quilt Society Show is to quilters as Daytona is for NASCAR fans. For the past two days, I earned “sweetie” points by taking Lisa to various venues around Paducah to buy fabric, and quilting books and tools. It’s always nice to see someone so passionate about a hobby.
We found three stools at the Starnes lunch counter on the other side of the aqua-colored building and sat down. The waitress came by to take our order. Four pork sandwiches. Didn’t know if I was hungry enough for two but thought best to be safe than sorry.
“Y’all visiting?” the man sitting to my right at the counter asked.
“Well, my mother lives here in Wickliffe,” I said. “My wife and I live in Washington, D.C.”
“Here for the quilt show?”
I told him we were. We proceeded to talk about about a wide range of topics — from Washington’s famed cherry blossoms to quilts to the justification for the Iraq war — while waiting for and eating my sandwiches and drinking my Sun Drop soda.
Starnes’ barbecue is well-known in Paducah. They serve pork, beef and turkey sandwiches. They chop up the meat, put a generous portion between two pieces of white bread, add the vinegar-based sauce and toast it in a sandwich press. If Starnes was pretentious, it probably would call their barbecue sandwiches Paducah paninis. It’s not pretentious. How can it be? Its building is aqua and has pictures of grandchildren on the wall. The center includes shelves of chips, candy bars, moon pies and bottle of extra sauce. The sandwiches come individually wrapped in white butcher paper.
Never got to know the name of the man to my right. Since we were here for the quilt show, he recommended we not miss the antique quilt display across the street.
“That’s where we’re headed,” I said. “We stopped here to get something to eat first.”
He told me about the time he and his wife visited Washington two years ago to see the cherry blossoms. We agreed the blossoms are very beautiful.
“I didn’t get a chance to see them two years ago,” I said. “I had the pleasure of living in southern Iraq two years ago.”
“You were in the service?” asked. I told him I retired from the Air Force.
“Well, thank you for all you did,” he said. “Certainly a lot different welcome than what I got coming back from Vietnam.”
I asked about his service. He was a legal assistant. He was exposed to Agent Orange which he claims caused his health problems. He’s on disability.
“You probably don’t hear this much but thank you for your service in Vietnam,” I said to him.
He quietly chuckled and smiled, and said thank you.
After finishing my two sandwiches and our conversation, he excused himself so a waiting customer could have his counter seat. I finished my sandwich and Sun Drop, and headed off to see the antique quilts.