Yes Ma’am and Yes Sir! Immersed in the Old South for longer than a half century, I applauded a steady stream of what I perceived to be genuine sweetness and the spirit of both uninhibited jocularity and spontaneous fun. Lately, I figure my approval of Southerners ended at my own front door…through an accident of birth I landed into a transplanted Southern household located in Hoosierland. My deduction? Happiness hinges on WHOM you know and not WHAT or WHERE you know. I got blessed with parents whom I regarded, after a significant passage of time, as real people, not sugar-coated phonies but genuinely loving souls. Southern hospitality flowed naturally through their veins because they literally possessed hearts which not only kept their blood pumping but those figurative hearts, open and generous, that allowed absolutely everybody into their bloodstreams. Prejudices? They had none of those. The societal stumbling of Food Connoisseur and Southerner Paula Deen would have appalled them. My mom and dad defied classification — as well as… “location, location, location”. Roy and Edna, always individuals, would have been just as dear had they hailed from France or Outer Mongolia.
Each August for as long as I can remember, my textile plant manager dad ordered, during the very early morning hours of his birthday, a couple dozen banana splits from our local Dairy Queen located on “Old Highway 30” back in the day. The owners referred to as the Goodman Sisters, sporting their jaunty little vendor caps and pristine white uniforms, scooped together a collection of boat-like ice-cream confections drizzled with pineapple, strawberry, and chocolate syrups — finally topped with dollops of astutely aimed curlicued Reddi-Wip! Summer after summer, Daddy loaded cardboard box-lids positively over-flowing with those sundaes, throughout the years, into assorted vintage models of station wagons and then balanced the special delivery parcels across his forearms as he climbed the front staircase –two steps at a time– of the Blue Bell/ Wrangler Jeans factory. Once inside, he positioned a succulent surprise onto each desk of all of the “girls in the office” starting with the switchboard ladies and on and on all the way up and down the tiled hallways of the front office area. His astroLOGICAL sign being LEO, he fit that horoscopic bill to the Nth degree…bigger than Life, a roaringly happy and regal soul who always meant business … even while having a ball and inviting others to join in his merriment!
I recently googled a few of the delightful folks I remember from my past…most of whom enjoyed an affiliation with the Blue Bell Manufacturing Company… just to see where some of those loyal employees disappeared to or what successes they might have achieved as the years passed. Sadly, most had died…never in my heart though. Blue Bell psychologist and Iowa native Dr. Roy Standahl was father to two fabulous, fun-loving sons named Jon and Jerry, with whom I played board games and cards and drank oodles of Pepsi and devoured endless packages of pretzels and potato chips twice per summer as the family tooled through Columbia City on their way from North Carolina to their Minnesota lake cottage and back home again. Both “boys” earned Ph.Ds. in psychology, just like their pop. Sadly, Dr. Jon Standahl is now gone — yet, according to his obituary, once wrote a quirkily instructive children’s book outlining his own imaginative version of the origin of Santa Claus! I ordered a copy immediately, and as I read his account of Father Christmas, I recalled Jon’s intelligence. I recaptured a glimpse of that hilarious, unpretentious, lanky fellow I grew up alongside.
Martin Wimbs, one of the more sparkling “engineers” — who eventually transferred to our small town from the Greensboro, North Carolina headquarters of Blue Bell, Incorporated (and then back again) — left an enduring impression upon me during my junior high school days because each time he visited Columbia City, he would insist upon dropping by our house to teach me advanced Cribbage skills. Martin and Nelle, with their children Lee, Donnie (whom my dad kept supplied with stuffed toy monkeys), and baby Shauna, moved to Columbia City at the close of the 50s and lived contentedly for several seasons in that cute house facing the Kleespie family’s parsonage and immediately behind Mrs. Salesman’s “bed-and-breakfast” GUEST HOUSE. Nelle’s down-home cooking — somehow incorporating slivered almonds and water chestnuts perpetually into every innovative casserole– coupled with Martin’s winsomely witty personality remain unforgettable. A Facebook participant well into his 80s, Martin died this spring of 2013. Remarkable accomplishments during a colorful lifetime– revealed in his obituary — never ever got detailed by this modest gentleman, such as his “Merchant Marine” days or the piloting of private planes around and about 54 countries, but I shall always remember this unique person as a charmer possessing an air of intriguing mystery and a thirst for adventure.
Martin’s grandson Michael and I, now Facebook buddies for three years, enjoy exchanging stories of his family and mine. Among many impressive tributes on his site, to his grandfather Martin, I noticed a blog entry by James A. Martin, a “Southerner in San Francisco”. James typically writes about Dixie-Carter-and-Governor-Ann-Richards-types, restaurants, beaches, political leanings, human rights, diversity, Free Thinkers, expansive and inclusive ideals, and various other notable and noble topics. Mr. Martin, a contributor to the “New York Times” and “Entertainment Weekly”, co-authored “Getting Organized in the Google Era” with Dr. Douglas C. Merrill, former chief information officer of Google and a Princeton graduate; that beguiling textbook is currently stacked among several “must-read” titles upon our kitchen table.
Shauna (Wimbs) Gamble shared a loving last moment memory of her father Martin Wimbs with James, her former school-days classmate. The topic involved “A First and Last Sip of Cheerwine”, a cherry-flavored soft drink brewed in the Tar Heel state. “Shauna’s sister Pam is a Cheerwine devotee. She nearly always carries a can of it… On the last afternoon of her father’s life, Pam goes to visit him in his hospice room, Cheerwine in hand. Her father notices the red soft drink can. Though he’d never tried the fizzy drink before in his 86 years, he was curious about it. He asks Pam for a taste…’That’s pretty good,’ he says afterwards. And other than perhaps a sip or two of water, that swig of Cheerwine was his last drink.”
Folksy Hoosier comic and big band conductor/singer Phil Harris, raised in Tennessee, achieved fame in the mid 30s with a tune entitled “That’s What I Like about the South!” I discovered that what I like about the Southland is that I have developed a fondness for a few kindred souls who, like myself, have emerged with Southern bloodlines intact but a fresh new world view…no longer steeped in fundamentalism, rigid conservatism, racism, barbecues, fried chicken, hog roasts, mint juleps swigged at country clubs, RC Colas, MoonPies, “Matlock” hot dogs, bull-headedness, and unwarranted senses of entitlement. Facebook, in all of its glory, allows reasonable and properly evolved children of the South to locate one another at our sundry stations scattered around the globe and to continue to respect precious Dixieland traditions which sometimes fall between the cracks — easy graciousness, spirited fun, soft hearts, cordial adaptability and culinary open-mindedness. James and I are wide-eyed, wild-eyed, wise-eyed newly minted Vegans/Vegetarians striving to make sense of a new epoch recently dubbed “Anthropocene” by an ecologist named Eugene F. Stoermer and publicized widely by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Paul Crutzen. As the late comedian Tar Heel Andy Griffith might have described this newly-named era, “What it is…is a lengthy football field of a timeline during which manKIND has messed up this ‘cow pasture’ of a planet ‘from one end to the other’ and sorely needs to clean up its act without either spilling our ‘big orange drinks’ or ‘gettin’ knocked down or steppin’ in somethin.‘ ” (A Tip of My Paraphrased Hat to Griffith’s popular monologue “What It Was, Was Football!”)
POSTSCRIPT: “In the South, some restaurants still list french fries as a vegetable. This wonderfully creative view of vegetables should come in handy — as I flirt with vegetarianism. And so, in advance of my next cholesterol test…I decided to take my efforts to a new level. Nearly every morning, I’m eating steel-cut oatmeal with flax seed and slivered almonds. I’m swallowing supplements throughout the day: Metamucil capsules, CholestOff, Niacin… I’ve already learned something valuable. I’m not as wedded to my old Southern-by-way-of-San-Francisco diet as I assumed. This old dawg can learn new tricks–and perhaps even prefer them to the old ones. Who knows? In any event, it’s comforting to know that french fries are a vegetable.” ~ My new friend and fellow blogger James A. Martin, inventive creator of “A First , and Last , Sip of Cheerwine” & “Confessions of a Southern-Fried Quasi Vegetarian”