Early on the Saturday morning of Easter weekend in 2014, Abby, the kids and I picked up my mother, Linda, at her duplex not too far from our house. We then headed west on Highway 6 and ended up, about five hours later, in Lamesa, Texas. My dad was born in Tahoka, about 30 miles north, but grew up in Lamesa and graduated from Lamesa High School in 1949. For a long time, he was a regular attendee at the Lamesa Golden Tornado (that’s the school mascot) reunion, which was held every five years, and when he got back home, he would talk about the reunion and his old friends for days. He loved those reunions.
And our trip to Lamesa five years ago was a reunion of sorts for John T. He died May 14, 2013, and we were on a mission to spread his ashes in his hometown, as was his wish. After we checked in at our hotel ($125 a night in Lamesa? Really, Best Western?) we loaded back into the car to scout locations. Dad had left pretty clear instructions on where this was to be done, so we knew where we needed to go, but we just wanted to see, maybe, how many other folks were around at the time, which was early evening. There were two places John T. had told us about, and I’m not naming either one of them because I’ve (intentionally) never read anything about the legalities of leaving the ashes of a deceased loved one on property that might or might not belong to the family of that deceased loved one. So I’m claiming total ignorance if we did anything even slightly out of line here.
There were some folks around at Location 1, but they were doing their own things and paid no attention to our family. We gathered in a circle, said a prayer and distributed about half of the cremains over a large grassy area. We then drove just over a mile to Location 2, which was deserted, and repeated the process.
It was a pretty emotional, somber day for my mom, and she was ready for some dinner and sleep. We drove through a fast food place and then dropped her off at the hotel.
The rest of us, however, headed south on Highway 87 for dinner and a movie at the Sky-Vue Drive-In, a drive-in movie theater that had been in business since 1948. Food was so good at the Sky-Vue’s concession stand that folks in Lamesa would drive to the theater and order meals to go, then take them back home to eat. The fare went way beyond popcorn and candy and hot dogs. I don’t remember what the kids had for dinner, but Abby and I each had a Chihuahua, the Sky-Vue’s signature dish. The Chihuahua consisted of two crispy corn tostadas with pimento cheese, chili, cabbage and onions in between. Those ingredients don’t really sound like they would work well together, but they surely did. After I took my Chihuahua out of the bag and noticed how much chili was squeezed between those tostadas, I decided to eat while standing outside the car, leaning over, so I wouldn’t get chili drippings on my clothes.
The feature film that night was “Rio 2.” I don’t remember the plot exactly, but according to IMDb, “It’s a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids after they’re hurtled from Rio de Janeiro to the wilds of the Amazon. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel, and meets his father-in-law.”
While we were watching the movie, it began to rain. And it kept raining, for quite a while. We had to turn on the windshield wipers to see the screen. We weren’t expecting rain. Evidently, no one was. The next morning, during the Easter Sunday sermon at First Baptist Church Lamesa, the preacher even talked about the rain the previous day.
I might be reading too much into the rain, but I took it as a sign that John T. was home, and the rain just soaked him into the ground at Location 1 and Location 2, just like he wanted.
In April 2014, according to archived weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Lamesa had exactly one day of rain.
One. That was the day we were there.
The Sky-Vue Drive-In, I recently learned, closed after a devastating kitchen fire on the morning of November 27, 2015. If you still want the drive-in experience, the Last Drive-In Picture Show is in Gatesville, about 45 minutes west of Waco. Admission is $10 a car, and guests are welcome to bring lawn chairs. We can’t vouch for the concession stand fare, however, because guests are also allowed to bring in food and drinks. We sometimes pack a full picnic dinner and make an evening of our trip.
While I’m not sure how well the Chihuahua would make the trip to Gatesville for a drive-in picnic, here’s the recipe for our version of that tostada sandwich. If you’re not up for that particular combination, the pimento cheese is great on a sandwich or crackers, or use it in place of sliced cheese for a new version of grilled cheese. There’s also a recipe for a simple chili for use in your Chihuahua as well.
If you want a more travel-friendly sandwich, then try the chicken salad on a hearty bread. The sausage sandwich is great for a night of binge-watching your latest guilty pleasure. And, since summer is quickly approaching, The fresh fruit salad takes advantage of some wonderful in-season produce.
Hot Dog Chili
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large white onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon ground chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 cup beef stock
- 8 ounces tomato paste
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, cayenne and beef. Cook until beef is browned and no trace of pink remains. Reduce heat to medium-low and add beef stock and tomato paste. Stir until evenly combined. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Makes about 8 servings.
- 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 jar (4 ounces) pimentos, drained
- 1/2 to 1 cup mayonnaise, to taste
- 1 tablespoon Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.
Makes about 6-8 servings. Serve with crackers, pretzels or on bread.
- 2 fried corn tostada shells
- 2 tablespoons chopped onions, sauteed
- 1 cup shredded cabbage
- 1/2 cup Hot Dog Chili (recipe above)
- 1/2 cup Pimento Cheese (recipe above)
Warm chili in a saucepan or microwave. Spread chili on one tostada shell. Top with onions and cabbage. Spread pimento cheese on the other tostada shell. Put shells together and serve.
Makes 1 serving.
- 6 cups cooked chicken, small diced
- 1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
- 1 Granny Smith apple, diced
- 3-4 carrots, small diced
- 1 lemon zest and juice
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate. Serve on your favorite bread for a tasty sandwich.
Makes about 8-10 servings.
Garlic Butter Italian Sausage Sandwich
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon garlic paste (or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped)
- 1 pound ground Italian sausage
- 1 can (14 ounces) tomato sauce
- 1/4 cup red wine
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 tablespoon basil, chopped
- 4 sandwich rolls
- 4 slices mozzarella cheese
- 8 slices provolone cheese
- Chopped red onion and basil for garnish, if desired.
To make the garlic butter, combine the butter, 1/4 cup basil, parsley and garlic paste in a small bowl and mix until fully combined. Set aside.
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the sausage. Use a wooden spoon to break apart the sausage, and cook until it’s browned. Add the tomato sauce and red wine. Lower the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon chopped basil. Add salt to taste.
When ready to serve, spread the garlic butter over the inside and tops of rolls. Place under the broiler until slightly browned and butter has melted. Remove from the oven and place 1 slice of mozzarella cheese onto each roll followed by the sausage mixture. Top each sandwich with 2 slices of provolone cheese and place back under the broiler until cheese starts to bubble. Remove from oven and top with chopped onions and basil, if using.
Makes 4 servings.
Fresh Fruit Salad with Coconut Dressing
- 8 ounces sour cream
- 3 tablespoons apricot preserves
- 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 6 cups fresh fruit of choice, such as cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple, apple, pear, berries or anything else that is in season, chopped
In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and apricot preserves; set aside. In a clean, dry skillet add the coconut and pecans and cook over medium-high heat until just toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat and transfer to bowl to cool. You can mix all the dressing ingredients together in one bowl, but it makes a prettier presentation to have the toasted coconut and pecans on top as a garnish.
Place the chopped fruit in a large bowl. When ready to serve, place a serving of fruit into a small bowl. Top with the sour cream dressing and sprinkle with the coconut mixture. Serve immediately.
Makes about 6 servings.