HOT & COLD RUNNING REFRIGERATORS

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When I married George back in the Dark Ages, one thing was fairly certain: we’d never have to worry about appliances. His dad and granddad owned G. Marvin Holt, Inc. in downtown Burlington, which specialized in Frigidaire appliances. His mom had the fanciest kitchen in town — an original Corning Ware flat cooktop, on which you needed to use actual Corning Ware dishes for cooking. New-fangled frostless refrigerators could slice and dice and make ice the way you wanted it — no metal or plastic trays to fill. Disposals made out of indestructible dinosaur teeth could eat anything and never get jammed. Hot water dispensers next to the sink served up steaming hot chocolate with the push of a button. Trash compactors made heavy work out of too much lightweight kitchen debris. Microwaves had actual high-medium-low settings. You name it — the Holts had it. So, appliances? No worries.

But, a few years went by, and the appliance industry changed drastically — the brand names no longer protected their dealers, and every discount store started selling them. G. Marvin Holt sold to Big Jim Griggs, who may have eventually morphed it into Circuit City. When we moved back to Burlington after army life, people I barely knew stopped me at church to lament the loss of G. Marvin Holt’s 24-Hour Service Guarantee. They knew, that if their trusty rusty fridge went hot in the middle of the night, they could call for repairs without losing a leftover Zack dog or a quart of Melville milk. Likely, this was a terrific marketing policy — really, how often did anyone discover a broken fridge in the middle of the night? They rarely broke down.

Fast-forward to 2022, which is 9 or 10 refrigerator-galaxies away from the solid-gold Frigidaires of the sixties. Appliance life-expectancy diminishes every time you open a door.. Planned obsolesence has replaced 24-hour-a-day guaranteed service, and the results have been painful. Painful right now, in our house.

Back during the hundred-degree temperatures of July, we came back from a beach trip to find our fridge moaning like a dying cow, and the temperature rose with every moo. It was Friday night, after 6:30 PM. George, the appliance-and-construction-guru, groaned in tandem with the fridge, so I jumped in the car and headed for Lowe’s, knowing that if I hurried, I’d get there half an hour before they closed, and we could have a new fridge the next day. (You’d think by now, I would’ve thrown this pesky optimism out the window, but ever the Nellie Forbush, I forget every cloud I’ve ever seen.)

Appliance repairmen in North Myrtle Beach taught me not to even look at a Samsung or LG, and I didn’t want anything made in China. We had long hated our dying icebox — almond, it pre-dated the stainless steel craze — and it was an early model ‘freezer-on-the-bottom’ model that dropped ice, got stuck on packages sliding in and out, and gave us vertigo from leaning over to find whatever it was that had sunk to the bottom. So, I asked about a side-by-side. Lo and behold, Whirlpool (made in Mexico, go figure) had a model that solved the ‘pizza box’ problem — and it could be delivered on Sunday. The delivery guys were to call on Saturday night to give us an estimate of delivery time. They didn’t.

Sunday came — we unloaded the moaning, but still cooling, oldie, ready for delivery. I had carefully measured. The fridge space is exactly 36″. Did you know that the specs on fridges show two different dimensions? The uh, ‘common dimension’ was 36″. The ‘actual dimension’ was 35.725.” Our resident builder declared that it would be a tight fit, but it would work.

So, the truck found us on Sunday, Then, as they started to unload FRIDGE ONE, still in its box, it had clearly been gutted by a forklift.

I figured that they’d just go back to Lowe’s and pick up the next one in line, and come right back. Wrong. They had to return the new one to Lowe’s first, for the damage to be assessed, then, schedule a whole new DATE for FRIDGE TWO to come.

What? You’re asking — don’t you have an outside icebox in the garage? Well, yes. Yes, we do. But said garage is home to a black snake the size of an anaconda, and our resident snake-and-rodent guru refuses to get rid of him, so we have compromised. I only go into the garage in the winter months. The snake and I have an agreement. He doesn’t come in the house; I don’t go in the garage.

Well, about a week later, FRIDGE TWO was delivered. I could barely contain my excitement! It was just right. It’ll hold a frozen pizza box. The kitchen was back in business — for about three weeks.

Late Saturday night, I opened the 3-week-old fridge to get a coke. It was hot. MIddle of the night — where was the 24-hour repairman when I needed him? The next day, I called Lowe’s, and let the phone ring for EIGHT MINUTES — and nobody answered. Later on, I called again — spoke to a nice man, who said he’d put me through to the appliance department, but the phone wasn’t answered, and it cycled back to him, twice. He said he’d leave a message, and he was SURE someone would call me back shortly. I was not so sure. So, I got back in the car, and drove back to Lowe’s. If you don’t live in the country, that might not sound like a problem, but we’re in the next county, a good twenty miles away. That’s time enough for the entire soundtrack to the new West Side Story, so the top-down singalong ride in my Mustang with “Tonight” blaring made it sorta fun.

A walk to the back of a warehouse store is excruciating these days, so I stopped at the customer service window up front. A very kind young woman helped me out. She said they had several of the same model still in stock. She scheduled Fridge Three’s delivery for Tuesday, and gave the rehearsed spiel — the delivery contractors would call Monday night before to give a specific time window. I knew they wouldn’t, but still, I was pretty happy, but Chick Fil-A was closed and I had to stop at a less-desireable drive-thru to take supper home.

Monday night came and went — no call from the appliance people. All day Tuesday, we waited. No calls. No truck. FRIDGE THREE never showed up. So, Wednesday, I didn’t even attempt to call the store. I jumped back into the Mustang, took the top down, and sang along with the Carpenters, as I was pretty sure there would be no “Tonight, Tonight” to sing about. This time, I commandeered one of the ride-around carts, and drove directly to the appliance area. Two beleaguered salespeople were trying to service five or six customers. I arrived back there at 6:38 PM. Finally got a chance to explain my problem at 6:53 — and all my patient waiting was to no avail. “Oh,” he said, “Since you’re still within the 30-day return period, a manager will have to take care of that.” He assured me that the manager was at the front of the store. Got to the front of the store and was told, “Oh, she’s back in the appliance section.”

Back to the appliance section I zipped, fast as that little cart would take me, but she was not to be found. The appliance guy started calling for a manager over the telephone. He was helping another customer, but I penned him in with the basket of my scooter and he couldn’t escape. Every few minutes, he’d call for a manager, to no avail. Finally, he used the magic words.

“MANAGER NEEDED FOR OVERRIDE IN APPLIANCES.”

That got quick attention — they want to make sure a sale gets made. So, a whistle-and-clipboard type young woman came flying in between the washers and dryers. The sales associate told her he needed her to help with my problem, but she couldn’t. “I’m not a manager,” she explained. “I only have the override card,” waving it through the air like she was playing keep-a-way from the unwashed second-class salespeople “She needs to see Valerie!”

“And where will I find this elusive Valerie?” She assured me that Valerie was at the millwork desk, on Aisle 51.

“Aisle 51, did you say? Like I’m going to disappear into the Bermuda Triangle from Aisle 51? ” Yep, that was the place, they both said, laughing, but I wasn’t joking.

The electric cart was still working, but going slower by the minute. I made it over to Area 51, and I promise, there was not a human in sight, much less a desk marked “Millwork.” It was eerie, but really, the logical explanation is that every last customer was lined up in the appliance department hoping to throw money at Lowe’s, but there was nobody to catch it.

I rode up and down the aisles, all decorum left behind in the scratch-and-dent section, belting out, “VALERIE….OH VALERIE? WHEREFORE ART THOU VALERIE?” And, “I LOVE TO GO A WANDERING THRU AISLES OF LUMBER RACKS — AND AS I GO, I LOVE TO SING — I WANT MY WHIRLPOOL BACK…..’VAL-A-REE– VAL-A RAH–There was nobody around to call security on me, so I just kept going — and I kinda don’t blame Valerie for not answering.

After a lengthy suspension of the space/time continuum, I chanced upon a desk. It was on Aisle 49, not 51, tucked in behind a large display of exterior doors and windows — no signage to identify it as ‘THUH MILLWORK DESK.” Every industry has its jargon, but let’s face it, most women who get sent to Area 51 have no idea what millwork is. We expect a few bolts of cloth. But there, right there among the replacement windows, I found my thrill on storm door hill — Valerie, my new best friend.

She patiently helped people in front of me who asked entirely too many questions about a door that was not in stock. I sat on the scooter for t-w-e-n-t-y minutes, humming my little song, and after way too many verses, I was finally able to explain my plight to a MANAGER! This was Wednesday. She said she’d have FRIDGE FOUR sent out Sunday, the first possible day it could be delivered. Still trying to smile, I said, “Oh, what’s another week? We’re recently retired. Won’t be making any more money. Might as well just SPEND IT ALL RIGHT NOW ON EATING OUT!” Valerie was not amused. She’d had it. Don’t blame her. Really, Valerie has been stellar. She’s swimming upstream against a broken system.

When I asked why nobody had called or shown up with FRIDGE THREE the previous Tuesday, she found no record of it in the storewide system. Nobody can admit it, of course, but even from Area 51 any idiot can tell that the nice woman who helped me the previous week hit ‘delete’ instead of ‘save.’ But, I was still optimistic — just another Manic Sunday would be a magic day, as we had tickets for Wicked in Richmond that night.

Now, Sunday is the LEAST convenient day of the week for us. George often has duties at church, and I really didn’t want to be the person in charge when the delivery guys got there — it’s much better if he handles it. Because he’s a man? Well, NO. Because, back in junior high, high school, and Wake Forest summers, he worked alongside the much-beloved Mack Thompson delivering appliances for G. Marvin Holt, Inc. If that doesn’t make him an expert, nothing does.

So — Sunday came. I had been to deliver the Wicked tickets to the kids, and when I drove up our road, a big Penske truck was in our next door neighbor’s driveway, ten acres away. Sigh. I pulled the Mustang over, blew the horn, and gestured wildly for the driver to follow me. He did, and I left to get out of the way while they unloaded FRIDGE FOUR.

An hour later, I came home, excited to FINALLY have a working fridge, but ’twas not to be. When they unloaded this one, they found that Fridge Four’s front door was damaged. The obvious solution to the construction / appliance delivery men in my family was to change the doors, but the deliverers didn’t want to be bothered. George just shook his head, incredulous. Back at G. Marvin Holt, he and Mack would unpack every appliance in the warehouse, inspect it, wrap it in a blanket, and strap it into the truck. They knew how to slide them back and forth without tearing up floors; how to take the doors off fridges, when needed, even how to take front doors off houses to get those hundred-dollar appliances safely into places they’d never have to leave. The art of appliance delivery has disappeared from our society.

Fortunately, this time, I didn’t have to call the number that is never answered, because I have my new-best-friend Valerie’s phone number on speed dial. I texted her right away, and bless her heart, she suggested that she send out a loaner for us to use until the next truck with our model came in. I thought that sounded like a reasonable solution. She sent me a few models to look at — but what Whirlpool considers a 36″ fridge isn’t the same as Frigidaire’s 36″. I looked at the fine print — the 36″ Frigidaire would actually be 36.25 inches, and even greased up with Crisco, it wouldn’t fit into a 36″ hole. So, she found a different Whirlpool model measuring the actual 35.725 width. BINGO! FRIDGE FIVE was on its way.

Yesterday was yet another Sunday — apparently the only day that these contractors know how to get Penske trucks into Powhatan. Fridge Five, the loaner, was delivered. But don’t get too excited. It’s depth was one inch longer than the Whirlpool, it wouldn’t make it through the twist at the front door.

I texted Valerie. “IS IT POSSIBLE TO JUST SEND OUT AN OLD-FASHIONED APPLIANCE REPAIR GUY AND FIX WHAT WE HAVE??” She asked for photos of the serial number and description of the problem. In a nutshell, it sounds like one of those white-noise machines people put in kids’ rooms; the fridge temp has crept up from fifty degrees to seventy; the freezer is showing about fifty degrees, and the ice maker is dripping water since it’s not cold enough to freeze.

Over the years, we’ve had great service from Lowe’s. Back in the eighties, George built about 20 houses in Alamance County — and almost all lumber, doors, windows, sheetrock, plumbing, appliances, paint, you-name-it, came from Lowe’s. So, we’re talking a million dollars in business, small in the grand scheme, but maybe those houses helped Lowe’s become the mega-monster it is today. And no telling how much they profited from George’s commercial construction projects over the years. These days, they’re struggling, like every other company, trying to recover from a pandemic. We had some similar issues down in Mississippi, when we had a new fridge delivered to the tenants in Great-Granddad’s house. We paid the fee to have the old fridge removed in February. When we arrived in July, said fridge was still on the back porch, blocking the door. And Lowe’s is visible from the front porch — not like it was out of the way. I found a wonderful lady there in the Philadelphia, MISSISSIPPI, Lowe’s, who solved the problem — and she used to work at Home Depot in Midlothian, Virginia. The world is still small.

What to do? I’m thinking that all the retired guys (girls, too) we know ought to go over to Lowe’s and get retirement jobs. Y’all would know how to get things done, and could form-sure drive a forklift without impaling appliances. They need people with common sense life experience who aren’t above doing manual work. Or, bring back the G. Marvin Holt, Inc., mom-and-pop appliance stores. They provided great products, great service, and a good living for those who worked there.

For now — we are still awaiting an old-fashioned repairman, or FRIDGE SIX, whichever comes first.

Blessings, y’all — and may all your refrigerators be cold ones!

WHEN THE MOON HITS YOUR EYE — AT SHEETZ

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WHEN THE MOON HITS YOUR EYE — AT SHEETZ

January 18, 2022– I stopped at Sheetz — parked in the handicap spot right at the front door, and limped in to get a couple of items. It didn’t take long, and pretty soon, my sidekick and I were back in the car. I was fooling with my phone when a man walked toward the store’s front door, right in front of my car. Like many of our rural neighbors, he wore a baseball cap, a tan Carhart-type coat, and I think he had on jeans — you’ll know why I don’t remember for sure in a minute. No camouflage, so he may have been working rather than hunting today. His face looked pink from the cold, so I think he has a fair complexion — but it all happened so fast, I’m not really sure. I have the impression that a pickup truck drove past the back of my car, and the occupants may have hollered a greeting at him– I suppose he is one of their buddies.

So, in reply, this fella — an adult, not a teenager — turned around, pulled his britches down, and exposed his bare buttocks and crack from A to Z, for me and all the world to see. Yep. Not a sliver, not a crescent, not a half — a full-blown moon. Nekkid as a jaybird from waist to thighs. On the front sidewalk at Sheetz. At 3:45 in the afternoon. Broad daylight. Parking lot and gas pumps well-populated. I had the dubious distinction of being the closest viewer to the Man Who Showed His A**. Some things you just can’t unsee.

Now, I’m as good-natured as the next seventies-survivor about mooning stories. We’ve all heard ’em, and I’m not going to get my panties in a wad about hunting buddies mooning each other around a campfire. Heck, my 90-year-old mama loved to joke about privately mooning the sleep-study people who wouldn’t answer her call bell. (She never ruined a good story with facts.) But something about this stepped right over the line from a semi-private prank among equals to a very public and extremely crass case of indecent exposure.

My driver’s side window was down, so as the guy pulled his britches up and re-covered the family jewels, I called out the window. “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU DID THAT!” He answered, but I have no idea what he said, and as he walked into Sheetz, I continued. “It’s ILLEGAL.”I wanted to jump up and run after him, but because of my fractured knee, I move very slowly. Thinking about it further, I was sure I didn’t want to confront a pervert. And really, if he pulled down his pants outside in this cold weather, what else might he be taking off inside the store? I looked around to see if any deputies were in the parking lot, but didn’t see any. I wished my former-police-chief-BFF were here — she’d have handled this with pink handcuffs once worn by a team of naked football players. I had no idea who this guy was, or how to identify him.

And then, I remembered — every Sheetz property has about 28 cameras trained on everything that moves. This *ss-hat’s crack will be visible in living color on multiple cameras. He’ll be the, uh, butt of a hundred jokes by security and law enforcement personnel who’ll be able to inspect his personal hygiene via slo-mo and zoom lens. Heck, they’ll be able to read the label on his Fruit-of-the-Looms and probably tell you when they were last laundered.We all know that mooning is a popular pastime in certain situations, often involving adolescents and alcohol. Yeah, late at night, in semi-private settings — we’ve heard the stories, and laugh. I came of-age when streaking was a favorite college pastime. So, at first, I, uh, cracked up a bit. And then, I realized this was not funny. At this time of day, the store is filled with moms and kids stopping for treats & gasoline after school. This is not the time nor place to expose your nekkid nether-regions. This is not a prank among equals. Not a ‘boys-will-be-boys’ moment.T

Think for a minute. Seconds after friends drive by, a guy drops his drawers IN PUBLIC, at the front door of a busy convenience store, just seconds away from elementary and junior high schools. He didn’t hesitate. He performed this practiced little move twelve feet from a woman old enough to be his mother and a six-year-old child, in our direct sight-line. Several vehicles at gas pumps were aimed right at him. I have no idea who else, if anyone, saw this happen. He didn’t even have to unbuckle his belt to expose his rear, just pulled his pants down. And who might have been on the other side of him, seeing his frontal privates in all their glory? What kind of man is so comfortable showing his tail that he does it on the spur of the moment in one of the busiest places in the county? Not a rookie. I’m not an expert — not a psychiatrist, but it hit me — HE’S DONE THIS BEFORE. Then — WHAT ELSE MIGHT HE DO? Escalation among predators is real.

Honestly, if I wanted to see a strange man’s hairy hiney, it wouldn’t be at Sheetz on Tuesday afternoon. As I told my sons, I can count the men’s bare backsides I’ve seen up close on one hand — three are theirs, and the other is their dad’s. If there was to be a Number Five, I’d prefer it to be that of someone world-class. I really didn’t want to see the dirty rear-end of an alleged escalating pervert, not today nor any day.

So — Sheetz has him on video. Law enforcement has been notified. I have no idea who this guy is — I hope he’s from another county, not from around here where we know better. I’d like for law enforcement to talk to him, and teach him what his mama forgot to. I’d like for them to do a psychological assessment. I’d like for Sheetz to talk to him to exact a promise of decent behavior, or bar him for life from their stores. Do I want him to have any legal punishment? Probably not. Perhaps it was just one of those stupid moments common to all. Maybe drugs or alcohol had impaired his judgment. I hope somebody finds out. Regardless, he needs a coach to remind him, “Show your class, buddy, not your A##.”

As I said, I have no idea who he is, and I hate to think he might be one of my former students. He can probably identify my car. However, I can definitely identify him. I’m sure I could pick him out of a lineup. But I couldn’t help but joke with the dispatcher. “I may not remember the face, but I’ll never forget those cheeks!”

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STATUTE FROM VIRGINIA CODE: § 18.2-387. “Indecent exposure.Every person who intentionally makes an obscene display or exposure of his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where others are present, or procures another to so expose himself, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. No person shall be deemed to be in violation of this section for breastfeeding a child in any public place or any place where others are present.”

Lyrics to Porgy & Bess, or Directions to the DMV?

Lyrics to Porgy and Bess, or Directions to the DMV?

Recently, I was rehearsing with the Carolina Master Chorale for a concert version of  “Porgy and Bess”.  We began to sing,  “…the Lawd’ll meet you at the courthouse do’. “  And in the way that music can move you through the decades and across the miles in a split second’s time,  I was transported back  to the parking lot of a post office near Richmond, in that part of the south where native Virginians say “oot and aboot” for “out and about”.

I’d  gotten some stamps, and was hurrying to climb back into my  first-generation maroon mini-van, when I spotted a white-bearded southern gentleman clad  in khaki pants and and a windbreaker.  He  made his way toward the entrance, carefully using his cane to keep his balance.  At the same time, another old coot got out of an ancient Cadillac, and  approached  from the opposite direction.  This one wore green plaid polyester pants and a gold sports coat.  They were about the same age, but they weren’t cut from the same cloth.  And as soon as the second fellow opened his mouth, it was clear he was from somewhere far north of the Old Dominion.  And he was lost.    He stopped  on the sidewalk, blocking the way, and asked for directions.

“Excuse me, but can you tell me how to get to the DMV?” 

The courtly southerner stopped, and gestured  westward with his cane.  “Yes, suh.  You go down this roe-ad  toe-ad  the count’line,  and take a left onto Coat-Hoess Roe-ad.

“Take a left onto WHAT?”

“Coat-Hoess Roe-ad.    Coat-Hoess.”  The old geezer tapped his cane on the sidewalk for emphasis.

“Coat-WHAT?”  The  New Yorker was mystified.

“COAT – HOESS!”  The Virginian fairly roared.    “COAT—HOESS!”

The New Yorker may as well have been in a foreign country.  He didn’t understand it any better  with the volume turned up.   “Uh, how do you spell that?” 

The southerner had just about run out of hospitality. 

“COAT-HOESS.  That’s  C—O—-U—-AHH—–T—–H—–O—–U—-S—-E!  COAT-HOESS!”

The light bulb went on.  “Ohhhh.  You mean COURRRT-HOWWSE.”

The Virginian had had enough.  “Yes.  Just like I said.  COAT-HOESS.” 

He collected himself, tipped his hat, and walked on into the post office.    I don’t know if the other guy ever found the DMV, but at least he found out how to spell  — and pronounce — ‘coat-hoess.’

Copyright 2014, by Elizabeth F. Holt

BRING ON THE CAVALRY!

Bring on the Cavalry — from Beth — November 27, 2005  

Everything about today was stressful.  Stress filled.  Stress heavy. 

I stopped in the tunnel between the main hospital and the geriatric center at the blood pressure machine, and when it read 189 over 99, I went straight into denial.  What kind of hospital would put a broken blood pressure machine out for people to use?  

Two EMTs pushed a rolling ambulance stretcher into Daddy’s room to move him to the nursing home.  The guy was probably two generations away from anyone who spoke Spanish, but to Mama, despite being from a Mississippi family filled with black-haired relatives, everybody with dark hair is Hispanic and she’s convinced they’re the new mafia because of all the fights in the barrio she hears on her police scanner. 

The female was pretty, and preppy looking, with the long flipped up hairstyle every WHS girl wore back in the day — well, my day.  First-class Carolina girl, just slightly redneck — and that’s a compliment, not a pejorative. 

 I looked at the company logo on their shirts — a horse head, and the name “Cavalry” spelled out in script. Mama looked at the girl.  “What company do y’all work for?” 

 “Oh, we work for CaLvary.” 

Mama didn’t hear her. 

“What?” 

So I piped up.  “CaValry.  Like soldiers mounted on horseback.” 

The brunette agreed.  “Yeah.  CaLvary.” 

Mama kept going.  “Oh.  Are you affiliated with Calvary Church?” “No, Mama, it’s CAV-AL-RY.” 

“No,ma’am.  It’s CAL-VA-RY, like when you’re watching a ol timey western and the CALVARY rides in.” 

I got tickled and just gave up.  

Charlotte, SOUTH Carolina?

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Charlotte, SOUTH Carolina?

By Beth Holt – 2005

Gate B6 at the Charlotte airport swarmed with passengers anxious to board the next plane to Palm Beach.  I grabbed the last empty seat in the waiting area, and wedged myself between a snoozing blond and a well-dressed older man who chatted with his wife.   Well, I think he was older.  With botox and facelifts everywhere these days, I never know how old anybody is.

His beige cashmere sweater, expensive trousers and leather shoes had “Italy” written all over them — he looked the “Palm Beach” type.   His wife dripped diamonds from her ears, neck, and both hands, and they treated each other with surprising tenderness.

I’m not sure what drew my attention to him; maybe it was the way he brandished a stout, green cigar.  Unlit, just like the ones my daddy didn’t smoke — half-chewed stogies were Daddy’s trademark.   Unlike Daddy, however, this fellow would never have spit tobacco juice out the car window, splattering a sputtering daughter in the back seat.  Also unlike Daddy, he peppered his conversation with references to large amounts of money and somebody named Guido.

“Well, Mothah!”   He spoke to his wife (and most of Charlotte) in a booming brogue thick enough to stir.  “Are we in NORUTH Carolina? He turned to me.   “I thorrt Chahlotte was in SOUTH Carolina.”

“No,sir.”  I fluttered my southern eyelashes, trying to hide my astonishment at his geographical ignorance.  Hey, I’d be in the same boat if we were talking Dakotas, but let’s face it.  Hordes of Guido’s relatives don’t vacation in the Dakotas, and neither do mine.  “We’re just a few miles from the state line, but Charlotte is the largest city in NORTH Carolina.”

“Oh.  Well, it’s in the south paht of Noruth  Carolina, then.”

This line of thinking confused me.  “I guess so, but down here, we  think of all parts of both states as ‘south’.”

Just then, the gate attendant began the pre-flight announcements.  Guido’s buddy was mystified.  “WHAT did he just say?  Could you unduhstind enny of that?”

“Yessuh.” I spoke syrup, right out of Charleston and Richmond.  Laid it on thick. Used more syllables than Reba MacIntyre in “Whoever’s in New England,” and took out every ‘r’.

“He called fo’ anyone needin’ special assistance to board the plane now.”

“You undahstood oil that?”

I stifled the urge to tell him I was bilingual.

“Has he coiled for first class yet?”

“No suh, not yet.”

The gate agent started his next speech.

“What did he say this time?”

“He said first-class passengers may now board the plane.”

“Oh.  That’s us.  Come on, Mothuh.”  He took his wife by the hand, then turned back and looked at me. “You’re not  goin’ to Palm Beach, are you?”

I guess I don’t look the Palm Beach type.  “Yessuh,  I sho’  am. To the horse shows.”  He probably thought I was a groom.

“Great!  Maybe we’ll see ya there.”

He turned on his expensive heels and headed down the jetway, and in a few minutes, the gate agent called for the unwashed hordes to  board the plane.

I wrestled my carry-on through the first-class cabin, back toward the cheap seats, trying not to glare at the smug uppercrust passengers in the cushy lounge chairs.   Halfway down the cabin, Guido’s buddy caught my eye, and jumped from his seat.

“Look, Mothah, there’s our friend!”  They waved like I was one of The Family. “Say, thanks for your help back there.  We nevah wouldda gotten owan da plane.”

“Mah pleasuh!” I called, unable to wave back with my hands full of 2nd class luggage.  ”And if y’all need anything when we get to Fla’da,  Ah’ll be happy to translate!”

I walked on to join my people in coach class, but the now-familiar voice boomed after me.

“See, Muthah?  Now THAT’S what they coil SOUTHUN HORSPITALITY!”

I had to grin.   I squeezed into my substantially low-class seat in the cattle car, and I swear I heard my Grandmamma whisper.

“That’s the way to do, honey.  Aftah all, Guido’s jist another name for Bubba.”

 

 

“The Kidless Soldier” — Poem by my Great-Great Granddad, Jesse Franklin Hembree, circa 1920

The trip my sister and I recently took  to  our ancestral home in Mississippi revealed some delightful historical facts — and perhaps the most surprising is that  Great-Great Granddaddy Jesse Franklin Hembree was quite a poet.  Jess was the great-granddad of my mother, Marguerite — he died when she was two years old, so she wouldn’t have remembered anything about him.  Her granddad, Horace Greely Hembree, was Jesse’s oldest son.  They all rest now, on heaven’s side, with headstones in the Hembree Family Cemetery, right behind the house where my mother spent many summers growing up.

I’ve only seen three of his verses so far, but my 3rd cousin tells me there are more, and she will send copies to me. Friday, April 17, 2020, my niece, an archivist by profession, unearthed this one with an internet search. I had missed it when I searched last week. In doing research and genealogy, four eyes are better than two! This was published in the Neshoba Democrat on July 8, 1920, on the front page, and beneath the poem, the editor had written this:

(The above lines were written by Uncle Jess Hembree.  It is a rare thing to find in a man of over 80 winters the music and sentiment of a boy of eighteen summers.  And to pitch from the sublime to the ridiculous, to spin out beautiful phrases; to mix truth with (whimsy? illegible) as he has so well done, is rare in anyone.)

THE KIDLESS SOLDIER

No beauty’s form could captivate his eye;

No dulcet voice could tame his sluggish ear

No maiden’s blush could win from him a sigh,

No woman’s woe could take from him a tear.

No love born smile e’er on his gloomy face

No soft white hand e’er smoothed his ruffled brow

Unknown to him the lover’s glorious craze

That leads him up to take the fatal vow.

No little form e’er climbed upon his knee;

No little feet e’er shuffled on his floor;

No woman’s kiss as sweet as sweet can be

Is his forevermore.

No childish voice e’er lisped a father’s name

As day by day, the years have rolled along

To teach him that the lover’s early dream

Is parent to the tender nursery song.

And since his Uncle Sam has called him off to France

Because he has no kid;

He feels that he has missed a glorious chance

And grieves because he did.

But when a man has made a family flat

His grieving comes too late

No Vardaman, nor Bilbo, no Venable nor Pat

Can save him from his fate.

And now he is gone, Alas! Across the stormy days,

By Uncle Sam’s decree.

While fallen heroes rest in glory’s sleep

Beyond the sea;

Should he meet some hostile tooting band

In trench or open field

No maiden’s love, the genie’s magic wand

Will be his shield.

And should he fall at Verdun or Reims

Or Chateau Thierries,

No forlorn maid will meet him in her dreams

This side the stormy sea.

And when he dies, as everybody must

No rose will bloom upon his lonely grave

His poor uncopied form will sink into the dust

His name in Lethe’s wave.

THE WORST THANKSGIVING EVER!

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The Worst Thanksgiving Ever

(Published in “Powhatan Today”, as “The Worst Holiday Ever”, Wednesday, December 22, 2004 – edited by Beth, 2007)

by Beth Holt

Somewhere, high over the Atlantic Ocean, my thoughts turned from the romance of Venice to the daily routine of life in rural Virginia. My oldest son, Chip, snoozed beside me on the huge plane – I’d slept on his shoulder for a good part of the trip, but finally, I was wide awake in a dark, droning airplane, and it was time to think about Thanksgiving.

I planned out the coming holiday week:

-Tomorrow, I’d sleep late and recover from jet lag.

-Tuesday, I’d straighten out things at my husband’s office.

-Wednesday, I’d shop and cook.

-Thursday, Thanksgiving 2004, we’d be home for the feast.

Son #2, Bryan, would bring his family in on Thursday night after gorging on holiday turkey with his wife’s family. We’d all leave for Belews Creek, NC on Friday morning, visit with Memomma and Dedaddy, then head for the Holt family gathering in Burlington on Saturday, and return home on Saturday night. Busy, but simple and straightforward — not much to sweat over.

The plane landed, and my “Rome Adventure” with Chip melded into a sweet memory as my long-suffering and vacation-providing husband, George, hugged us at the gate.

It was early Sunday night in Virginia, but very late Sunday night, Italian time, when we got home from the airport. I’d been awake for nearly 20 hours, and was starting to feel punchy. I walked into the house after being gone for ten days, ready to collapse on the first bed I tripped over. But as soon as I crossed the threshold, a terrible odor hit me in the face, and it was far stronger than sleep.

I gagged, and choked out the obvious. “What in the world is that stench?”

My husband just shrugged and raised his eyebrows. “What stench?”

I stared in disbelief. For a minute, I wondered if he’d gone wacko and stashed a dead body under the house while Chip and I were cavorting around Italy. The men in my life swore they couldn’t smell a thing, but something was dead, wrong, and rotten, and there was no way to go to sleep through it.

So, strung-out on no sleep with a wide-awake headache, I tried to track down the source. Moved furniture. Cleaned out the fridge. Took out the garbage. Washed the dishrags. Looked behind the stove. Rolled out the refrigerator. And found nothing.  After an hour or so of searching and cleaning, I checked under my pillow and fell into bed.

The next morning, when I wanted to be sleeping off jet lag, I jumped out of bed, and filled the sinks with Pine-Sol to mask the mysterious odor. I searched high and low for the source but didn’t find a thing. After while, my exhausted body rebelled,  so I left Central European Time behind and slept through the day and most of the night.

Tuesday morning, I woke up early, and the house still stunk to high heaven. I sprayed every nook and cranny with citrus, then headed out to the supermarket to join the Thanksgiving grocery crowds.

There’d only be four of us for turkey dinner, so I planned to cook a scaled-down version of the big deal — all homemade. I filled the metal grocery cart with “scratch” ingredients, but halfway down the pickle aisle, jet lag spoke up. “Buy the Ukrop’s ready-made version….save the staples for Christmas, when you have more time to prepare.”  Jet lag was smarter than I thought.

Back at home, I turned my favorite DJ on  K-95 up loud and unloaded groceries to my favorite country tunes. A few items needed to be put in the old refrigerator in the garage. I bounded out the utility room door, grabbed the handle on the fridge, opened the door, and — gagged.   Coughed. Gagged again. And nearly passed out.

Good gosh, it was awful. The breaker had tripped, oh, a week or so ago, probably while I was enraptured by Fritz Kreisler’s romantic Introduzione in a marvelous concert in Venice. Everything in the freezer had thawed out and gone bad. What a mess.

I unplugged all the appliances, choked my way back and forth to the breaker box, then plugged everything back in to refreeze, so it would be easier to throw things out. I was aggravated, but mostly relieved. The mystery of the smell was solved, and we wouldn’t have to go through the holiday asking  which baby needed changing.

But I still hadn’t unpacked from the trip to Italy.  Suitcases had exploded all over the guest room. Clothes, souvenirs, and travel books were strewn across the bed, overflowing onto the floor and crawling around the corner into the baby’s room. It all had to be cleaned up to make room for Bryan and the grandkids.

I’d just started putting things away when the phone rang, and my husband hollered for help from Hopewell. Office work had snarled while I was roaming Rome, and hired help just ain’t what it used to be. I left the mess behind and hurried down to the office to straighten out the payroll, just in time to pay the clerk who’d made the mess in the first place. It took almost all day to fix what had been done wrong while I was gone, but that was okay. I still had Wednesday night and all day Thursday to get the guest room ready.

I was printing a batch of payroll checks when my cell phone played a familiar tune. Bryan was on the line. “Mom, Rebekah and I decided it might be better to come down this afternoon instead of waiting till tomorrow. Is that okay with you?”

Well, of course it’s okay with me, but my Martha Stewart timeline just went out the window. I put down the phone, stared at it for a minute, then grabbed the receiver and dialed.

If you walk into my house on any given day during hunting season, you’ll think it’s an arsenal for the militia.  I used to complain about boots and saddles in the dining room, but lately, camouflage coveralls and shotguns of every gauge and barrel are propped up against windowsills in every room of the house. How did I end up being the lone female in a household of hunters?  It was time to call the AWOL quartermaster to active duty.

To my relief, my youngest son actually answered his cell phone for a change. “David, this is Mama. You need to go home right now and put away all your guns. Micah is coming tonight.” My first grandchild, though precious and precocious, very well-coordinated, and drop-dead handsome to boot, is still a tad young for the hunter safety course. Let’s wait till he’s at least three.

I locked up the office, jumped into my car, and an hour later I was home, with only 45 minutes to get ready for the Thanksgiving Eve service at  Emmaus Church. A hot bath would help me change gears. I hopped into the tub, but a few gallons later, the water turned lukewarm. “Hmm,” I thought, “There’s nobody else home. I haven’t done any laundry. Surely the element hasn’t gone bad. Maybe it just my imagination that the water is not right….”  After I jumped out, dried off, and threw on some clothes, I  I forgot all about it

I drove down Route 711 to the small country church, slid into a pew, and thought of all the things I have to give thanks for. My friend, Lorna, sat next to me. We’ve sung side-by-side for twenty years now, and we giggled a little as the pastor strummed his guitar.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…”

Familiar words with a familiar tune, but something sounded slightly out of whack. The melody he played usually sings “There is a house in New Orleans, they call the rising sun..”   NOT your usual “Amazing Grace.” Minor key. Ominous. Handwriting on the wall?

The service ended, and I rushed back home. My bedroom was relatively clean, but the guest rooms were a mess with half-unpacked bags on beds and dressers. I stuffed stuff back into suitcases, zipped them up, and threw them into my room. I grabbed souvenirs I’d sorted, pushed them into a laundry basket, and shoved it next to my dresser. I cleared the guest bed of stacked summer clothing, but there was no place left in my room, so heck with the stacks.  I tossed them on the floor.

I moved the dirty travel clothes from their pile on the guest room floor to another pile on my bedroom floor. In the span of fifteen minutes, I’d cleaned one space and trashed another, but now there was room for Bryan, Rebekah, Micah, Nathan, two porta-cribs, multiple baby toys, and a week’s worth of Pampers.

Shortly, the house filled up with people I love. George came home from an extra-long day at work; David safely moved all the firearms; Chip brought dirty laundry home  from Fredericksburg; Bryan unloaded tons of baby equipment along with a wife, two sons and a dog. And I do mean unloaded, particularly when it comes to the dog. Yes, the sweetest dog in the whole world, perfect for Bryan’s little family, so they told me, but I learned the big-dog-little-boys lesson many years ago.

The dog – Buttercup — who, after Micah started talking, became Butterbutt, who, after Nathan was born, became more trouble than a young mama with two babies under two should have to worry about. Butterbutt had come home to stay. I’ve loved my share of dogs in my lifetime, but I thought that part of my life was long gone.

Dogs or no dogs, though, the best times are when the kids come home. It was a happy time, with hot chili simmering on the stove, everybody talking at once, all laughing at Micah, baby-talking to Nathan, eating tortilla chips and salsa — for about an hour.

Then, Rebekah moaned, “You know, I don’t feel so good.” Bryan looked up. “I don’t feel so good either.”

And that was about the last thing he said for the next two days, unless you count calling Ralph. They were sick. Sick, sick, sick. Bryan took to the bathtub – but the hot water ran out. Rebekah woke to nurse Nathan, then tossed him to me and fell, helplessly weak, back into bed.

All the while, Butterbutt barked endlessly on the front porch. Which riled up the llamas, who shrieked the weirdest wails you’ve ever heard — all night long. Nobody got any sleep.

Tossing and turning,  pillow-punching, and fuming , all I could think was, “I came home from Italy for this? Where’s the tuxedoed waiter with my hot cappuccino?”

Morning came, and it was clear the sick ones couldn’t make it to Rebekah’s family Thanksgiving. The rest of us weren’t worried, though, because the illness was due to some fast food chicken they’d consumed. Bryan needed another hot bath, but mysteriously, the water ran cold.  So George belly-crawled under the house to investigate, and came back covered in cobwebs and probably a snake skin or two.

“Hot water heater’s working fine.” he announced. “There’s plenty of hot water – and it’s spewing all over the crawl space.”

It was Thanksgiving Day, and the water pipes popped a leak. A big leak. It was Thanksgiving Day, and sick people were sacked out, groaning, comatose, in the living room. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I roasted a turkey and warmed up supermarket dressing, but couldn’t make gravy till we heated pans of hot water to pour into the bathtub for Bryan, who shivered with fever.

It was Thanksgiving Day, and for the first time in holiday history, the china and crystal stayed in the cabinet. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I served turkey dinner on the kitchen table over — dare I admit it? — a paper tablecloth on everyday dishes, with — perish the thought — red plastic cups. Yes, red plastic cups. What had we come to?  Martha Stewart went to jail and Thanksgiving propriety went right out the window.

Shortly, the chicken nugget food poisoning theory went out the window, too.

‘Cause Micah threw up. All over the family room carpet. Oh, it was a night to forget.

Friday morning, Bryan and Rebekah felt better, but were worn slap out. I called my parents and canceled our plans to visit them. David fled the germs, took his arsenal and went hunting, and proudly returned with a six-point buck. Then, he and George crawled under the house to fix the water pipes.

Bryan mustered enough strength to load everybody (except Butterbutt, who still barked on the front porch) back into his minivan for their trip back to Fredericksburg.

Saturday morning came, and it looked like the worst was over. It was time to head for Burlington and the yearly Holt Family Gathering and Gift Exchange. Only four of us could make the trip. We climbed into Chip’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, loaded up the presents, and drove our usual Thanksgiving route down U.S. 360. We’d barely crossed the Appomattox when David looked at me, and out of a pale green face, mumbled, “Mama, I don’t feel so good…”

Three hours later, we turned into downtown Burlington, and parked in front of the Georgia Kitchen, a nice restaurant located where the Treasure House used to be, the wedding gift store where all that china and silver we didn’t use this year originally came from.

Most of us had a delicious dinner and a good time with the sisters, brothers, cousins, and Aunt Lib (who, at 90, is a ball of fire and cute as a button). But David turned greener by the minute. Afterward, we stopped by the Holt family plot at Pine Hill Cemetery, but he refused to get out of the car. He already felt half-dead, and wasn’t about to get close enough to his final resting place to take up permanent residence.

We started back for home, and just after we turned off Rauhut Street, David called out, “Dad! Stop the car…!”

I should mention at this point that I’m not any good when somebody gets sick. I mean, if it’s a sore throat and fever, I’m a good nurse. I can even handle small amounts of blood. But throwing up? No. My gag reflexes are far too sympathetic. If somebody is sick, I am, too. George has always handled throw-up duty. Strange thing to brag about, but honestly, he’s gifted at it. And Chip is trained as an EMT, so he can handle anything.

George pulled the Jeep into a parking lot. David ran to the rear of the car, and Chip jumped out to help him. I stayed put, singing little songs, trying to think happy thoughts, “Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens….”

George walked to a nearby convenience store to buy water, Gatorade and a roll of paper towels. A few minutes later, the crisis passed, for a little while. And then, about every ten miles, it was, “Dad! Pull over!” David ran to the back of the car, Chip grabbed the paper towels – soon they honed Chinese Fire Drill into a fine science. Dave was one sick puppy and all he wanted in this life was to get home, but at this rate, we weren’t making much progress.

Daylight was just about gone. I was drowsy enough to sleep sitting up, my head lolling against the back seat as we crossed the state line into Virginia. Five minutes till six; only an hour more, and we’d be home.

And then — and then…. WHAM.

Something hit us, and hit us hard. The Jeep bucked. The hood flew up, and my eyes flew open. “If anything’s behind us, we’re gonna be hit again…” The car lurched to a stop. It was dark inside, and I smelled something smoky, like burning electric wires. I felt confused, helpless, disoriented, and frightened. “Something’s wrong with the engine…where are we….what’s happening??”

I started to panic, but Chip’s firefighter training comes in handy in times of crisis. Calm as a cucumber, he checked on his little brother.

“Dave — are you all right?”

“My hands are burned…”

“BURNED??? I struggled to unfasten my seatbelt. “I smell smoke…is the car on fire?”

“No, Mom, it’s okay – calm down — what you smell is the air bags.”

I was still groggy. “The airbags went off?? What happened?”

“We hit a deer.”   Or rather, a deer hit us.

The deer had bounded across the westbound lane of U.S. 360, jumped the median, and landed right smack on top of us. Nobody saw it coming.

The front end of Chip’s car was a mess — radiator pierced, headlights smashed, the grill broken. A hundred feet behind us, a small four-point buck lay dead in the ditch. He was little, but you’ve got to hand it to him, he’d placed himself just right for maximum impact.

We’ve lost count of the deer that have attacked our cars over the past 10 years, but the number is in the high teens. My theory is that they’re out to even the score, and well… David did get a buck on Friday.

We were lucky. Everyone was okay, except for poor Dave, whose knuckles and knees were rug-burned from impact with the airbag. And he was still sick. He sat on the shoulder of the road wrapped in a blanket, and impossibly, continued to throw up.

Chip called 911, and talked with the Nottoway County dispatcher. We were out in the middle of nowhere. Shortly, the Amelia County dispatcher called my cell phone. “Where are you?”

“Uh. We’re on 360, in Amelia….Jetersville, I think….” I realized that a GPS would come in handy during an emergency, when you don’t know where you are, you’re disoriented from the shock of the circumstances, and on a road in the dark with nothing but trees for miles and miles.

A state trooper arrived. He radioed the dispatcher.

“We have a passenger with superficial burns on his hands from the air bags.”

The dispatcher radioed outward, “One of the passengers got burned.”

The trooper sighed, and shook his head. “That’s not what I said. Now, in about five minutes, we’re going to be inundated with pickup trucks.”

Sure enough, every EMT in Amelia County raced to the scene. Within seconds, we found out there’s not a thing they can do for stomach flu.

I needed to get my poor child home – so what if he’s twenty? He’s still my baby, and there we were, stranded on the side of the road. Have you ever considered how accident victims get home? There’s an ambulance if you’re hurt, a tow truck to handle the car, but when you’re just plain stranded, it’s up to you and your thumb.

I called our dearest friends in Powhatan, Barbara and Cody. They don’t ever answer the phone. The answering machine picked up and I began to babble.

“Hey…if you’re listening to your scanner, and I know you are, that wreck in Amelia County is us…and I don’t know how we’re gonna get home….” My whimper grew into a sob.

Barbara’s voice came on the line. “It’s you?? It’s you??? Hang on.  We’re on our way.”

Thanksgiving weekend. The longest one on record. Jet lag. Messed up bookkeeping. A thawed out freezer. Busted hot water pipes. Canceled plans. Plastic cups. Butterbutt. A wreck. Three thousand dollars for a 4-point buck.  Stomach flu, which probably isn’t over yet. What’s next??

After all that, it occurred to me that I need to add to all the high-minded touchy-feely things I’m thankful for. Here’s the down-and-dirty list.

Thank you, Lord, for:

Hot water, and the pipes that carry it.

Paper towels. Bottled water. Red plastic cups.

Cell phones. Air bags. Volunteer firefighters and EMT’s.

Friends who’ll come get you after you’ve had a wreck.

And the phrase,

“Things could’ve been a lot worse.”

 

Copyright 2004, Elizabeth F. Holt

Chip's Jeep Cherokee. Totaled.Chip’s Jeep Cherokee. Totaled.4-Point Buck. Totaled.4-Point Buck. Totaled.We waited till David graduated high school before posting this photo in the newspaper.We waited till David graduated high school before posting this photo in the newspaper.

OUR MIDWESTERN THANKSGIVING

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Our Midwestern Thanksgiving!

By Beth Holt

November, 2000

Thanksgiving!

Oh, the memories! Mama’s marvelous dressing and gravy, twenty-five pound turkeys, Grandmother’s banana pudding, starched damask tablecloths, shiny silver, sparkling crystal, and first-class fiddle-playing from the back bedroom. For decades, our family celebrations had continued in the same manner. We moved several times over the years as the power company transferred Daddy around, so the dining rooms looked different, but the participants stayed the same. As time went on, we added boyfriends who became husbands, and soon, a new generation of  babies babbled and cooed as Mama insisted she’d “never seen a child that young do” whatever. But suddenly and sadly, things changed. Grandmother Frick died, Granddaddy was in the VA Hospital up in Asheville, and Thanksgiving just wasn’t going to be the same.

So, sisters Margie, Carole and I decided to institute a new tradition, and take a road trip to spend Thanksgiving with Granddaddy Robinson in Joplin.  That’s in Missoura, as they say — a fur piece from North Carolina.  We crammed ourselves, and Carole’s daughter Lisa, who was about 6 years old, into a pint-sized Datsun 510, and headed west.

It doesn’t look very far on the map. Only halfway across the country – just a matter of inches. But in a 1970 Datsun, eleven hundred miles with close female relatives is pure agony. We began the drive in Charlotte with great excitement and good spirits. My driving shift began around midnight as we crossed into Tennessee, and the excitement waned as night wore on. I was careful to be very quiet so my relief drivers could get plenty of sleep. Funny thing though – when the sun came up, everyone else was wide awake and raring to go, and not the least bit interested in whether or not I got any sleep. Their high spirits continued and they chattered all the way through Arkansas while I tossed and turned in my tiny corner of the back seat, plotting all manner of torturous revenge.

Putting three sisters into a compact Japanese car for over twenty-four hours straight is a sure recipe for disaster, but we figured that the end would be worth the means. Granddaddy Robinson, known to most everyone as Robbie, was great fun, and he loved to eat out. Thanksgiving Dinner with Granddad, who was a connoisseur of great places to dine, would definitely be worth the trip.

The interesting thing about Robbie is that he wasn’t related to us at all. His love and commitment to our family was simply a matter of choice.  Born in 1882, Robbie was old – impossibly old, and it jolted me to realize that he had been too old to fight even in World War ONE. He loved being a golf-playing nonogenarian, and enjoyed bragging that he’d end up being killed by a jealous husband when he was 100. Recently, he’d lost his good eye to a golf ball accident, but he got around better than folks half his age, and had a series of red-headed widows who brought him casseroles and chauffered him around the country in his Buick.

Somewhere in his long and illustrious life, Robbie met and married a woman named Ruby, who had adopted a boy born to her older sister.  Whoever conceptualized the TV character “Maude” had to have known Ruby.  She was a tough-talking businesswoman with a gruff manner and raspy voice that betrayed her smoking habit, and she was the first drinking woman I ever met. Her first husband, according to family legend, ran off to Mexico, and if you ever met Ruby, you could sorta understand why. In 1940,  Ruby’s adopted son, George Van Hoorebeke, married our mother, and was the father of my older sisters, Carole and Virginia.

Ruby passionately loved her son, and when he married Mama, she welcomed and loved her just as passionately, and the two of them had a close relationship for the rest of Ruby’s life. Long after Ruby died, Robbie, who had no children of his own, still loved Mama and often introduced her as his daughter.

World War II rained tragedy on almost every American family, rearranging lives for generations to come, and ours was no exception. Captain Van Hoorebeke was killed in France, and Mama, a war widow with two little girls, worked as an accountant at Camp Crowder, Missouri. In the waning days of the war, a young signal officer from South Carolina was assigned to Camp Crowder, where Mama was a hot commodity since she owned one of the few automobiles on post. The company commander had his eye on Mama’s best friend, but what with wartime rationing and shortages of everything, he had a major logistical problem. There was no transportation in which to court. When the lovestruck captain found out that Mama had wheels, he took advantage of the opportunity and ordered Lieutenant Frick to ask her out so they could double-date.

Lieutenant Frick wasn’t too keen on the idea, as he still had his eye on a little French girl, and at least one Louise in South Carolina thought he was coming back to her. But he had no choice but to follow orders, and soon Mississippi’s Marguerite electrified the young engineer. A few months later in Ruby’s living room, Daddy married Mama, daughters and all, and our family extended beyond mere bloodlines. Daddy took his new bride and the girls back to Greenville, South Carolina, where he “could get everything wholesale.”

Twenty-some years later (and it felt like we had spent the entire twenty years crammed into that miniature Japanese torture chamber) we pulled up to the curb in front of Robbie’s classic stone bungalow on Joplin’s Main Street. It was late Wednesday night, and we crawled wearily under crocheted bedspreads on antique beds, tired and hungry, because 90-year-old one-eyed golfers who eat out all the time are notorious for having empty refrigerators. But that was okay, because we knew we would be wined and dined in fine style come Thanksgiving noon.

Thanksgiving Day dawned bright and beautiful in the midwestern sunlight, and we relaxed through the morning, reacquainting ourselves with the house that held so many memories. The furnishings were from a different era, and wartime pictures of Mama and my sisters graced the walls and dressers of the bedrooms. Down the street, at the corner of the block was an old-fashioned ice-cream shop that had I had never forgotten, though I was only a toddler the last time we’d been to Joplin. Progress had come to Joplin, so the neighborhood wasn’t what it used to be, evidenced by the encroachment of a fast-food enterprise across the street strangely named the Sophisticated Chicken.

Finally, after eleven hundred miles and weeks of anticipation, it was  time for Thanksgiving Dinner. We dressed up in our 1970s version of fashion, which was certainly “down” rather than “up”, and hurried out to the Buick early so we could “beat the crowd”. Soon, we’d be enjoying an incomparable meal in Joplin’s finest restaurant  or  country club.

We were confused when Granddad pulled into the parking lot of the local mall, and soon we saw hordes of hungry holiday diners lining up outside Morrison’s Cafeteria.

We looked around, hoping to see that a really fine restaurant was just  around the corner, but presently, the reality of the situation became clear. There would be no four-star meal with gourmet oyster dressing and pumpkin flan. We were joining the masses for plainer fare at the local cafeteria. Disappointed, but hungry, and realizing that cafeteria food would be better than no food at all, we started to follow the crowd and stake out a place in line. And then, Granddaddy uttered the words that none of us will ever forget.

“Oh, no. We’re not going to Morrison’s.   Walgreen’s has a Blue Plate Turkey Special for a dollar eighty-nine.”

Suddenly, the cafeteria we had heretofore disdained looked awfully appealing.

Eleven hundred miles. Twenty-four hours in Hirohito’s revenge. Nothing to eat in the house when we got there. Barely any breakfast. And here we were, homesick, sleep-deprived, and ravenously hungry, heading in the opposite direction of the holiday hordes, into Walgreen’s Drugstore, of all places. For Thanksgiving Dinner.

The five of us were the only customers in the place, ’cause everybody else in town was at the fancy restaurant, the country club, or at least Morrison’s. If Ruby was Maude, our waitress was Flo, and bless her heart, she served us the worst cardboard excuse for turkey and dressing to ever come out of a freezer, along with something sticky that was vaguely reminiscent of pumpkin pie. And they didn’t even have any cranberry sauce.

We choked back  tears as we choked down the food, and like well-brought up Southern girls, we lied and told Granddad how delicious everything was. Another thing we discovered about ninety-year old one-eyed golfers is that their taste buds died about thirty years ago.

Thankfully, the rest of the week-end was fun. Granddad took us over to Bartlesville, Oklahoma to see whatever it is that attracts tourists there, and I think we played golf, though to be honest, I don’t remember much. I never recovered from pulling the all night driving shift, and spent most of our sightseeing time in the car with my head lolled back against the back seat, snoring. And then, on Saturday, we crammed ourselves back into the Tin Can, and did eleven hundred miles all over again.

Since that year, there have been dozens more Thanksgiving Dinners. We spent three in Germany with friends from all over the States where we foundered on every kind of regional specialty imaginable. There were Thanksgiving dinners with the troops, when the officers donned dress blues and served the enlisted men. In recent years, we’ve had wonderful times with the Holt family in South Boston, where the kids play bingo and make their own memories. And I’ve learned to make a pretty mean giblet gravy myself.

Not every Thanksgiving dinner was Martha Stewart perfect. There was the time in Burlington when Margie ran crying to her bedroom when Daddy chose that particular moment to reveal that her long “lost” dog had actually been put down years earlier, and he hadn’t had the heart to tell her the truth. And years later, Carole and Margie were with us at Ft. Benning when the oven element burned out and it took 12 hours to cook the turkey. There was a week-end at the beach that most of us would rather forget.  And a couple of years ago, the entire Holt family shared the worst kind flu bug in South Boston. Nope, they haven’t all been perfect.

But Walgreen’s Blue Plate Turkey Special for a dollar eighty-nine takes the cake.

Here’s to a much better dinner for you and yours!

Colossians 3:17 – And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

With a thankful heart for many, many blessings, Beth

THE GREAT INDEPENDENCE DAY SHEEP ROUND-UP

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July 4, 1994 will long be remembered in Holt Family History as the Day of the Great Sheep Round-Up. Earlier in the week, George stopped by the Hopewell Feed and Seed store on his way home from work.  He went in to pick up a bag of horse feed,  and came out with  what he – and he only – considered fantastic news. The owner, bless his sweet heart, had an entire flock of sheep that we could buy!

Oy, vey — such a DEAL!!

Maybe you don’t know how badly we did not need a flock of sheep. But, not being disposed to naysay an agricultural opportunity, we got up bright and early on July 4, and with three sons,  and our tried and true friend (and 6th cousin once removed),  Barbara, we convoyed in three trucks pulling horse trailers from Powhatan down to Dinwiddie County.

I’d never met the owner of the feed store, but I pictured a courtly, white-haired Virginia gentleman — an old-style Cavalier, maybe, with a handlebar mustache,  who rose with the roosters to lovingly tend his flock.  We looked forward to the scenic drive and naively made plans for a late afternoon cook-out.

But, as I passed throught the living room on the way out the door, “Good Morning America” reported that famed author and veterinarian, James Herriot, had been hospitalized that very day after being attacked by — what else?  A flock of sheep.  We should have seen the handwriting on the wall.

George assured me that the owner would have the sheep penned up and ready to load when we got there, so it wouldn’t take very long.. (Just remember — sheep are DUMB. Sheep owners are sometimes dumbER.)

Just before eight o’clock, right on time, we three drivers bounced our trucks down a bumpy dirt road — but instead of a stately ante-bellum manor house at the end of the lane,  a compound of ante-bellum double-wides came into view. Peaceful and quiet it was not. The early morning silence was shattered by a chorus of frenzied howls coming from dozens of tormented canines; all of questionable breeding but obviously related. The owner, oblivious to the dogs, walked sleepily out the door nursing a cup of coffee, and to my great disappointment,  he didn’t  remotely resemble Robert E. Lee. Dressed in camouflage pants and a muscle shirt, with a torn olive drab bandanna around his shaggy head, he was the consummate representation of “Rambo meets Hulk Hogan.” Unfortunately for us, he had started on his Fifth for the Fourth on the Third, and had forgotten all about penning up the sheep. Not to worry, he assured us, we’d have ’em loaded in no time. Right.

We found the flock — 30 or so head of Suffolks –thin, skittish, and badly in need of shearing– in a VERY large pasture – about ten acres. And to the less-than-bucolic barks, howls and yips of dozens of inbred hounds, we began the hopeless process of trying to catch thirty terrified sheep. Enticing them with grain was totally unsuccessful — they’d never been fed, so even Purina’s best sheep pellets meant nothing to them.  One of the dogs had some sheepdog in his ancestry, but succeeded only in driving them farther and farther away from the trailers. Bryan and Chip tackled a straggler every now and then, but gave up after being dragged 30 or 40 feet.  And then, Rambo’s 10-year-old son, “Bubba” (no lie) revved up this huge John Deere tractor and chased the sheep around in circles, to no avail. They were in no mood to cooperate.

Rambo watched for a while, deep in thought, and came up with a brilliant solution. He figured he’d go get his paint stallion, Thunder, and round ’em up —  cowboy style.

But he wasn’t any more adept at catching Thunder than he was at herding sheep. We waited 45 minutes, learning to identify individual dogs by their distinctive yelps, while he caught the paint stallion, tacked him up, and rode him back up to the sheep field. Well, it soon became obvious to everyone except Rambo that sheep aren’t a whit intimidated by paint stallions.

Meanwhile, Rambo’s wife and 5-year old daughter, Maggie, came out to join the fun. Mrs. Rambo was outfitted for the occasion in a denim dress and straw hat accented by a black silk rose. A camera dangled from around her neck to complement the ensemble.  Maggie, somewhat of free spirit, was dressed – barely – in a frilly red negligee several sizes too big and many years too old for her.  It it hung by one strap from her shoulder — and she was barefooted.  In a field full of farm-animal excrement.  Barefooted.  A step or two away from a paint stallion.  Barefooted.

Mrs. Rambo, hands on hips, began coaching from sidelines. “Len, it’ll never work thataway!….yer not doin’ it right!….Shut up, Mud…Hush, Cisco!….”  She screamed…..and the dogs kept barking…and the sheep just went wherever they darn well pleased.  And did I mention that it was getting very hot and muggy?

So, capricious little  Maggie ran around the pasture, hiking up her negligee, picking up baby field mice, hollering at the dogs, and getting precariously close to the wheels of the big John Deere.  I’d had about enough, so the next time she got within arm’s reach,  I scooped her up, looked her in the eye, tossed her into the bed of an F-150, and said,

“If you  get  out of that pick-up truck I’ll break every bone in your body!”

That worked —for about 8 seconds, when she told me she didn’t “haf to!”

George and the boys, dripping with sweat,  kept walking patiently around the pasture, and every time it looked like the flock was finally cornered, the sheep would cut and run, stampeding in thirty different directions.

Rambo gave up on the paint stallion, took off the bridle and let him run loose in the field.

BIG mistake —we knew after a couple of equine trumpet calls that Thunder was interested only in doing What Stallions Do Best. Maggie yelled, “Daddy, yo’ stallion’s tryin’ to get to them mares.”

We looked, and sure enough, he was succeeding — through a wire fence. And the dogs kept barking, the wife kept screaming, the sheep kept running away, and I began to wonder if we had dropped into the Twilight Zone.

Eventually, George and the boys devised a way to herd the sheep into a corner and fence them in with unhooked pasture gates, and then they actually picked  ’em up, one at a time, and threw them  onto the trailer. Bryan grabbed one of the ewes by the head, wrestled her front feet into the rig, and the look of triumph on his face changed to pure disgust as a warm stream of sheep urine ran down his leg.

It took five hours — FIVE HOURS of our 4th of July —  to get the sheep loaded. That was the good news. The bad news was that the cream of the crop, the piece de resistance, the registered Suffolk ram, the one George REALLY wanted, was running loose out in the woods. Ignoring our impassioned pleas to “Forget the ram!!” George jumped into the car, and with a maniacal gleam in his eye, blazed a trail through the woods with my shiny new Suburban and horse trailer. At this point, I began to seriously question the sanity of the man I so naively married twenty years ago.

It only took Rambo and George about another hour to FIND the ram. Then they had to rope him, wrestle him to the ground, and coax him onto the trailer.  My beloved  Suburban finally reappeared from the woods, covered in mud, but the driver was jubilant. The rest of us were hot, tired, hungry, irritated, miserable, and desperately in need of indoor plumbing. Aggravated to the nines, we slammed the metal doors of the horse trailers, headed our convoy out the driveway and stopped at the double-wide to pay Rambo an outrageous sum of money. And when George, still giddy from his conquest, turned around to climb back into his pickup, one of those confound hounddogs ran up, attacked him, and took a bite out of his leg.

  • And that’s the truth.

Copyright 1995, Elizabeth F. Holt