Years ago, when Carroll and I lived in the Chicago suburb of Brookfield, we often took long walks through the neighborhood on warm summer evenings. And on one such walk, we got acquainted with two couples from Tennessee.
Danny and his wife, Dot, and Danny's brother and sister-in-law, Earl and Lois, all lived together in a large ranch-style home nearby. Their four-year-old nephew, Phillip, the son of another brother, also lived with them.
Phillip was a peculiar little boy with a wise-beyond-his-years look and huge ears that stuck straight out. He strolled along with them, hands in his pockets, muttering something about "cooties." I tried to talk to him, but he always ignored me.
Our new friends loved company; their house was always full of people, most of whom were from Tennessee. They invited us over just about every weekend. And one Saturday night we accepted.
When we arrived, the party had already begun; some swigging beer, others picking their guitars and everyone singing. They knew just about every country song, and I was soon singing along with the group. The songs I most remember are He’ll Have to Go and Wings of a Dove.
Dot was the life of the party, laughing--mostly at herself--and talking in a shrill southern voice. She resembled Loretta Lynn, and even talked like her. (Believe it or not, there was also a girl there who resembled Minnie Pearl.)
Phillip was skulking here and there, giving everyone the evil eye, when all of a sudden he grabbed a cigarette butt from an ashtray and picked up one of the men’s lighters.
"Dot!" I said, "Phillip’s got a cigarette!"
Oh, for heaven sakes," Dot said, "I thought I’d broke him of that. I don’t know why on earth they gave him that first cigarette.”
Philip, still holding the lighter, smirked at me. And then he popped the butt back into his mouth and disappeared into the crowd.
Dot went back to her preparations, rushing to the stove to turn up the flame on the boiling wieners, which had already lost their color and curled into fetal positions. She served them on white bread, topped with scoops of firecracker-hot chili, whole-kernel corn on the side. For dessert, we had Ding Dongs.
Phillip ate three.
"Phillip, you're gonna make yourself sick if you don't quit eatin' them things," Danny said.
Phillip picked up another, unwrapped it, and took a big bite. "Cooties and oddballs," he muttered, chewing his Ding Dong and looking at me, "Cooties and oddballs all over the place."
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley