Coming of Age at the Y
Delores Lovelady's dream is to be Miss Channel Thirteen. Now she's heading to Nashville on a Greyhound Bus in the first step toward fulfilling that dream. With a new foreword by the dean of Alabama Letters, Don Noble, this rollicking novel presents a Southern Belle who's not so backwoods she can't figure out where her way lies, and not so Belle that she's unwilling or shy in doing whatever it takes to attain it.
ISBN: 978-1-60489-010-5 Library Binding $26 Sale $13.00
ISBN: 978-1-60489-011-2 Trade Paper $15.95 Sale $8.00
His early short story "The Stone Soldier" was named best story of the year by STORY Magazine and it has been widely anthologized, most recently in Philip Beidler's THE ART OF FICTION IN THE HEART OF DIXIE. Cobb's fiction also appears in the anthology ALABAMA BOUND: CONTEMPORARY STORIES OF A STATE. He has published six novels, COMING OF AGE AT THE Y (Portals Press, 1984), THE HERMIT KING (Portals Press,1987), A WALK THROUGH FIRE, (published by William Morrow & Co. in 1992, in mass-market paperback by Avon Books in 1993,and in Trade paperback by Crane Hill Press in 2000), HARRY REUNITED (1995, Black Belt Press), A SPRING OF SOULS,(1999,Crane Hill Publishers) and WINGS OF MORNING (2001, Crane Hill). His collection of short stories, SOMEWHERE IN ALL THIS GREEN: NEW AND SELECTED STORIES, was published by Black Belt Press in early 1999, and his newest novel, THE LAST QUEEN OF THE GYPSIES, was recently published by NewSouth Books. THE HERMIT KING was reissued in the fall of 2005, along with five new short stories and a forward by Bert Hitchcock, Hargis Professor of American Literature at Auburn University.
from the Book:
GOING TO THE BIG CITY
All the way to Nashville, she sat by a woman named Lucille Weary, who wore a yellow straw hat with red wooden cherries on the brim. There were lots of other empty seats, but her Aunt Hattie and Uncle Carl had instructed her to sit down by, if at all possible, an older woman, since there were sure to be drunk soldiers on the bus. They were standing on the platform watching her when she got on, so she sat down by the jolly looking woman in the straw hat, and her Uncle and Aunt had smiled and waved and nodded approvingly. They were still smiling, nodding and waving when the bus pulled away from Sam’s Café, which was also the Durango, Tennessee, bus station.
“See America first, I always say,” the woman in the straw hat said, smiling and Delores nodded. She was excited and nervous, and she could smell the bus’s dieselly fumes and the woman’s cream sachet. “Yes sir, see America first.”
“I’m only goin to Nashville,” Delores said.
“That ain’t America?” the woman said. She chuckled and closed her eyes, and Delores looked at her. She seemed to have fallen asleep. Delores looked around the bus. There were no drunk soldiers. There weren’t any soldiers at all. They were already out in the country, and the telephone poles zipped by outside the window. Somebody was playing a transistor radio, a tinny steel guitar plunking away. She was being escorted to Nashville by Chet Atkins.
“What for?” the woman beside her said.
“Beg your pardon?” Delores said.
“Whatcha goin to Nashville for, if you don’t mind my askin,” the woman said.
“I’m a finalist in the Miss Channel Thirteen contest,” Delores said. “My name is Delores.”
“That’s nice,” the woman said, “Lucille Weary.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Lucille Weary. That’s m’name, Lucille Weary.”
“Oh,” Delores said. “Are you going to Nashville, too?”
“No,” Lucille Weary said, “wisht I was, cause I’d be almost there, but I’m on my way to West Memphis, Arkansas, to visit my no-good son and his no-good wife.” She chuckled. “Gone stay right on through Thanksgiving and Christmas, too, this time, till the first o’ the year. I was there last Thanksgivin, and they took me to a Shoney’s Big Boy for Thanksgivin dinner. What’s America comin to?”
She closed her eyes again. Delores didn’t think she wanted an answer to her question, so she looked past her at the countryside going by outside the window. After a minute, Lucille Weary opened her eyes again. “You never would expect to find a bunch of hippies in West Memphis, Arkansas, would you?” she said.
“I don’t guess so,” Delores said. “Where is West Memphis, Arkansas?” Lucille Weary didn’t answer her, just sat looking steadily at her, eyes narrowed. Delores wondered if she had insulted her in some way. At last the woman grunted and looked away out the window. Delores decided it was best just to keep quiet.
They climbed into the mountains, and soon they stopped at the first rest stop, a little town called Cherokee Gap. The station was a restaurant called Chief Pushmataha’s Lodge, a log cabin with brightly colored teepees out back. Delores got off the bus, hoping they would have some postcards of the place inside. “Look at that, would you?” Lucille Weary said at her elbow, pointing. A scraggly looking little black bear with a chain around his neck lay sleeping in the sun. He looked like he had the mange, and there were flies buzzing all around him. The bear paid no attention. A torn-open bag of Purina Puppy Chow lay on the ground by the bear. “I declare,” Lucille Weary said. A sign over the bear, tacked to the log wall of the restaurant, said: AUTHENTIC TENNESSEE MOUNTAIN BLACK BEAR, APPROACH AT YOUR OWN RISK.
“That wasn’t no bear,” Lucille Weary said after they were sitting at a table inside, “it wasn’t nothing but a fat dog.” Delores didn’t say anything. “Well, didn’t you see that there Purina Puppy Chow?” Lucille Weary said. “Huh? You got to stay on your toes, or these tourist traps’ll take you good.” She looked at the menu, smacking her lips. It was only nine thirty in the morning, but when the waitress came, Lucille ordered two chili dogs and a large Coke. “That’s real chili, ain’t it?” she asked, winking slyly at Delores.
“Chili’s chili, I reckon,” the waitress said.
Delores ordered a chocolate milk shake.
The place had no post cards, and when they finished they hurried to the bathroom under the glare of the bus-driver, who stood picking his teeth with a matchstick while his passengers finished up and paid. As soon as they entered the ladies’ room they were greeted by a gigantic phallus about four feet long that someone had drawn on the wall. Both of them stopped short and looked at it.
“Sweet Jesus Above,” Lucille Weary muttered. Written inside the phallus, in crude letters, was: “Pushmataha’s squaw sucks cock.”
Delores felt her face reddening. Lucille clucked her tongue and wagged her head from side to side, then pulled open the door to the stall. She jumped back, almost knocking Delores against the wall. “Sweet Jesus, look at that, would you?” she said. The toilet was filthy. There was a Budweiser can and what looked like a wad of sanitary napkins in the bowl. “Come on, we’ll tinkle on the bus,” Lucille said. “I don’t fit too well on them little johns, though.”
All the way through the restaurant, Lucille Weary muttered under her breath about how filthy the ladies’ room was. Delores was afraid everyone would hear her. Outside, Lucille said, “Wisht I’d seen that fore I ate them chili dogs.” Delores felt a little sick as they got back on the bus, but once they were in their seats and she heard the motor roar, she was too nervous and excited again to care.
Reedale, the boy she went around with, had been very proud she was named a finalist in the Miss Channel Thirteen Contest. “Reckon you’ll get to meet Porter Wagoner or anybody?” he said. “You want me to drive you up there in the Chevy?” He never said “my car.” He always said “the Chevy.”
“No,” Delores said, “thanks anyway, but I’m goin on the Greyhound Bus.”
She sat there, hearing the bus tires whining as they took her to Nashville, and she wondered just why she had gotten in the contest. It couldn’t have been Country Boy Bright, this fellow who ran this early morning Teevee show out of Nashville, who had talked her into it, but it was on his show that she’d first heard about it. She was sitting at the table drinking a cup of coffee and wishing she had a cigarette—she didn’t smoke in front of her Aunt Hattie and Uncle Carl—listening to Country Boy Bright tell about the contest when all of a sudden she said:
“I think I’ll enter it.”
“What?” her Aunt Hattie said. She practically had to yell over the teevee. Her Aunt played it very loud in the morning because she always woke up with what she said was the ringing in the ears.
“The Miss Channel Thirteen Contest.”
“This here from the girl who was too shy to enter the March of Dimes Miss Durango Contest?” her Aunt said.
“It wasn’t I was shy,” Delores said.
“Pshaw,” her Aunt said, “and that was for charity, too.”
No, it wasn’t Country Boy Bright. She really disliked Country Boy Bright. She sat there, listening to him tell about the contest, with his little cocky-humble smile on his face. His show was called “Top o The Morning,” and he sat there giving the news and the weather over and over again, as if he were personally responsible for what kind of day it was going to be. He kept introducing these country and gospel groups and just chatting off the top of his head about anything that came into it, which was covered, his head, with this weird looking toupee that, every morning, was at just a slightly different angle across his forehead—just slight enough for Delores to notice. To enter the Miss Channel Thirteen Contest, you were supposed to send a good, glossy photograph of yourself, minimum size four by six, along with biographical information and a short essay of not more than one page telling why you would want to reign a year as Miss Channel Thirteen. The preliminary judging would be from the pictures, and the final twenty girls would be brought to Nashville, all expenses paid, where the final judging would be held at the Granny White Pike Holiday Inn. The first place winner would get $500 and a glamorous job, and the second place winner would get $250. “Who knows?” Country Boy Bright was saying, “One girl, who was voted Miss KIGF-TV of Ames, Iowa, is now in a featured role on One Life to Live! And last year’s winner of our local contest is now one of the senior guides at our very own Opryland, U.S.A.!”
Delores just all of a sudden thought it would be a good thing to go to Nashville and stay at the Granny White Pike Holiday Inn. It was a long way from Durango, Tennessee, population ten thousand, four hundred and ninety one, and the Durango Theater, where she worked as a candy girl when she knew she was too old to be a candy girl, and Watson and Tacky Smythe, who owned the Durango Theater, and Reedale, who was the only boy in her high school class (she graduated second in a class of 37) who hadn’t gone off somewhere else to work or to college or something. Or her Aunt Hattie, and Uncle Carl. So here she was.
She looked around the bus.
Several new passengers had gotten on in Cherokee Gap, and Delores looked eagerly around to check them out. Directly across from them was a stern-faced man in a black suit and a pearly gray hat with a wide brim. He looked like a preacher. He saw Delores looking at him, and he nodded his head curtly and smiled a tight little smile. “Good morning, my child,” he said. In the seat in front of him were two hippie looking fellows, with hair down to their shoulders, that Delores remembered seeing in the restaurant. She remembered them because when she had first seen them she had thought they were Indians; one of them even had a headband on. Lucille Weary had looked at them and snorted. “No wonder things is filthy round here,” she had whispered to Delores as they took their seats. The last person to get on was a tiny man with a huge metal suitcase. He was all out of breath from carrying it, and he must have been a salesman, because written on the suitcase, in large red letters, was: KITCHEN MAGICIAN, THE WORLD’S FASTEST HOME COLE SLAW MAKER. One of the hippies got up and helped him put it in the luggage rack over their heads. That caused Lucille to snort and chuckle.
Delores felt something brush her arm, and she looked across the aisle at the preacher. He was holding out something to her, and she saw that it was a little pamphlet, like a little comic book. It was called “The Beast.” She flipped through it. It was about judgment day, and it showed all the poor sinners being taken to hell and those that were saved flying up to heaven on rays of the sun. It showed the members of a family who weren’t saved standing, crying and moaning, waving good-bye to the members of the family who were saved. The all looked very sad, even those who were flying up to heaven. Stamped on the back were the words: If We Have Not Sinned We Make Jesus Christ a Liar! For Help In Time Of Need, Call Brother Everette Michaels, Pastor, Mount Pisgar Baptist Church, Cherokee Gap, Tennessee, 879-3650, Call Today (Collect!) Tomorrow May Be Too Late!
“What’s that you got there?” Lucille Weary said at her side, “a funny-book?” She took it out of Delores’s hand and looked at it, holding it close to her face under the brim of her hat. She flipped through it, shaking her head, and the red wooden cherries jiggled. The hat was so much a part of her that already Delores couldn’t imagine her without it on. “Where in almighty hell didya git this?” she said, angry again, glaring at her in the same way she had when Delores had admitted that she didn’t know where West Memphis, Arkansas was. “Huh? What you carryin stuff like this around with you for?”
“He gave it to me,” Delores said, wondering if she should tell the woman that, and Lucille leaned out and looked across the aisle at Brother Everette Michaels, who smiled and nodded to her and touched the brim of his pearl gray hat with his fingers. With a snort, Lucille tossed the book out into the aisle toward the man and sat back stiffly. Delores was horrified. “Why did you do that?” she whispered, afraid to look at the preacher.
“If you don’t know that, then you surely ought not to be looking at it,” Lucille said. She sat very rigid, glaring out the window.
After a minute, Delores felt the brush at her arm again. She looked hesitantly at the preacher. He was holding the little book out to her. “You dropped your tract,” he said, the smile still on his face, “or your mama did.”
“Thank you,” she said, panicky, trying to smile.
Brother Everette Michaels nodded to her leaning way out into the aisle. His face was pale. “And the beast was taken, and the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, which had deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image, these both were cast into a lake of fire burning with brimstone,” he whispered to Delores, grinning broadly.“I heard that!” Lucille said very loudly. “I heard what you said, and you just better leave this young girl alone!”