The South is known for its unusual characters, right? They populate the novels of Southern writers like Erskine Caldwell, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers. But we Southerners know, don’t we, that you don’t have to read one of their books to find such a character’s prototype? Often they live right next door, or just down the street, or they show up at the other end of a conversation. To wit:
In sending email, I routinely include a favorite saying or famous quotation in the message’s personal signature section, at the bottom of the page. Recipients often comment on the quotations, which I change from time to time, albeit irregularly because I tend to forget they need refreshing.
Recently, I sent an email requesting information from an out-of-town bank. Louise, the bank’s computer teller, called next day to give me the information. “But first,” she said in a drawl dripping molasses, “tell me how you know my husband. I asked if he knows you and he doesn’t.”
“Your husband?” I said, puzzled. She was in Mississippi; I was in South Carolina.
“Yes. You quoted him in your email. I was amazed to see that.”
“Yes,” she said. “I’ve got it right here on my screen: ‘Fortune favors the bold’ — Virgil.”
The light bulb came on. “Oh,” I said. “That’s a quote from Virgil, the Roman writer.”
“Oh, then that’s not my Virgil,” she said. “I don’t think he’s ever been out of Mississippi.”
I wish I had had the presence of mind to ask Louise if she knew a young woman named Velma that I used to work with in Aiken, S.C. Velma glowed with vitality, but the glow did not extend far above her neck. (Nor did it need to; Velma was drop-dead gorgeous.) Anyhow, one day when the office staff was having a working lunch, the boss’s way of keeping our noses closer to the grindstone of commerce, somebody brought up that old parlor game in which one is asked to name 12 people they’d invite to a dinner party if they could include anybody who had ever lived. Soon, names like Jesus, Hitler, Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Elvis, the virgin Mary, Babe Ruth rang around the table — until it was Velma’s turn.
So help me, Velma, in all seriousness, named 12 of her relatives: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.
I’ve often wondered if Virgil’s wife Louise was one of those relatives.