A Nu-Way to Look at Life

My mom passed away this year.

She was 85 and pneumonia gobbled her up like a hungry bear. It floored us, especially my 91-year-old father, who kept repeating, “This wasn’t the plan,” while pacing the quiet house for the next several weeks and trying in vain to figure out how to use the dishwasher.

The only thing I could think of to do to ease his suffering was to take him out to eat. I don’t know how to use Dad’s dishwasher, either, so I hatched a plan to take Dad out on as many exploratory food outings as he would agree to. “I won’t go anywhere weird,” was his only rule.

And so, the “Susan A. Sistare team,” as I call them, went with me to take Dad to the greatest place in Spartanburg, the Nu-Way.

Terry, my publisher, and Claudia, my everything else (not sure what to call her, as she has many functions such as editing, web designing, and stopping me from pushing random buttons) met me at the Nu-Way, the best little seedy bar in town. Vicki, the bartender, had beers ready as soon as we walked in the door.

“Does your dad want one too?” she asked.

“Of course,” I smiled. “We’re celebrating.”

“Oh?” she grinned devilishly. “Whatcha celebratin’?”

I had been doing so well, keeping it together for Dad. But seeing him sitting at that table, at my bar, with only the second beer I’d ever seen him drink in my entire lifetime, I broke. “We’re celebrating the life of my mom.”

“I’ll refill your napkin holder,” she said after the gravity of our situation settled in, which was probably the greatest thing she could’ve said at that moment.

Claudia ordered the Van Dang’s White Trash Burger (she gives it five stars), and Terry ordered the Shane Pruitt Band’s Blues Burger without a bun (which is basically a fancy patty melt). I started to order the Antibodies Anti Burger, because I’ve been 99% vegetarian for a while now, but recalling my mother’s admonition that I should eat more red meat, I caved in and got the Redneck Cheeseburger. After all, it’s world famous.

Dad ordered a Reuben, which he later claimed was nasty. To the Nu-Way’s credit, though, Dad doesn’t like anything anymore except wine and peanuts. Everything else we ate that night was fabulous.

I have now eaten everything on the Nu-Way menu, even the kids’ menu. I am an expert on their food, and I conclude that the following items at the Nu-Way on Kennedy Street in Spartanburg, South Carolina, are the greatest things in the history of the world:

  1. The bathroom with chalkboards for walls.

  2. Vicki, the bartender.

  3. My little round corner table by the door.

  4. The jukebox, with plenty of Rush, Kiss, and Marshall Tucker songs. Claudia is happy that it also plays a lot of Bon Jovi.

  5. The Redneck Cheeseburger, the Bullseye Burger, the Honky Tonk Burger, the Fat Ass Burger, and the Nu-Way Po’Boy. Those are my favorites, even though I still eat vegetarian 99% of the time.

Mom probably wouldn’t have approved of my taking Dad to the Nu-Way, because she always called it “that watering hole,” though she had only been there once for lunch about twenty-five years ago. I think Dad had a good time, though. At one point during the evening he said, “Everybody in here is a long-haired hippie type, and the cook has tattoos on his neck.”

“Uh huh,” I said.

“Your mother would’ve hated this place.”

“Uh huh.”

Then Claudia asked him if he’d like to join us again sometime and he said sure. I will make sure he gets a Redneck Cheeseburger next time.

So thank you, Nu-Way, for being my favorite bar for more than half my life. Thank you for being part of two of my books, and for not charging me for carpet cleaning when I threw up on the floor that time. Thank you for allowing me to celebrate most of my birthdays there, and for not saying anything when I sneak behind the bar to get stuff when Vicki’s busy. Lastly, thank you for allowing me to share my table with Dad after a difficult year.

My mom may not have been a fan, but she would’ve been grateful that I get some red meat from time to time, even if it does begin with the word “Redneck.”


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