COLUMN: ­Remembering the Farmhouse and the Outpost

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Evans “Buddy” King grew up in Christiansburg and graduated from CHS in 1971. He lives in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he practices law with the firm of Steptoe and Johnson PLLC.

Christiansburg had two “Lebanese” restaurants that opened in the early 1960s: the Farmhouse and the Outpost. The reason I use quotes is because neither specialized in Lebanese cuisine, no grape leafs or baba ghanoush on the menu during the early years in my memory, although later on I recall the “Post” had a Lebanese night. The connection was that the owners were of Lebanese heritage: Gene Thomas at the Farmhouse (many stories right there) and Mrs. Wheby and her wonderful daughter and able assistant Linda, just a few years behind me in school, at the Outpost.

The Farmhouse, which I understand closed just last year but may soon re-open, was located in an old home on the Ridinger farm, a place my father had lived for a couple of years so that he could attend Christiansburg High. I think this is what you did when you were the oldest of eight kids and were growing up on a farm in a place (Huffville) that had a one-room schoolhouse that only went through the eighth grade. Eventually the entire brood was able to move into town, and all eight kids graduated from CHS—a remarkable accomplishment in the 1930s and ’40s. My dad always claimed that he and his seven siblings were the largest single family to graduate from the school, and who can dispute him?

Back to the Farmhouse. It holds a special place in my early memory. Every other Tuesday night, my Mom took me to dinner there with our wonderful neighbors the Sheltons: Frances and her son Richard and occasionally his older sister Margaret. Our dads, who had been classmates at CHS and were lifelong friends, attended Lions Club dinners at Stones Restaurant on those evenings. We didn’t go out to eat much, so those nights were special. I particularly remember the hamburgers, lemon ice-box pie and Richard and me laughing about who knows what through dinner. I also remember gawking at Margaret, who was probably five years ahead of me in school and was a beautiful, statuesque majorette at CHS who probably didn’t relish being around her silly brother and his even sillier friend.

My memories of the Farmhouse from my high school years are less special. Richard had moved on to college and career, and I was way too cool to go to dinner with my mom by then.  But I had a brief turn as dishwasher and kitchen helper in the restaurant during the spring of my senior year. This was part of a self-imposed and ill-conceived martyrdom brought about by the fact that the love of my life at the time was going to the prom with someone else. My main memory of the experience was the removal of a portion of my right thumb with a potato peeler which had come without a proper user manual. MY apologies to whoever got that piece in their French fries.

My memories of the Outpost were from my post high school years while I was home in the summers from college “running” (and I don’t mean jogging) with my great group of CHS Class of ’71 friends (and a couple of outliers). A bunch of us played softball two or three nights a week, and the Outpost became team headquarters.

We gathered almost every night after the games to celebrate victory or soothe defeat even though most of us had summer jobs that got us up early. Our pitcher and my late great friend, Bo and I also often decided that a little warm up before the games would be a good idea too.

The bar at the Post seated 100 people, six at a time. Getting in the front door became problematic later in the evenings but Mrs. Wheby and her daughter Linda were tolerant. Mrs. Wheby, who toiled in the kitchen at the Post for years with exquisite results, would come out late in the evenings to check on us. Sometimes we were left on the honor system with the beer tap. Schlitz was the flavor of choice and was 25 cents per 12-ounce draft. We were distraught when the price went up to 30 cents.

I think Mrs. Wheby was proud in a way that we made her place a second home, and I know she would be proud that we all turned out OK. She always told us that we would amount to something, wild streaks notwithstanding.

The Outpost was located on old Route 11 not too far from Christiansburg Mountain in an area that was mainly pastureland before the road became Christiansburg’s version of Mercury Boulevard in Newport News and Hampton. The building is long gone now, but I think its sale helped Mrs. Wheby earn a well-deserved retirement. I hope so.

While there are many wonderful memories of that little restaurant and the people inside, one story in particular has to be told. It was a Saturday night the summer after my second or third year of college. I was dating my future ex-wife (a good lady by the way, not her fault she chose to marry me). Occasionally my friends and I would scrape enough money together to treat our dates to the $10.95 “T-Bone for 2” Saturday night special. This particular night we adjourned to the bar after dinner, as hard to believe as that is. It was probably around 11 p.m. when a guy about our age walked in with a huge backpack on his back. He said a few words and we knew he was not from around these parts. He had a British accent, which was about as common around Christiansburg as a foreign sports car.

Jack (I really don’t recall his name, but all Englishmen are named “Jack” right?) was hitchhiking across the states after graduating from Oxford or Cambridge or one of those places. We bought him a beer or six and then invited him to go for a midnight swim at the Country Club. The girls in our group thought he was cute so everyone was on board.

Eventually the evening ended. Jack was planning on sleeping in a nearby campground but I decided that wouldn’t do. So I took him back to my house for the night, or I should say what was left of the night.

My folks were used to waking up Saturday or Sunday morning with guys asleep on the floor or on our couches, particularly after my high school football games, but they were always familiar faces. This time my dad was apparently not pleased to get up at his normal 5 a.m. and find Jack snoring away on the couch in our den. He then (quite rudely I thought) came into my bedroom and asked who the heck was our guest. I groggily explained the circumstances and then my dad pulled out that old parent cliché of “he could have murdered us all in our sleep.” Not to be outdone, I threw one of my father’s lines back at him – I said “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”  My dad said what do you mean by that and I said “we’re all alive right?” That’s about the time he muttered under his breath and stomped out of my room.

But as they say, all’s well that ends well. When I stumbled out of my room a few hours later I found my dad sitting on the couch showing Jack his World War II scrapbook and regaling him with tales of his time stationed in England while he was dropping bombs on the Nazis. My dad had particularly enjoyed the campuses at Oxford and Cambridge and was showing Jack many pictures of what he had probably seen all of his life. My mom and dad eventually fixed Jack breakfast, and I drove him to the interstate to continue his trip, never to be heard from again. Thank God he was English – if he had been German my Dad would never have forgiven me. And it has come to me now – I think his name was Peter.