(or a song yet to be written and sung to the tune of "I'm a travelin' man" by Ricky Nelson)
by Austin Bunch
For Christmas one year we received a gift from back home in Mississippi -– a ham from my wife’s cousins in Booneville. This was our first Christmas after moving to the coastal plains of North Carolina (the coastal plains are kinda sorta like the Mississippi Delta -- only with tobacco plants instead of cotton and soybeans, and towns with names such as Pactolus and Conetoe [Kaneeter] instead of Tippo or Hushpuckena; otherwise they are quite similar) and a good old cured ham from home in Mississippi should have been a perfectly fine gift.
When we moved to Greenville (North Carolina, not THE Greenville –- the one in Mississippi), we rented a townhouse (uppity words for a duplex) in a patio home development at 3069 Dartmouth Drive (underlining is important to plot development). This was in February 1999.
Our neighbors, who knew we desperately wanted to own a home in this upscale development and who were planning to move sometime soon to her hometown of Hammond, Louisiana, told us they were going to Hammond at Easter to look for a house, and if they found one, we could buy theirs. They found one. We all went to the Country Club the first weekend they were back in town and sealed the deal. We bought their place at 3067 Dartmouth Drive (underlining critical to further plot development). They moved. We moved. We sent address change notices to friends and relatives, but Wanda’s cousin did something not unlike what many of us might do, probably stuck the change of address notice in an issue of Southern Living –- like on page 160, July 1999 to mark the recipe for Jalapeno Grilled Pork. And, like many of us, they planned to try it, but never did; but left the address change notice there just the same. The point being, they didn’t change our address in their address book (the plot thickens).
Now, never mind that we went home to Mississippi for Christmas 1999. The ham from her cousins had been ordered, the address label (3069 Dartmouth Drive) was on the package, and the Fed Ex planes were moving the delicacy from Memphis, of course, to somewhere probably like Raleigh/Durham International Airport, to the Fed Ex truck to Greenville, to 3069 Dartmouth Drive. And so the ham was left on the steps at 3069 Dartmouth –- only no one was home; no one lived there or had since we moved out in June.
However, the guy who was doing repair work there to get the place ready for sale opened the door to find a package that said “Contents: Ham and other foodstuffs. Requires refrigeration,” addressed to Wanda Bunch at 3069 Dartmouth. Well, being an honest person and not wanting the contents to ruin since it needed refrigeration, he took it home while he pondered how to find the Wanda Bunch. He knew a Wanda Bunch in Winterville (Winterville, North Carolina is to Greenville, North Carolina as Boyle, Mississippi is to Cleveland, Mississippi). They talked. She asked who the package was from and the repairman, whom we’ll call Harold, said somebody in Booneville, Mississippi. She said “That can’t be my ham. I don’t know anybody in Mississippi.”
Perplexed and watching that ham getting older and more tempting by the day, Harold and his wife Yvonne put the ham in their refrigerator and pondered what to do –- a conundrum: Who is this Wanda Bunch? Why is someone sending her a ham when she doesn’t live where it was sent? How do we find her? Should we not just enjoy this ham ourselves?
Harold returned to work at 3069 Dartmouth a few days after Christmas. The real estate agent for this unit stopped by to check with Harold on progress of the repair work so she could determine how soon she could list it as ready for showing. He happened to mention the ham matter. She, being a true real estate agent with a mind for another potential customer told him she would find the owners (of the ham, that is). She checked with information, called us, heard our “You have reached the Bunches, we’re not home” message, left a message that Harold had our ham, gave us his home phone number, and added, “Oh, by the way, are you interested in buying the property at 3069 Dartmouth once Harold is through with the work?”
When we arrived back home in North Carolina during the first week of January, we checked phone messages. By far the most interesting one had to do with some guy named Harold who was holding our ham. “What ham?” “What is this all about?” We called the number for Harold, the "ham holder." Harold wasn’t home, he was working in town (guess where?), so we talked with Harold’s wife, Yvonne. Well, yes, they had Wanda Bunch’s ham in their refrigerator, it was from Booneville, Mississippi, and yes, we could come pick it up, but not for a while –- she, Yvonne, had a migraine and was just not up to receiving ham retrievers. She would call us when she was migraine-free. A few hours later, we got the call; the ham was ready to be picked up. Remember, it’s the first week of January, and while the urge and desire for another piece of ham wasn’t compelling, it was our ham and we needed to get it.
Now, here is the tricky part. We asked for directions to the house where the ham had taken up residence. The directions went something like this, “Go down 43 for a few miles, and when you get to the Hollywood gas station where they have a restaurant, turn left onto that road and go down a ways till you get to a road that turns to the left. Then go down that road a ways and then you turn right onto a smaller road. And then look for the house on the left with a light on.”
That sounded clear enough to me, the perpetual “I can find it guy” (Wanda says I dearly love pig trails, and this sounded like the trail of trails). We got into our Volvo (it matches the patio home at 3067 Dartmouth) and set out to get our ham. By now, the “pig quest” had become more than getting our misaddressed Christmas gift. It was our damn ham -- we intended to get it, eat it, and send the thank you note to Wanda’s cousins who lived “out from” Booneville and to do so within a respectable period for thank you notes.
The call from Yvonne came just as the early evening winter sun had set (hence the light would be on). We started out on our journey, found the Hollywood gas station/restaurant, the roads to the left and right and the house with the light on. I delighted in my ham honing skills. And we began to delight in the notion of “little piggy, you are almost home to mama and daddy.”
Yvonne met us at the door seeming none too happy to face the ham owners. She invited us in, she and Wanda shared migraine stories, and she finally shared with us that along with the ham had come a pecan (she pronounced it pee-can) pie. Now, the trip was really, really worth it. And then she uttered the fatal words, “About the ham. I am sorry, but my stepsons must’ve come in last night and they didn’t know that wudn’t our ham, so they’ve opened it and eaten quite a bit of it. But, I’ll get what’s left of it for you.”
You could just see the crestfallen look in Wanda’s face (or was it the cringe of why are we in a house in the woods on a pig trail in a place we don’t have any idea of where it is, and who are these people, and why did they eat our ham, and don’t tell me ‘cause I don’t’ want to know). Wanda and I both gave each other a coded “look,” and then she said something like, “Why don’t y’all just keep the ham? We’ve eaten so much ham and other good things over the holidays and you’ve got growing boys, and soon you can just use the bone and make some good soup. We’ll just take the pecan pie and enjoy that.” [Translation: I wouldn’t eat that ham now for anything, keep the damn ham (a-creepy-crawly-thing-is-down-my-back-and-your-teeth-marks-are-on-my-ham kind of shudder implied), I want to go home, but not without my uneaten pecan pie. We’re going to enjoy something out of this situation.]
We thanked Yvonne again profusely for taking care of the ham and the pecan pie. We left in a flurry, spent quite a while talking about how eastern North Carolinians degrade the lovely soft sound of the word “pu con” and say it like “pee can,” as we retraced our route on the pig trails back to Highway 43 that led back into Greenville.
Once home, we immediately called Wanda’s ham-sending cousins and told them about the travelin’ ham, Harold and Yvonne and the ravenous stepsons, and the pig trail. We suggested they correct our address in their book.
The following Christmas they sent us a yearly subscription to the Booneville Banner Independent, the weekly newspaper of Prentiss County. It was a nice gift and we enjoyed reading it all year long, but it was no “ham.” The pig stayed home.
Austin W. Bunch, Ph.D.
Chief of Staff
East Carolina University
Dr. Bunch has over 35 years of professional experience in the field of education as a teacher, teacher educator, and university administrator. He currently serves as Chief of Staff to the Chancellor at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. In addition to providing supervision of the Chancellor’s staff and the operations of the Chancellor’s Division, he also serves as the liaison officer with the ECU Board of Visitors. In addition, he is in charge of institutional special events and protocol and is the state relations officer for legislative matters for East Carolina.
He previously served administrative roles at Mississippi University for Women, including Head of the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies, Executive Assistant to the President, Executive Director of Public Relations, Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Dean for Public Service, and he held faculty appointment as Professor of Education. He was instrumental in developing the Culinary Arts Institute at MUW. He has also held faculty appointments at Delta State University and the University of Mississippi, where he was chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education. He has also served as an Adjunct Faculty member of the Graduate School of the Union Institute of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Active in civic affairs, Dr. Bunch is a member of the executive committee/secretary of the Greenville-Pitt Convention and Visitors Authority. He is as an ex-officio member of the board of directors of Uptown Greenville and is a member of the executive committee of the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce where he is Vice-Chairman for Governmental Affairs. Active in the state chamber of commerce, the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry (NCCBI), he serves on both the education and economic development committees. In Mississippi, he served on the board of directors for various local, regional, and state agencies and organizations. He is a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Greenville.
A native of Amory, Mississippi, Dr. Bunch received the baccalaureate degree from the University of Mississippi, a master's degree from Georgia State University in Atlanta, a doctorate from the University of Mississippi, and he completed the Institute for Management and Leadership in Education (MLE) at Harvard University. He is married to Dr. Wanda Bunch, Chief Curriculum Officer at Pitt Community College in Greenville, North Carolina and is the father of two sons, Jon, of Hammond, Louisiana, and Adam of Jackson, Mississippi.
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