When the late Clarence Harris built the Meadows store on old Marlboro Pike in 1946, heavy traffic bound for Chesapeake Bay beaches passed by. The main entrance to the sprawling Air Force base known then as Andrews Field was nearby instead of over on Allentown Road. Otherwise, it was country.
Today, the Meadows Market and Restaurant, which takes its name from the town formerly located in the middle of the base, no longer fronts on a major artery. Most traffic -- largely commuting now -- flows behind it, on Pennsylvania Avenue extended, also known as Rte. 4, a four-lane divided highway that reaches down the spine of Southern Maryland.
But at the Meadows -- a restaurant, tavern and grocery store in one building -- some things, including self-assigned seating, stay the same.
"This is the Guard's table, so to speak," explained regular Bob Neville, a retired senior master sergeant and active civilian budget analyst in the D.C. Air National Guard. "Other guys come and go. We're here every day."
For 20 years, in fact, same time, same table, right by the country music jukebox. The Guard, based at Andrews, holds its informal retirement parties here. The Meadows is its unofficial home. A plaque on the wall says so.
It is also the unofficial gathering place for Potomac Electric Power Co. employes who work in the Prince George's regional office in Forestville and sit at a table near the Guard. They still call the place "One Egg," recalling a time when one egg, bacon, toast and coffee could be had for under a dollar.
There is also a regular contingent of Air Force reservists. And, like clockwork each day, several young women in white come for their carryout orders. They work at a new medical office complex up the street.
The Meadows is a Prince George's version of the TV tavern "Cheers," where before long and forever after, everyone knows your name and your order.
Clarence Harris died in 1958, at age 54. His widow, Edith, 79, still lives upstairs, along with son Bernie Harris, 52, the butcher in the grocery store, and Bernie's wife Dolly, a waitress in the restaurant, where Bernie's sister, Joan McDowell, 46, also works. Helen Moore, 55, another sister, works in the grocery.
Joan Zue, 55, a contracts specialist at Andrews, always sits at one of three tables "on Dolly's side" of the restaurant. "I like her service and we've become friends over the years I've been coming here," she said.
"When I have fried chicken, Dolly will bring me a finger bowl," said Zue, who has had lunch here every working day since March 1970. "That day the special was hot roast beef," she recalled. "I had the special with mashed potatoes and extra gravy."
Her memories of the Meadows were as vivid as a bride's of her wedding day. And she mentioned plans to bring in her husband Bob to celebrate his birthday.
"His special favorite is steakburger-cheeseburger on one bun, with Etta's special sauce," she said. "It's like a Big Mac."
Etta Ramsey, 35, is one of a dozen or so mildly retarded persons who have washed dishes, bused tables and worked in the grocery at the Meadows. They all come from the Melwood Horticultural Training Center located a mile away.
"They're a great help to us," said Joan McDowell. "I like to give these children an opportunity to learn."
Ramsey has been with her the longest, a dozen years or so, and lives with the McDowells. "She's like a daughter now," Joan McDowell said.
Restaurant regulars also appreciate her.
"Since I've retired," said J. P. Miller, who until April was transportation superintendent for a detachment of the D.C. Air National Guard, "I've lost weight because Etta's not taking care of me anymore."
But retirement had not kept Miller away from the Meadows entirely. He had driven up recently from Port Tobacco, in southern Charles County, for the Thursday spaghetti special.
Bernie Harris orders hindquarters only. He then butchers them for the restaurant and for the grocery store, which still looks a lot like the general store it once was. Along with food for sale, there are work gloves, chewing tobacco, locks, combs, lighters and caps that say "Fifty's Forever."
"It's just an old general store started in 1947, and we're doing business in the 1980s as if in a 1950s era," Harris said.
"People are demanding a different cut of meat I don't handle and a different selection of produce I don't have," he said.
Regarding meat, he lamented, he is "tied in with the restaurant," stocking beef to produce the popular round steak, cube steak and porterhouse cuts. But when people cook at home, he says, they want cheaper cuts such as rib eye steaks and arm roasts from the front of the cow.
The small produce section includes huge tomatoes grown and delivered by an 89-year-old man from Lusby, Md., about 50 miles from the Meadows.
"So what do you all think of downtown Meadows?" asked Veronica Brinkley, 21, who sells more lottery tickets than beers in the tavern wedged between the restaurant and grocery store. Game shows on a small black-and-white television atop the bar offer one diversion. Near the state lottery machine are two pool tables and a sign that says, "Absolutely no gambling on pool tables."
Brinkley sells $300 to $600 in lottery tickets on weekdays, and more than that on Saturdays. She also sells lucky number books. And if you're stuck, she'll pick your number, too.
"I think 239 is gonna be good today," she said. "They all sound good until the number is chosen at 7:30."
Wade Brooks, 42, a mechanic who works for the District public works department, is a regular at the lottery counter. "I don't spend more than $6 a day, five or six days a week," he said. "It's better than drinking it up."
John O'Connor, 45, a construction worker who stopped by for a beer -- not for betting -- said a regular crowd used to fill the tiny tavern. "Some come in here once in a while now," he said, "but most have moved down to the country."
The area around the Meadows still smacks of country, but it is rapidly developing.
The 22-store Melwood Mall is going up next door, adjoining the nearly new United Bank and Melwood Professional Center office park. Across Marlboro Pike, a sign marks the future site of the Doctors' Ambulatory Surgery Center and Medical Office Building, with 40,000 square feet for leasing next summer.
Even Joan McDowell has sold her house and half-acre lot directly across Marlboro Pike from the Meadows. She and her husband are building a house in Calvert County, following some of their old customers to the outer counties.
"I just don't like to see everything developed," said Helen Moore, who lives with her husband on a tobacco farm across Rte. 4.
"We're just countrified, just simply countrified, my husband and I."
But the Meadows will change, however modestly, along with its surroundings, said brother Bernie.
"With all the modernization going on around here, we are too small to accommodate the real needs of the community.
"We need to do more, to grow more. The Meadows is going to have to modernize, expand. I think it's time for a change. The fruit of the tree is ready for picking."