Loretta Sweetwater always got along with people. In fact, as small child, a long line of people would form around the block of her modest neighborhood in Columbia, Tennessee, at her annual July fourth lemonade stand. Some say the gathering was an Independence Day tradition, but it seemed people just gravitated towards Loretta, because everyone agreed, she was as sweet as her lemonade.
Loretta’s charming personality and friendly demeanor helped her through great adversity. At age 13, Loretta’s father, Jim Earl Sweetwater, was killed by a drunk driver, while traveling to Cookeville, Tennessee, leaving his young wife to raise their six children. Closely following his death, Loretta’s mother became ill and soon was bedridden. Loretta just knew that despite the doctor’s diagnosis, her mom was sick because her heart was broken. As the oldest child, Loretta was forced to seek out odd jobs, to keep a roof over the family.
At age 16, Loretta left Columbia to find steady work in Nashville. She landed a job as a food server at Bobby Ray’s Uptown Café. She managed to make fairly good tips and sent most of her money back to her family in Columbia. The café, (really a truck stop with delicious down-home food, at below market prices), was the best place for Loretta to work, under her difficult circumstances. Bobby Ray’s Café, was a struggling, yet well-known establishment, owned by its namesake, Bobby Ray Bueller, Sr. Loretta’s boss was a caring and empathetic man, who always made time to sit with customers over a cup of coffee and an occasional piece of their famous lemon meringue pie.
On her day off each Sunday, Bobby Ray, Sr. would send Loretta back to Columbia with enough food to feed her family for a week. He claimed he wanted them to try out his new recipes, but they both knew, without his generosity, the family might go hungry. Loretta felt a connection to the Bueller family, and especially to Bobby Ray, Sr., who felt to her like the father she lost as a child.
Loretta clung on to the hope that when her youngest brother turned 18, she would be free of her family obligations and able to finish her education and to pursue her dream of one day owning her own restaurant. Until such time, she kept her nose to the grindstone, using her people pleasing skills to earn big tips from her customers.
In the middle of the night, during a rain storm in September, Loretta received a phone call from Bobby Ray, Bueller, Jr., (devoted son of Loretta’s boss). In between tears, he gently informed her that his dad, Bobby Ray, Sr., was pronounced dead, after a massive heart attack. Co-workers at Bobby Ray’s Uptown Café, Loretta and Bobby Ray were close friends. Devastated by the passing of Bobby Ray, Sr., the entire staff at the truck stop relied on each other, for a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to share their favorite Bobby Ray, Sr. story.
The other food servers and kitchen staff couldn’t help but notice Loretta and Bobby Ray’s affection and attraction for one another, though from afar. Through the pressures of taking over his father’s truck stop, Loretta always told Bobby Ray, “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”.