Why my Southern education started in a station wagon.
Vintage station wagon in front of house
Credit: Hugh Jane Jr./The Denver Post via Getty Images

There are few experiences that bring people together more than a good road trip. I learned this by traveling all over the South with my father, John Evans, starting at around age 10, when I became—bear with me here—a competitive skeet shooter. I wasn't good at much else in terms of sports, but I had an uncanny ability to hit a clay target with a shotgun, just like my dad. So he started taking me to shooting tournaments on summer weekends. We would go to any city or town within a day's drive of Memphis—Little Rock, Chattanooga, Lafayette, Paducah, St. Louis, Louisville, Tupelo, Savannah, and even San Antonio. We also drove a lot of back roads, burning up the miles in an old station wagon and occasionally getting lost (another family trait). I didn't give it much thought at the time, but these trips were my first introduction to much of the South, and in a way they were an introduction to John Evans.

In addition to being my coach on the skeet field, Dad always tried to give me a taste of the places we visited. In Lafayette, he showed me how to pick my way through a couple of pounds of boiled crawfish dumped on a picnic table. In Louisville, we spent an afternoon at Churchill Downs, where I was allowed $2 to bet on a horse—and soon learned just how quickly that can disappear. In the Mississippi Delta, he introduced me to the joys of pork rinds and gas station hot tamales, as well as a card game called Booray. And he was always looking for the next great barbecue joint, though I'm not sure he ever found one that topped Craig's Bar-B-Q in DeValls Bluff, Arkansas.

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He tried to share his favorite music with me, too, but as a child of the eighties, there was only so much Elvis and John Denver I could take. Eventually, we settled on one album we both loved—the live recording of Simon & Garfunkel playing in Central Park in 1981. We listened to it so much that we actually wore out the tape and had to buy another one. Somehow it never got old, and Dad is a fan to this day.

John Evans
Credit: Courtesy Marsha Evans

We spent about five years driving around the South to all these competitions, and we brought home a pretty good haul of trophies and medals. But it took me a while to appreciate the rarity of those summer journeys. In retrospect, they were some of the best and longest stretches of time we'd ever spend together, and for me they were the start to a lifetime of exploring our region. As we approach a summer when road trips and visits with family both seem possible again, I hope you can all get in some quality time, especially with Dad. Happy Father's Day.