Char and I are visiting several small towns in West Tennessee for a series of articles on The Traveling Twosome. Our first tour took us to Somerville, Whiteville, Dancyville, and Oakland. With nothing more than a full tank of gas, two ice chests packed with snacks, and our cameras, Char and I set off to discover life on The Old Highway.
Our first stop was in Somerville, TN – an artsy farm town about 30 miles East of Memphis, home to about 2800 residents. Somerville will always hold a special place in the heart of The Traveling Twosome – Char and I drove out to this town’s city hall to obtain our TN marriage license prior to our wedding. In addition, Char and I have made a few friends in Somerville performing in concert with our band, Vintage. We’ve been glad to bring our entertainment to the people of Somerville and always have a nice welcome when we return.
Char and I stopped at Somerville’s town square to take a few pictures and stop by Farmer’s Hardware. Farmer’s has a little of everything inside including a few antiques. We were welcomed by the owners and employees who recognized us from our band and they showed us around their store, telling a few old stories about the building’s history. The store has two cash registers. One is a modern computer, the other an antique. When grandpa is working, he only uses the relic. Lining one wall of the store are true antiques from times long ago: an original hobby horse, a tricycle from around 1900, etc. While serving the consumer needs of today’s customers, the store also has an appeal for the tourist – it captures the essence of a 1950s hardware store quite well and is a great cornerstone to the quaint town square.
The square is also home to Sippin’s Coffee Shop which serves (in addition to coffee) tasty American cuisine, offers live music, and puts it all together in a friendly, relaxing setting. You’ll also find the Fair Theatre on the square. The Fair Theatre was purchased by the town of Somerville from Mr. and Mrs. Norman Fair in 1999 and the town continues to showcase live music, plays, and performing arts at the Theatre.
Heading East on Highway 64, the next stop for us on our small town tour was Whiteville, TN – home of a sizable Mennonite community. The Mennonites there operate a well known grocery and deli right on Hwy 64 called Backermann’s Bakery and Cheese Shoppe. Upon reflection, I suppose the actual name of the place is really anyone’s guess. On their roadside sign, the name is spelled “Bakerman’s.” Also on that sign, you’ll noticed sandwiches is spelled “sandwhiches.”
But while the name may be debatable, one thing is certain: Backermann’s is an outstanding destination for great food. Char and I filled a cooler full of food to take back home with us – from spices to snacks, from breads to pastries – we scored at Backermann’s! We also stopped by their deli for a fresh sandwich prepared by the man who runs the place, Mr. Earl Yoder.
Earl and Mary Yoder were very pleasant and very patient with us as we decided what we wanted for lunch. Char struck up a conversation and I almost couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the following exchange:
Char: Where do you get your dairy?
Yoders: We own a dairy farm up the highway.
Char: Is it open?
Yoders: As open as a farm can be!
Char: Can we go see it?
Yoders: We aren’t there – we’re here! But sure, go there and have your lunch on our property. We’ve got ponds – a real nice place for lunch. Make yourself at home there.
And with that, Char and I set out for Early Dawn Dairy Farm. We spent an absolutely lovely afternoon on the farm, having lunch on a pier overlooking a large pond and touring the grounds, meeting some duck and cow friends along the way.
On the way to the Dairy Farm, we missed a turn and wound up in Dancyvile, TN. Dancyville is home to a general store, a catering business, and not much else. But we were glad to go exploring the area… and that included some photography at an old, abandoned house.
There’s something entirely poetic about finding an abandoned home off the beaten path, overgrown with weeds and brush. There were rusty tools and antiques lying around the porch. You had to wonder what the home looked like when it was first constructed – how the yard looked with children running around and playing in the summer sun. A Southern housewife sitting on the porch in a rocking chair drinking a fresh glass of sweet iced tea. Today, those images exist only in our imagination. Exploring the property was one of the highlights of our day. All because we missed a turn…. When Char and I get lost in our adventures, we usually wind up having a better time than we would have if we had not taken a wrong turn.
We spent the rest of the afternoon touring the area – including a stop at the Hardeman County Humane Society Thrift Store. Here, we became characters in a small world story spanning 1,830 miles. The owner of the store turns out to have been the telephone technician who once installed Char’s phone lines in Rumsey, California many years ago and now has relocated to Tennessee. Before we discovered that little connection, we were browsing through the store and he approached me while I was looking at the books. “Like books?” he asked. “Because I’ve got about 25 times this amount upstairs in the attic. Come on up.” He escorted me upstairs into their storage attic where I was presented with dozens of boxes of books to go through. I found one book I wanted to purchase and opened it up to find a letter, almost 20 years old and unopened stuck between the pages. What a treasure! Like finding a time capsule!
We stopped off at one more store while in Whiteville. A closed “flea market” of sorts. We looked around outside and found a base to a patio table that we could have used. At home, we’ve got a glass table top that needs a base! But with the store being closed, were we out of luck?
Not hardly. We were in a small town after all – certainly I could just ask the next person I saw if he or she knew who owned the store. Perhaps the table base might be obtainable after all with a quick phone call! I spotted a man in a truck…
“Excuse me, sir!” I yelled. “Do you know who owns this place?”
“I found this base – it doesn’t have a price tag – and we’re from out of town. I was wondering if maybe you could call the owner and ask how much it’s selling for – I could slip a $5 under the door or something.”
“It ain’t worth but about $2.”
“Then I’ll slip $2 under the door.”
“The owner is kin to me. It’s cool – go ahead.”
With that, we thought we had scored a table base. But….. not so fast!
“The guy who owns this place… I don’t like him. He’s a part of the family I don’t care for much.”
With that little statement, I thought I had better not take his word that it would be “cool” to slip a couple bucks under the door. In my mind, I could envision a small town cop chasing me down the highway for trafficking a stolen table base. He left and another man drove up. He turned out to also be “kin to the owner.” Indeed, we were in a small town.
I asked him about the base and he said the owner was having dinner at the cafe down the highway. He didn’t think the base was worth but about $2 either. He offered to take us to the cafe.
So what else would The Traveling Twosome do? We threw the table base in the back of his truck and we followed him to the cafe to make the purchase. When we got there, however, the man wanted $10 for the base.
The man who we followed to the cafe looked at us and said, “Ten dollars!!!!! He must be on drugs.”
We resigned ourselves to not obtaining the table base and headed back down the highway toward Oakland, TN.
Oakland, a growing community in western Fayette County, is the home of Loven-Fresh Baking Company, a bakery/BBQ shack/deli combined. I have heard about their food for some time but have never eaten there. When we walked in, we were immediately informed that we had walked into the home of “the best BBQ in the region.” Now, Oakland is not far from Memphis – the BBQ capital of the world. So this was a tall claim. Could it be true?
Char and I ordered a rack of ribs with sides and while we were waiting, the staff treated us to samples.
The ribs and the pulled pork were out of this world! They certainly held up to their tasty reputation! I can say with certainty that Char and I will be returning to Loven-Fresh Baking Company when we head East on Highway 64 again…
They had sold out of their fresh breads for the day so we didn’t get to try anything but the BBQ – but we were more than satisfied.
With full stomachs, we hit the road again. As the day came to an end, we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets we had ever seen and a host of roadside deer. All in all, it was a great day touring several small towns in Western TN.
But wait – there’s more… we captured many of the day’s events on video. Click Here to watch a film of our visit to Backerman’s Bakery and Cheese Shoppe and the Early Dawn Dairy Farm. And Click Here to watch a video of everything else we did on our trip… including our attempt to obtain the table base!