It was post Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I was three months pregnant with our first baby. My mom and dad (who had lost everything in the storm) were living with Mr. Right and I—since our newly built house was spared. In a desperate attempt to cling to normalcy, the four of us found refuge in our local Cracker Barrel—one of the first restaurants to reopen with a limited menu. Everything about the restaurant was warm and inviting in comparison to everyone’s waterlogged homes that we were compelled to work on day-in and day-out. Cracker Barrel became the place where you reconnected with neighbors and friends who also sought refuge, and where you received love and comfort as you shared your story of loss. Feeling as though we were back at the Yacht Club on Steak Night—those of us that became regulars started referring to Cracker Barrel as “The Club.” To say we were acquainted with The Club (and the 3 or 4 star waiters) was an understatement.
Today, our family has an affection for eating there. So, a few weeks ago, when my parents asked for my family of five to meet them there for dinner on our way in to town for a visit, I wasn’t surprised.
The Old Country Store looked the same but spruced up from our last visit. You could tell that some Cracker Barrel-esque improvements and layout changes had been made. As my kids made their way to the checkers after hugging my parents, I ordered the food for my family and ran to the restroom. Upon opening the door, in a fleeting thought, I realized things looked a bit different. I entered the usual stall without hesitation. Suddenly, through the crack of the stall door, I saw a man. He stood at the sink (or at least, what I thought was the sink). I was petrified. The poor guy thinks he is in the men’s room, I thought. I tried to be quiet in an effort not to humiliate him. Then, a second man entered the restroom and went in the stall next to me. What is going on? I intuitively jumped up on the toilet so the men wouldn’t see my wedge sandals. A third man entered and tried to open my door.
“Is anyone in there,” he asked.
Replying in the best Mr. Right impression I could pull off—I said, “Just a second.”
I closed my eyes trying to block out the smell, the sounds, the surroundings and was faced with the fact that I obviously was in the men’s room. Since when was this the men’s room, I thought. I would wait patiently and sneak out without anyone being the wiser. As I hovered over the toilet, curled up in a ball, trying to find a happy place, I realized the third guy was waiting for a stall. Surely the guy next to me would leave soon, I thought. Then, he knocked on my door again.
“You still in there? I don’t see your feet,” he said abruptly and curiously.
I slowly placed one foot on the ground and then the other.
I’m not sure how it is in other parts of the country, but seeing a pair of women’s wedge sandals on a person, in a men’s restroom, in South Mississippi, in a Cracker Barrel, on Chicken Pot Pie night—is highly unusual.
“What the…,” the man muttered as he saw my shoes appear. As all three men became aware of the situation, I was forced to walk out of the stall. I took a deep breath (which I quickly regretted), unlocked the door, and walked out keeping my eyes on the ground.
Nervous and unsure of what to say, I said the first thing that came into my head.
“Hey guys, I am so sorry. This used to be the Lady’s Room, and I walked in as usual…”, but instead of finishing my explanation the hilarity of the situation got to me and I started to laugh. It was the uncontrollable kind that I used to get in church as a little girl. The men slowly started to join me. As I tried to walk out, almost unable to walk, the man closest to the exit opened the bathroom door for me, which revealed the Men’s sign where the Women’s sign had hung just months prior. I pointed to the sign and we all died laughing. Walking out, I bumped into a man walking in.
“Brooke? Is that you? What are you doing in the Men’s Room?,” said a familiar voice.
I looked up to see an old boyfriend—who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Without thinking, in a state of delirium, trying to act cool, and being highly embarrassed—I replied (in a gangsta voice), “You know—I just do what I do.”
As soon as the words left my lips, mortification covered my face. I quickly walked back to my table. What was that, Brooke? I thought to myself.
For the next hour, I picked at my dinner without making eye contact with any of the men in the restaurant. The events that just transpired were playing over and over again in my head while my family stayed engaged in conversation. Suddenly, I heard my mom trying to get my attention. “Did you hear me? I said, I just love The Club.” she said fondly. “We have such good memories here—don’t you think so, Brookie?”