Leroy of Barnwell and other Southern Gothic characters

telephoneHand over my heart, this is a true story.

The South is known for its unusual characters, right? They populate the stories of Southern writers like Erskine Caldwell, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, etc. and et al.

But we Southerners know, don’t we, that you don’t have to crack one of these authors’ famous books to find such a fictional character’s prototype? Often they live right next door to us, or just down the street, or they show up at the other end of a random conversation. To wit:

In sending email, I often include a favorite saying or famous quotation in the message’s personal signature section, at the bottom of the page. Recipients of the emails often comment on the quotations, which I change from time to time, as the spirit moves me. Some samples:

“Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.” ~Ben Franklin

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” ~Walt Kelly’s Pogo

And a personal favorite: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” ~Henry Ford

Still with me?

Well, recently I sent an email requesting information from an out-of-town bank. A woman named Louise, the bank’s computer teller, called the next day to give me the information. “But first,” she said in a Southern 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. Hadn’t been to Mississippi in years.

“Yes. You quoted him in your email,” Louise said. “I was amazed to see that.”

“Quoted? Your husband?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’ve got it right here on my screen: It says, ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ ~Virgil”

The light bulb came on. “Oh,” I said. “That’s a quote from Virgil, the ancient 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 you are asked to name 12 people you’d invite to a dinner party if you could include anybody who had ever lived.

Soon, names like Jesus, Hitler, Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Elvis, the virgin Mary, Robert E. Lee, Babe Ruth, and Thomas Jefferson rang around the table — until it was Velma’s turn.

So help me, with not a hint of self-consciousness, Velma, in all seriousness, named 12 of her relatives: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins!

I couldn’t believe my ears. Give somebody a chance, in theory, at least, to have a tête à tête with the likes of Jesus of Nazareth, and she chooses Leroy of Barnwell and Cindy Lou of Allendale!

We all stopped in mid-bite to stare in disbelief at Velma, but I doubt that she even noticed.

Anyhow, I’ve often wondered if Louise, the wife of Virgil of Mississippi, was one of Velma’s relatives.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sheila Morris
    Oct 12, 2015 @ 10:15:41

    Bob, this is hysterical…truth is often funnier than comedy routines!! Great southern story…btw, I have a second cousin named Velma. Uh, oh. 🙂

    Reply

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