“Oh, I remember Phyllis!” shares Linda Harn, with a distant but soft look in her eyes. “Cookie just loved Phyllis. He wasn’t much of a talker, my husband, but he spent a whole lot of his time down in Phyllis’s room keeping her company. I reckon he just about drove her crazy. Anyway, Cookie and I went out looking for Phyllis’s grave one day. For some reason, he wanted to know where she was buried. Well let me tell you, we searched everywhere, up and down every row in the cemetery. But no luck. Finally, in the old Baptist cemetery out on the Neck, we noticed a big old pine tree that was growing out of someone’s grave. I went over to see who it was, and wouldn’t you know…it was Phyllis. But then we had to pay $500 to get that tree off of her grave. No way Cookie was gonna let a pine tree set on top of Phyllis for eternity.”
“Didn’t Massey or Maxwell live out here for a time,” asks Wanda, who’s laugh, mannerisms, and warmth make her feel like a friend you’ve known for years. “And what was the name of that crazy neighbor who moved the top half of some house all the way from Richmond Hill just to plop it out here? What ever happened to him?”
“You remember him?” Patrick asks with a laugh. “All I remember was he didn’t quite know where his property line was, and he had a hole in the ground over there that was so wet you could lose a Volkswagen in it.”
And everybody laughed. And then everybody laughed some more. And for the next 90 minutes, story after story of the old days. And then came the name dropping – Miner, Parker, Harden, Kicklighter. Families who’ve inhabited these parts since the original King’s grant. But not a single story about the molding or the beautifully bleached and sanded floors or the hand-painted wall murals or the seamlessly wallpapered kitchen ceiling. It was as if these strangers had known each other all of their lives. Each one remembering and embellishing on the stories of the others.
But it wasn’t until Wanda – who, true to Charles Kuralt’s observation that a real southern storyteller would never use two or three words when ten or more would do – shared a story about Frank Paris’s restaurant that drew laughter from everyone and brought Davenport’s quote home for me. “Southerners,” he wrote, “can claim kin with anybody. It’s one of our most dextrous talents.”