During the Christmas holidays a few years back I got a phone call from a Boston friend. His first words were “Well, I just had a Flannery O’Connor experience.”
Now, my friend is a true Bostonian – born in Boston, went to college in Boston, entire journalism career working in Boston. But he had recently married a woman from eastern North Carolina, and he had spent the Christmas holidays with her family, way south of his geographical comfort zone.
My friend usually is not fazed by new experiences, but too much of his knowledge of the South has been based on conversations with me and other newspaper veterans from south of the Mason-Dixon. And we Southerners are known to exaggerate when talking about our background, and, perhaps more damning, to nurture eccentricity in fellow Southerners to ensure we have dependable sources for our tales.
I wanted details, and he quickly obliged. The day after Christmas, it seems, featured generous amounts of alcohol, runaway ice, and a pair of great-uncles, one of whom had lost his driver’s license because of DUI incidents. “Instead of Over the River and Through the Woods,” he said, “the excursion was Over the Highway and Through the Fields.”
Early on the 26th, one of his bride’s uncles – we’ll call him Doc – made the decision to visit HIS uncle, who lived a few miles away. There they met up with the great-uncle, who will be Buster here, and his brother. “Since the loss of his driver’s license,” my friend continued, “the brother kept up with his relatives by driving through farm fields to the highway, then looking around to make sure there was no evidence of the constabulary before gunning his vehicle across the road.”
As Doc and my friend arrived at Buster’s, the first thing they noticed “was one of those Chevrolet Impalas from the ‘70s, you know, about the size of Indiana; it was parked in the front yard with a “For Sale” sign stuck inside the windshield.
“After a moonshine-fueled welcome from the great-uncles-in-law, the bourbon came out, and we were introduced to Buster’s new refrigerator, which featured an ice-maker and dispenser in the door. The bourbon required ice, of course, but Buster had not mastered the dispenser and ice was soon flying all over the kitchen. It was like ice-skating on linoleum.
“When I went to the bathroom, there were four stand-up urinals. I guess they were from an old theater or some public building and he had gotten a deal on ‘em. They were all connected to the plumbing; if you’re going to plumb one, might as well plumb them all.
“The bourbon kept flowing, and the flying ice was making it more difficult to maneuver, so I started taking small sips to regulate my intake – someone had to stay sober. That turned out to be the best decision, as it was decided that I should see the beaver dam down on the other side of the farm, and since I possessed a valid driver’s license I was drafted to be the wheelman.
“The for-sale sign was removed from the Chevy and we set off across the fields. The car apparently still had its original shocks and the fields had exacted a heavy toll. Controlling the Impala on North Carolina farm fields in December was like handling a winter sled in New England. The tires were baloney skins and a lot of quick spinning of the steering wheel was the only way to keep the car from bogging down in mud.
Sure, there was a beaver dam on the creek, which I think was probably the farm’s border. It had flooded maybe a low acre, and the adjacent saplings had suffered the beavers’ craftsmanship. Not a beaver in sight. So, for all of the build-up and transportation perils what we had was essentially a visit to an irrigation pond.
“As I started the drive back to the farmhouse, I worried I would never gain traction. And I was NOT walking back through those barren, furrowed acres with three drunk Tarheels, who seemed unconcerned – or oblivious – to any potential predicament.
“A successful return trip, I suppose, was all that kept my motoring skills from being the most memorable aspect of the outing. Funny what passes for holiday entertainment in Dorches, North Carolina.”