One week from today, June 16 (the day after Father’s Day) will be my father’s 83rd birthday. He has always been the person I have most admired in my life. I adored him with daughterly devotion as a child, sought in a spouse someone who could make me laugh as Daddy does (Southern girls, no matter how aged, ALWAYS refer to their fathers as “Daddy.” To do otherwise is sacrilege), and cherish the all-too-rare times we get to put the world aside and just be together.
The one greatest gift my daddy has given me is the appreciation of fine storytelling. Just like fine wine, a good story just gets better with time. In celebration of Daddy, I have decided to take time this week to share some of my favorite Tales that I’ve heard since I was knee-high to a grasshopper and of which I never tire. Today’s Tale is not a Daddy story per se, but one he tells on HIS parents. Since my grandfather (Daddy’s father) died when my daddy was 12, I can’t help but wonder where he first heard it, as I can’t imagine Daddy’s mother telling this on herself. She DID have two half-brothers known for their mischievousness–they seem the most likely candidates, but the reason why is (you guessed it) a Tale for Another Day.
Let’s get off the rabbit trail and back on topic. This story takes place during my grandparents’ honeymoon. A.P. Senior was a traveling salesman who hailed from Wilkesboro, NC–deep in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains that line the western edge of that state. His father (my great-grandfather) was one of only three men from Company C of the 26th North Carolina Regiment to survive Pickett’s Charge–an especially fortunate occurrence, else none of us would be here now. He married Mattie Lou (whom everyone called “Lucy”–“Mama Lucy” to me and the other grandchildren) late in life–he was 60, Mama Lucy was in her mid-20’s when they wed in the early 1920’s. Her father had been the first attorney to set up practice in Colquitt County, GA, and she was raised with a degree of comfort, but the debts he had amassed at the time of his death relegated Mama Lucy and her mother to a life of genteel poverty. In other words, they had (and maintained) social status in the small town of Moultrie, GA, but were always strapped for cash to meet living expenses.
Anyway, back to the honeymoon. A.P., Sr. took Mama Lucy to his home in Wilkes Co., N.C. to meet his family and close friends. Remember, this is the early 1920’s, and (especially in remote rural areas) automobiles still have “novelty” status, even my grandfather’s Model A. On one visit, to see my grandfather’s closest friend (who went by the name of Coot Shephard), the road ended about a half-mile from the house. The car was parked, and my grandparents walked the rest of the way to an eagerly-awaited reunion.
The visit was everything you’d expect–warm greetings for the old-friend-not-seen-in-God-knows-when, admiration of the young bride, plenty of Southern hospitality (something that transcends every race and social stratum), good food, good conversation, lots of stories swapped. In short, a good time was had by all, but all good things must come to an end. So, too, must this visit. Tearful goodbyes were said, many hugs and handshakes exchanged; you know the drill. So the final goodbye was finally said, and my grandparents began the half-mile hike back to the car.
It was at this point that Mama Lucy could have benefited from a bit of wisdom given me by my parents when I was a junior in high school and began dating a boy at the University who hailed from the mountainous northwest corner of Georgia. Mama and Daddy gave me fair warning: “Mountain people are funny.” They didn’t mean humorous, although folks from the mountains can be quite entertaining when inclined to do so. Too bad no one had given Mama Lucy such a tip before she married a “mountain person” and went to meet his people, because just before they had disappeared into the woods, Coot hollered out in a final farewell “Come back any time, Philo, and bring your woman with you!”
Fortunately for all involved, Mama Lucy’s genteel upbringing prevented her from losing that handsome red head of hers, but once they were safely shut into the car, Mama Lucy let “Philo” have it with both barrels: Oh, she had never been so insulted in her life; how DARE that rube refer to a lady in such a manner; how could this man she had married allowed such a besmirchment of her character to go unchallenged…come on, folks, we’ve all been either on the giving or the receiving end of one of these rants at least once in our lives.
Anyway, my grandfather patiently allowed my grandmother to vent her red-headed anger, then stilled it with the soft-spoken, immortal words: “Shut up, Lucy. If he hadn’t liked you, he wouldn’t have asked you back!”