by David Cecelski
To the Hardee’s Bunch—Carl Allen, Sid Baker, Truitt and Georgia Blackwood, Harper and Mary Bloodworth, Eugene and Barbara Elliot, Ed and Ann Evans, Ralph and Chris Hayes, Ruby Hicks, Ray and Christine Howard, Jimmy and Millie Ingold, Lewis and Joyce Luxton, Al Mann, Willard and Ruby Mize, Roger and Inez Pendergrass, Harold and Francis Pickett, Alfred Poe, Earl Puckett, Emmit Rheu, Rev. Everett and Oma Lee Smith, Selma Stone, Marguerite Ward, Herman Wilkins and Marvin Winstead.
My neighbors, Roger and Inez, got married at a Hardee’s. Until I heard their story, I had never really considered Hardee’s one of the more romantic places in town, but now I know better. Turns out that you can say a lot of bad things about fast-food chains, but you can’t say that they’re strangers to neighborliness or community or love.
At the time of their wedding vows, Roger was 80 years old to the day. He had lived in the Lakewood neighborhood in Durham all his life. He grew up on Chapel Hill Street, near the end of the city’s first trolley line. When he was a boy, his first job was at the Lakewood Amusement Park, “the Coney Island of the South.” There you could find carousels, a roller coaster, swan boats, arcades and a casino, all where Lakewood Shopping Center is now. That first job, by the way, was re-setting the pins at the park’s bowling alley, a task that was done by hand in those days.
Roger worked at the Wilmington shipyards during the Second World War. When he returned to Durham, he made a living as a milk deliveryman for the Long Meadow Dairy, then as a butcher and yardman. Roger had a job every day of his adult life, he’ll tell anybody. He believes in working hard, working steady, and John Deere machinery. Roger also takes pride in a job well done and he believes in helping his neighbors. I know that firsthand.
Roger and his first wife, Frances, were married 46 years and raised 3 children together. He lost her to cancer in 1986.
Inez was a country girl from Johnston County. Like so many others, her family moved to Durham to work in the tobacco factories during the Great Depression. They brought country ways with them. They kept a big garden, canned fruits and vegetables, pickled cucumbers and made biscuits. She started working at the American Tobacco Company in 1939 and retired from the company 38 and ½ years later.
Inez and her first husband, Fred, were married 46 years. She lost him to a cerebral hemorrhage in 1990.
Time passed. After they lost their spouses, Roger and Inez went through a lot of mourning and loneliness. Then, one day in 1993, eight years after his first wife died and four years after her first husband died, Roger asked Inez out to dinner. At first, she was reluctant. She had not dated since Fred’s death and she was 75 years old. Roger was 76, but very, very persistent.
Roger and Inez weren’t strangers. They had known one another for half a century. The Lakewood neighborhood was small. Nearly everybody knew everybody else. Roger’s home was only 2 blocks from Inez’s. And they both belonged to the Lakewood Baptist Church, a short walk from both their homes.
Their first date was dinner at a restaurant in Roxboro. Eventually, Roger accompanied Inez to breakfast at the Hardee’s on Chapel Hill Road now and then. She had started going there after her husband passed away. Every morning at 7 AM, except Sunday, she and a few neighbors walked the mile and a half to Hardee’s to visit with a regular crowd of friends.
Over the years, the “Hardee’s Bunch” included more than thirty people, though most mornings the crowd was closer to 15 or 20. Some of them had worked at American Tobacco with Inez. Some were neighbors. Some attended Lakewood Baptist. For most, it was just nice to be around folks, who, as they say, “spoke the same language.” Some came into their 90s.
At first, Roger only came occasionally. He was still mowing yards all over that side of Durham and he liked to get an early start. But Hardee’s was a good place for him and Inez to spend time together and he eventually became a regular.
Over coffee and biscuits, Roger and Inez and their friends talked and laughed and told stories. They shared news about children and grandchildren, who was in the hospital, and the state of the nation. On birthdays, they always brought a cake and had a little party. They kept it up for years: five or six days a week, 52 weeks a year.
One thing led to another. Before long, Inez found herself getting married in the place where she and Roger saw their friends and had spent so many good times together—Hardee’s. It was New Years Day, 1998, Roger’s 80th birthday. Inez had prepared a birthday cake for Roger and brought it to Hardee’s that morning.
Inez didn’t know it, but Roger had been making plans for more than a birthday party. The day before, he had bought a wedding ring from one of the Hardee’s Bunch, Marvin Winstead, a co-owner of Lambert Jewelers. He had their old minister, Rev. Everett Smith, one of the Hardee’s regulars, ready to do the service.
Next thing they knew, Roger and Inez were exchanging wedding vows. They said their “I do’s,” they kissed, their friends cheered. There was biscuits, coffee and birthday cake for all. They had already lived good, long lives, but many years of Hardee’s breakfasts still lay ahead of them, though of course they didn’t know that at the time. Now Roger is 90 and Inez is 89 and, honest to goodness, they are living happily ever after.