On Father’s Day I’m Remembering Dad, The Pool Hall, and Chili

Dad and me - 1956

Dad and me – 1956

A few days ago, completely unbidden, a memory of my Dad came to me and has stuck in my mind like a rusty fish-hook. I’m not sure how old I was, but I’m thinking I was around 10-11 years old.

Before I tell you, I should remind you that I came from a tiny little town. In those days, the population was probably around 2,000 or so. And, there wasn’t much in Piedmont either. A few little grocery stores, a couple of drug stores, a movie house and some clothing shops.

There was another place though, that sticks in my mind; The Pool Hall. It had a name, just like CL Morgan’s grocery store or Watson’s Drugs did. It was called Sportland, but everyone just referred

You can just see the Sportland sign beyond the Pure Oil station.

You can just see the Sportland sign beyond the Pure Oil station.

to it as The Pool Hall, with capital letters.

All the women spoke about it in hushed tones, usually with just a hint of a frown. The Pool Hall itself was a mysterious place. It had one tiny hexagonal window, high above the sidewalk. It didn’t matter that it was high, because it was filled with frosted glass. No clues about the mysterious interior would be given away there. Clacking sounds like I’d never heard before came through the swinging door. I couldn’t begin to imagine what made a sound like that. Although I’d never been to a swimming pool, I’d seen the one down at the YMCA, and I knew nothing there made such a sound.

One day, Dad and I were alone in his car. “Riding around” is what I think we were doing that day. I don’t remember why the other boys weren’t with us, but then that’s part of what makes this memory so special.

“Boy, are you hungry?” Dad gave me one of his patented grins. I was so excited I could only nod. His question could only mean that we were having lunch in some ‘exotic’ place, like the truck stop or the Little Dad-2011Gem Cafe. I was practically bouncing in my seat.

My eyes must’ve been as big as baseballs as Dad turned his old 1959 Ford Fairlane into the back parking lot and eased its long nose up near the back door of The Pool Hall. I was actually going into the mystical depths of The Pool Hall! My heart raced. The inside of my mouth was dry as cotton and my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth as I peered over the dashboard at the weather-beaten door.

“Well, come on; let’s go get a bowl of Claude’s chili!”

The owner of the establishment, Claude Hilburn, was known far and wide for his chili. He served it every day with “soda crackers” and every man in the Piedmont area wanted his wife to have Claude’s recipe. He wasn’t about to give it up, though. Not a chance in this world!

MomDad-2011Dad pushed through the door and we were greeted by about a dozen men of varying ages playing pool. The air was blue and thick with wafting clouds of smoke from cigarettes, cigars and a pipe or two. Several men were perched on bar stools drinking coffee and eating hamburgers or piping hot bowls of Claude’s famous chili.

Dad lifted me up to a stool as though I weighed no more than a bag of Martha White Self-Rizing flour. Within moments, Claude gave me a big smile and shoved a huge white bowl of steaming brown chili and a handful of crackers.

Between bites, I tried to follow Dad and Claude’s conversation as I looked around the pool hall taking in as many sights, sounds and smells as I could. From time to time the two men included me in the conversation by asking me questions about school, my brothers, and God only knows what else. It was hard to answer them because I was in a daze… I was in The Pool Hall! For a few brief minutes, I wasn’t a wee lad just embarking on his life’s journey. I was an equal; a man having lunch with my Dad.

Dad2012-1028On this Father’s Day I’d like to tell my Dad how much I love and miss him. I’d also like to tell him how grateful I am to him for this and a thousand other memories.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!



About Ol' Big Jim

Ol' Big Jim, has been a storekeeper, an embalmer, a hospital orderly, a medical biller, and through it all, a teller of tall tales. Many of his stories, like his first book, New Yesterdays, are set in his hometown of Piedmont, Alabama. For seven years, he lived in the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Amman, Jordan where he spends his time trying to visit each one of the thousands of Ammani coffee shops and scribbling in his ever-present notebook. These days, you can find him back stateside, still filling notebooks.
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14 Responses to On Father’s Day I’m Remembering Dad, The Pool Hall, and Chili

  1. Beautiful memory. Makes me wish I was with you that day.


  2. David Allen says:

    Great story, makes me wish I had someone to call Dad,then and now. Too depressing, thanks for a wonderful insite to the day. Lucky you, David


  3. Aleasha Merriman says:

    I love reading your stories I can hear you telling it and it always puts a big smile on my face! I love you!


  4. Jess S-C says:

    How beautiful. It’s so wonderful to hear of people having such special memories of their parents, memories that last a lifetime and stay as clear, special and treasured as the day they were made. I’m really glad that little boy got himself a fab dad, a bowl of chili, a sneaky look inside The Pool Hall and I’m also really glad that when he grew up he was able to share that story with lots of other people, including me 🙂 A really lovely post, Jim.


  5. G’day! What a beautiful memory shared, TRUE!
    I just got goosebumps down my spine reading and thank you for sharing Dad too! 🙂
    Cheers! Joanne
    What’s On The List


  6. Ol' Big Jim says:

    What a pleasure to have you visit my blog, Joanne! Thank you so much for those kind words, and I hope you’ll keep coming back!


  7. Norma Wright says:

    I was reading this again, it’s raining still and keep meaning to tell you that ladies did not go into the pool hall. That was for the men. If our husband was inside and we really needed to talk to him we sent another man in to ask him to come outside, usually at the back door.


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