Friday, February 09, 2007

Hanging Out at Varner's Drive In

(advertisement in 1957 Marietta High School yearbook The Olympian)

Back in high school in the late 1950s on Friday nights after our outings, dates, a football game, movie, or whatever many of us would meet at Varner’s Drive-In Restaurant. We met to tell of our experiences the previous hours. Of course, you had to listen to a lot of bragging and exaggerations but after a while you got to know who was living in a fantasy world and just smile and look amazed at the exploits they told you about. Most times some of our peers would be staggering drunk. It was like a big social party with Freddy the carhop serving the hors d’Oeuvres of chili burgers (with plenty of onion bits), chili dogs (with plenty of onion bits), and french fries on a tray that he hooked on your car window door.

I remember Varner’s Restaurant sold Nu-Grape in the bottles. At that point in my life there was nothing better tasting than a Varner’s chili burger in a sweaty steamed bun, an order of fries, and a Nu-Grape drink. Boy, have I grown.

Freddy the carhop was a witty black man with a house full of children. He knew he who could kid with and who not. He also knew how to gravitate to the big tippers. I used to call him “Fresh Up Freddie” who was an advertising icon for some soft drink – 7 Up I think.

At times there were fights. It seemed the fights were always the same few boys who felt they had to prove themselves – many times it was with a new teenage boy who was visiting Varner’s for the first time. Each of them reminded me of bantam roosters. A few of the fighters didn’t make it to adulthood. They were willing to take a chance showing off doing reckless driving.

Inside Varner’s Restaurant was a fully lit interior restaurant with no frills. It had about 15 or so simple tables, similar to dinette tables and straight back chairs. A long counter with stools went across the whole room. Behind the counter the owner Paul Varner, a nice looking polite man, and his cooking staff of 3 or 4 women were always busy over the grill. Paul had blond hair and reddish skin – he sweated a lot around all that hot kitchen-ware. He looked the other way of all the fighting, drinking, and hell raising in his parking lot. They were his repeating customers.

I didn’t know at the time Paul and his siblings inherited the land the restaurant was on, an adjoining land that became Varner Heights subdivision, and they also owned the land that Town and Country Shopping Center would be built in 1960 and 1961. They would soon be very wealthy.

Behind the drive-in was a big opened field, of course owned by the Varners. One time Oral Roberts had a big tent revival healing session there. We watched as what seemed to be thousands parked all over the place and went into the huge tent. Some came on crutches and some were pushed in by wheelchair. One of my friends, who later was killed in Savannah, went to the Oral Roberts revival pretending to limp and let Oral heal him. He said he jumped up hollowing :
“Oral Oral!
He’s Our Man!
If he can’t heal us,
Nobody Can!

And he ran out laughing. I am not sure he told the truth or not. He could have elaborated a lot. We saw him go in the tent. But we don’t know what happened after that. He was the type to embellish special bizarre touches to his supposedly truthful yarns.

After that in the same spot a go-cart race track was built. I remember the person who looked very much like an Indian (U.S. – Western) operated it. From time to time some boys would walk over from Varner’s and speed around the tracks. That was sort of fun – but some of the boys made it dangerous.

Now the area is a Burlington Coat Factory Outlet store and the parking lot is where Varner’s Drive-In used to be.

The drive around Varner’s was sort of like the letter Q. You drive in, drive around and then leave. Teenagers from other high schools would cruise through all evening long.

One evening while standing around socializing two girls drove around once, and cruised around again. It was summer and car windows were down. On their second trip, I being a bit of a showoff, ran, leaped, and dove headfirst in their back window. They pulled over, I talked to them. They were from Cartersville, which is about 30 miles away. I remember one of their names was Sheila. My friend Larry walked up hoping to be introduced to the lovely girls and was introduced. He started dating Sheila and they both went to the same college after that. Sheila became a school teacher but later started working in antiques. I have only seen them a couple of times at restaurants or funerals in the past 40 or so years, although Larry always called me about every week or so to share or spread gossip about our friends.

At Larry’s funeral I told Sheila, “I doubt if you remember me…” She interrupted me and said, “Rock, of course I remember you!” Which, I suppose she would, if it wasn’t for my daring window dive her children and grandchildren would be completely different people. I was sorry about Larry but darn flattered she remembered me – usually I am invisible.

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Blogger Button Gwinnett said...

I always get a kick out of your feelings of invisibility. I understand them, because I think most of us feel that way at one time or another. So I'm glad that she remembered you so well.

Now I have this strong urge for a NuGrape in a glass bottle though.

8:14 AM  
Blogger kenju said...

We had our version of a drive-in too, Eddie. Ours opened in the early 50's and was then bought out by the man who started Shoney's (Alex Schoenbaum) who was from our town. All the high-school kids from miles around cruised through there nearly every night and some parked and stayed for hours. I once sat in my car there and talked for 2 hours to a guy who later became the governor of WV.

12:35 PM  
Blogger ET said...

a Nu-grape with a hamburger covered with chili and little bitty onions - was heaven. The only thing that compared was a RC Cola with salty peanuts poured in it.
I am the most invisible and most forgettable character anybody has ever met. I am thinking of walking in a bank and walking in the vault, load my back back up and walk out.... nobody would care to look my way.
Really - one day I walked into a McDonald's in the middle of the day and walked up the counter where two teenager female McDonald's employees were talking about their sex life and talked for minutes and minutes not noticing me, and when I cleared my throat they freaked out like I was sort of perverted peeping Tom or something.

3:43 PM  
Blogger ET said...

I remember you telling about Shoney's. But being in parked car with future governor of West Virginia I didn't know.
Not long ago, I saw the "Big Boy" statue in front of some old restaurant that used to be a Shoney's.

3:45 PM  
Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

I know the exact place you indicate where Varner's was, but had never heard about it before. My mom and dad used to travel from Canton into Atlanta to visit the Varsity on dates. I'll have to ask Dad if he remembers Varner's. Thanks for sharing your memories.

I grew up in College Park/Red Oak. Our teen hang out place was cruising up and down Old National Highway. Friday and Saturday nights could get a little crazy up and down our cruise zone.

7:17 PM  
Blogger ET said...

A couple of years ago I had to cruise up and down Old National Highway. Not with my windows down and loud music playing but looking for a certain company my son told me sold computer components.

1:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow...thank you for the glimpse into my mother's youth. I grew up hearing all about Varner's. I googled "Varner's" not really expecting to find anything and was pleasantly surprised. My mother was Phyllis Rich, from Sprayberry, by the way.

6:59 PM  
Blogger ET said...


Thank you.

Phyllis Rich had good taste if she like to go to Varner's.

I went to Marietta High and for some reason back then Marietta High Schoolers and Sprayberry High Scoolers did't mix. I think the probable reason is that us MHS's had our nose up in the air.

But we changed. About 9 years later I married a girl that graduated from Sprayberry - we have been married 40 years.

7:06 PM  

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