Pansy Faye Buckner owned the local café, where you could get a meat and three for just under $2.00. Chicken breasts were a daily menu item and every Friday, the regulars flocked in to relish her famous fried green tomatoes, made from a carefully guarded recipe passed down from her grandmother.
She inherited the café from her grandfather, a would be entrepreneur who had owned everything from flower shops to fillin’ stations. He never achieved wealth in monetary terms, but he had been rich beyond imagination when it came to friends.
Pansy Faye was one of those people who called everybody darlin’. She was average in every sense of the word. Average height, average weight and average looks. One might even describe her as unimpressive, except for one titillating attribute. She was endowed with a bosom that women envied and men lusted after. She laughed when she said, “the good Lord didn’t bestow me with great beauty, but when he was handing out breasts, I thought he was talking about chicken, so I got in line twice.”
She never had time for a relationship because when her parents died, she kept a promise that she would take care of her younger sister Lucy Mae, a late-in-life child who had been born with Down’s Syndrome.
Lucy Mae had been a permanent fixture in the café until she was thirty-eight years old. She loved popcorn, so Pansy Faye always kept a few bags on hand, just for her. One day, while eating the popcorn, Lucy Mae started laughing, and then started choking. Despite valiant efforts by Pansy Faye and other patrons, Lucy Mae choked to death. Guilt-ridden, and in her memory, Pansy Faye changed the name of the café to “Lucy Mae’s,” and vowed to never allow popcorn in her café again.
Down the road a piece, stood a store called, “Get It Here.” It was owned by a man named Elwyn Turner, but everybody in town just called him “Pop.” He was a good old soul with a kind heart, who would “carry you” until your next paycheck, should you be a just a little short on cash. In his store, you could buy everything from a kitchen table to a brand new mattress, cleverly advertised as having “never even been peed on.”
He was a grandfatherly type, who wore dark tortoise-shell rimmed glasses that framed coke-bottle lenses. Due to an unfortunate encounter with a chainsaw when he was in his forties, he was missing two fingers on his left hand. He buried them under a tree behind the store and every anniversary of the accident, he would put little flowers on their grave.
His wife had taken a trip up to Heaven to be with Jesus some time ago but not long after, he acquired a new companion. One day he saw something scampering around in the back room of the store. Not wanting to kill one of Gods’ little creatures, he set a trap in an old bird cage. He was amused when he saw what he had caught, and immediately named him “Mousey Tung.”
He fed him corn and peanut butter crackers. It wasn’t until a few months later, he realized that Mousey had grown far bigger than he expected. Oh goodness! Mousey Tung was a wharf rat! But Pop didn’t care. How he got into that store, no one could ever figure out, but whatever the reason, Mousey Tung had found a permanent home.
Ron Carson was the local mechanic and had a reputation as did everybody, for being as honest as the day was long. He never had any formal training, and tinkering as he called it, just came natural to him. For some reason, how a car ran made sense to him. At some point in time, he had “laid hands” on every single car in Whisper.
He was married to his high school sweetheart, and they had two boys named Peter Paul and Paul Peter. It was a family thing and the townsfolk found it to be endearing rather than strange.
Ron had a genetic flaw that prevented his permanent teeth from forming. He kept his baby teeth until he was well into his twenties, but then they started falling out. When he lost the last one, he was given dentures which he did not like, because because he didn’t think they fit right.
He was always taking them out and leaving them somewhere. One afternoon, he got a call. He had left his teeth on the bumper of a customers’ car and by some miracle, they hadn’t fallen off. His reasoning was that the monstrous amount of denture cream he had used, had given his teeth a “firm grip.”
Leroy the barber was a real hoot. He was a diminutive man, with a shock of silver hair and jet black eyebrows that looked like huge, wooly caterpillars. His favorite saying was, “I ain’t never seen the beat in my life.” The walls in his shop were covered with pictures of Hollywood movie stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Betty Grable and Susan Hayward, but his favorite was Marilyn Monroe standing over that subway grate. When she died, he mourned her death and placed a wreath on his front door.
All the men came to his shop to get their hair cut and most were still stuck in the “ducktail” days. They sat around telling tall tales and jaw-jacking, as they called it. When they walked in, they always, with a wink and a grin, asked, “ well, Leroy. How’s mama?” Leroy would smile and say, “I reckon she’s fair to midlin’.”
Everybody knew that Leroy carried his mama around in the trunk of his car. When she died, he couldn’t bring himself to plant her in the cold dark ground, so he had her cremated. He never could find just the right urn to hold her ashes so he put them in his trunk, and that’s where she had resided for the last nine or so years. Leroy loved to joke around and would muse that now and then he reckoned mama was gettin’ a little antsy, because he could hear a faint voice saying, “let me ooooout…let me ooooout.”
Leroy said that during his years of “barbering,” he had seen wild hair, tame hair, lots of hair and no hair. He had seen black hair turn grey, blonde hair turn brown, and thick hair turn thin.
There had only been one mishap in his shop, and it involved a young man named Billy Ray. Billy Ray drove a slightly used, seacrest green pick-up truck he named “the jolly green giant.” He had worked mowing yards and doing other odd jobs, until he had made enough money to plop down two hundred dollars and drive it off the lot.
It was prom time and Billy Ray was excited beyond words. He was taking his best girl. She had only been his best girl for a few weeks, but he was smitten. He wanted to look what he called, “spiffy,” so he went in for “just a tiny little trim.” Unfortunately, the attachment fell off the clippers just as Leroy was running them across the top of Billy Rays’ head, and he skinned him. What initially looked much like a reverse Mohawk, became Billy Rays’ new bald head, but he was good-natured and said, “aw, it’s just hair and I reckon it’ll grow back. Besides, she might dig this new look.”
On that memorable day, as Billy Ray was walking out, Reverend Smythe was walking in. He chuckled when he looked at Billy Ray and said, “good grief, son. What the hell happened to your hair?”
Reverend Smythe was a hell-fire and brimstone Baptist preacher who taught the fear of God, and wanted everybody to be ready for their ever-lastin’ callin’. He didn’t mind using a bit of profanity now and then, if it got his point across and he would sometimes surprise the congregation with an off-color comment, such as “all you single men out there…remember…masturbation makes Jesus weep.”
One thing he would not tolerate was anyone taking the Lords’ name in vain. When he would hear somebody innocently say, “oh, my Lord,” he would say, “you might ought not be calling on the good Lord, unless you’re really needin’ him.”
Reverend Smythe was an avid reader of anything written by Earl Stanley Gardner. He particularly enjoyed the Perry Mason stories he read at his leisure, but he could read a paperback novel in one day. He was even known to read Harlequin Romance Novels on the sly. He got a twinkle in his eye when he said, “there’s nothing better than a good murder mystery or a great romance.”
Reverend Smythe was married to the church but at one time, he had a sweetheart. Word around town was that they were a handsome pair. He was a tall, fetching man and she was considered to be the catch of the town. She was a free spirit and had her own idea about a “higher power.” She even suggested to Reverend Smythe that God might be a woman. Being a fundamentalist, Reverend Smythe couldn’t justify her views, nor could she accept his, so they parted ways. He became bitter and found forgiveness difficult, but he sojourned on and through his faith, eventually found peace.
She left Whisper and they lost touch, but she was never far from his mind. He kept a worn and tattered picture of her tucked away in his Bible, next to the circled scripture, “and when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you and your sins.”
He believed in an omnipresent God who heard and answered all prayers. He preached that good would always outweigh evil, and honor and integrity were the mark of a true Christian. He ended every sermon, reciting The Golden Rule and followed it with the Lords’ Prayer. Outside the church, every parishioner got a handshake, a smile and a, “God bless you.”
He had unwavering faith, but soon that faith would be put to the ultimate test.
To be continued________________________
This is another re-run from 2017. Some changes made here and there.