There were no hamburgers warmed by heat lamps at Speedy’s Burger Shack. It wasn’t anything fancy but then neither was the proprietor, Dale McKim, known to everyone as Speedy. The building was just a small rickety structure with a top-hinged window on the front that, when opened, remained that way as long as no careless customer’s elbow clumsily came into contact with the wooden stick.
No fans pushed the aroma of broiled meat through vents and onto Noel’s Main Street. The evening breezes that began to cool the sidewalks, earlier baked by the hot summer sun, didn’t carry the aroma of french-fries; at least not from Dale McKim’s griddle. No sir, Speedy’s hamburgers were not just made to order, the ingredients were purchased upon ordering.
Hungry patrons need not expect a menu with French fries, chicken tenders or nachos, either with or without meat. There was no need to ask for a list of deserts, there were none. Customers needn’t waste the proprietor’s time requesting that a burger be cooked to a condition of medium-rare. The ground beef was only cooked one way, well done.
There was much to look at on Noel’s Main Street in 1950. The small Southwest Missouri town was a destination for tourists who wanted to enjoy the shops, cafes and most of all, Elk River. Canoes could be rented at the local campgrounds while those visitors with greater expectations and larger wallets might opt to rent a motor-powered boat at Shadow Lake, a favorite place to dance and wet one’s whistle.
“I believe me and the misses will take a couple of hamburgers.” The man and his wife were obviously tourists, as Speedy didn’t recognize either of the two and after all, he knew everyone in town. “Ok,” Speedy replied out of one corner of his mouth while in the other corner a small portion of a cigarette dangled between his lips. It always seemed as though there was more burnt ash than unsmoked cigarette drooping from his lips. “Say there, any chance we can get a mess of French fries to go along with those burgers?” “All I got here is hamburgers. I don’t have time to make anything else, just hamburgers,” Speedy abruptly replied.
As Speedy walked to the rear of the shack he looked back over his shoulder to see if the stranger was still standing at the window that had been propped open with a stick. When no sign of the man could be detected he quietly opened the rear door of the shack, walked through the opening and carefully closed the door behind him.
Speedy quickly scampered around the rear of the Ozark Theatre moving with that conspicuous and signature forward lean of his body. As each foot quickly struck the ground of the narrow alleyway he rounded the corner of the theatre and crossed over Main Street barely pausing to check for traffic. He turned several times looking back at the shack hoping that his trip would go unnoticed by the customer and when it appeared that his journey had been unobserved he opened the front door of Wyatt’s 7 Day Market, a building once home to “Happy’s Garage.”
He knew where the store’s owner and butcher, Claude D. “Butch” Wyatt, could be found; at the meat counter. “Butch, I need enough hamburger meat for two hamburgers and I need four hamburger buns.” This wasn’t the first time Speedy had made such a request of Butch so the butcher didn’t believe the statement to be anything particularly unusual. “Yes sir, Speedy, coming right up.” Butch knew that once Speedy received payment for the cooked burgers, he would also be paid.
As Butch rolled the ground beef into two round balls he smiled and asked; “Hey Speedy do you know what time it is?” Although Speedy always wore a wristwatch, Butch knew full well that he couldn’t tell time. Apparently, the watch was purely a fashion statement, as was the white shirt, tie, sport coat and wide-brimmed hat. “I’m too busy to check the time,” Speedy replied. “I’ll settle up with you later.” “Sure thing, go on now,” Butch said as he waved his hand in the direction of the front door.
Speedy scampered across the street narrowly avoiding a hay-laden flatbed farm truck. “Hey Speedy, where you going?” The driver yelled out. “Don’t have time to talk. I’m in a hurry.” Unnoticed to the ever patient customer Speedy snuck back into the shack through the rear door and cooked those two well-done meat patties.
“That’ll be eighty cents,” Speedy said as he held out the two burgers each wrapped in thin white butcher’s paper. “Here you go,” the man replied as he took possession of the freshly made food. As the couple walked away Speedy used a soiled cloth rag to wipe away any loose food from the ledge of the shack’s opening. He had to stay busy. That was his nature.
The local entrepreneur’s food service venture didn’t last long and after only a couple of months Speedy returned to what he knew best; Walking the Main Street sidewalks selling candy, gum or anything else that local merchants like the owner of the Ben Franklin Five and Dime would give him on consignment.
I recall a day many years ago when my grandmother, Phoebe and I went to Wyatt’s 7 Day Market. Phoebe had a Siamese cat named Mamie. The cat was named after the wife of President Dwight Eisenhower, Mamie Eisenhower. Phoebe would routinely walk directly to the meat counter where Butch would greet her, “Afternoon Ms. Fine, do you need a piece of liver for Mamie.” “I sure do,” would always be the answer. I guess that cat was smarter than I gave her credit for as when Phoebe walked into her Kings Highway house Mamie could be found sitting next to her food bowl in the kitchen. There she sat meowing all the while until the uncooked slice of liver was placed at her feet.
There were those who said some youngsters laughed as they hurled rocks at Speedy while he walked on the frozen water of Elk River that fateful 1st day of January in 1984. It was rumored that those stones cast in his direction caused Dale McKim to venture farther from the bank and onto a thinner patch of ice; a patch of ice that gave way. To this day some say that the children’s laughter stopped as Speedy descended into the cold, cold water. All agreed that Speedy’s demise was an untimely death that could have, and should have, been avoided.
Speedy once ran for the office of Mayor of Noel. Some local men encouraged him to throw his hat into the ring thinking the event would be “good for a laugh.” As it turned out, Speedy was not victorious and his bid for mayor was unsuccessful. He lost by the smallest of margins to the eventual winner, and new mayor, Martin Stauber. Speedy did, however, offer some conciliatory and eloquent words following the counting of the votes; “I don’t have time to be the mayor.”