When a person turns 16, it is a moment in time. It is a moment of freedom from Mom and Dad, no longer having to ask for rides here or there.
My brother and I were no exception to that rule. That summer day I said, “Chad, w’re going to go get something to eat when I get back from taking my driving test.”
When I returned with my driver’s license in hand, we took the family’s Mercury Sable out to the 68 Family Restaurant, also known as Lumberton. We were no strangers out there, as we had eaten there many times with our parents.
Although, this time was different — we were on our own and not there at dinner time.
When we arrived and walked in, people looked at us strangely, as if to say, “You’re new and why are you here?” It was summer, so school wasn’t in session. We knew some of the people out there, but not all of them.
After we ate, we decided to go out there every day for lunch. After a short time, people started speaking to us and we all got to know one another. Some of the “regulars” included Bob and Gordon Warren, Glenn Phillips, Wilber McKay, Don Wical a.k.a. “The Maple Syrup Man” who lived on Port William Road, Dr. Maxine Hamilton, and the crew that would come in from Landmark.
We got to know each one of them. We knew the Warrens from church, but Glenn was a slightly newer face to us. The Warrens and Glenn all sat together. Wilber sat sometimes with his wife or his sons.
We all had our tables as well. “The Warren Commission”, as Chad and I dubbed them, sat beside the kitchen entrance at a table for six. Wilber sat along a window on the New Burlington Road side at a table for four. The Maple Syrup Man sat at the second booth from the 68 side entrance. The Landmark Crew sat at the middle table that seated four. The Hamiltons sat wherever there was an open seat.
Chad and I would sit at the corner booth on the 68 side, next to the gumball machines.
We would each speak on a daily basis about the weather, mowing the grass, or whatever just happened to be the big topic of the day. Bob would always ask, “Did you try the peaches?” Sometimes the answer was yes and sometimes no. Food was always a hot topic, though. The years and summers rolled by, but this became our summer routine. We became “regulars.”
Around about my junior year of high school, a person walked in with the Warren Commission. Someone we had not seen before. I looked at Chad and said, “Who is that?”
Chad turned around to look and said he didn’t know. After lunch, we walked over for the normal discussion. I asked the gentleman who he was.
He said, “My name is Lawson Adkins.” We all shook hands. Without missing a beat, my brother asked if he had tried the peaches. We all laughed.
Lawson from that day forward always stopped at our table first upon his entrance. We would still be talking when it was time for the others to order. Our friendship grew strong as the group grew smaller.
Wilber McKay became ill and passed away that year. Not long after that, so did Gordon. Then Landmark closed, and the crew was let go. Bob, Glenn and Lawson were all that was left of the Warren Commission.
The Maple Syrup Man also became ill and passed away a few years later. Dr. Hamilton became seen less frequently. The group was getting smaller, until one day it was just Lawson, Chad and me. We still all sat at our perspective tables as if we were clinging to something that we knew was fading away.
Then one day, Lumberton itself closed. Most of us had already stopped eating out there all those years ago. The Lumberton Lunch Crew had broken up. Whenever we would see Lawson, we would always talk about Lumberton and the people out there.
Two years ago, Lawson Adkins passed away, along with a lot of good memories of the Lumberton Lunch Crew. Chad and I are now the only ones left of the original crew that were there day in and day out.
The relationship that I had with Lawson was the strongest out of any of the crew. He was the last to be adopted by us all, and I feel he was the last of the glue that held us all together. He never forgot those summer days at Lumberton and I, for one, am glad.
Lawson, we thank you for your friendship. God speed and enjoy the peaches.
We now see a resurgence happening on the corner of New Burlington Road and 68 North. A freshly painted building and new windows being put in.
The great mystery now is what new life will the 68 Family Restaurant have. What will be its purpose?
My brother and I both hope it will become a restaurant again and we can walk in and remember when this happened here or that happened there. We can sit down and enjoy a meal like before.
Chad and I may be the old people this time as new people come in for a daily lunch. We can befriend them as others befriended us.
Lumberton holds a special place in the hearts of many and we all hope to see it reopen bigger and better than ever, but also that it remains somewhat the same.
Also, of course, it must have peaches.
Jonathan McKay is a Clinton County native and a current member of Wilmington City Council.