Tales From The Withalacoochee
by Edward V. Folkes
Cousin Velma Jewell is back home here on the Withlacoochee after a three-month stay in Bradford Manor Rest Home. According to Wiley Joe, her husband of forty years, Velma Jewell is still recovering from a severe attack of the vapors brought on by her trip to Orange City, Florida, for a short stay with her sister Ellen Jean.
Many of us think shopping at the local Super Wal-Mart is about as exciting as watching cane syrup boil. However, Velma Jewell and Ellen Jean, being refined ladies of late middle years, loved the idea – well, to tell the truth, some of the sale prices of the after-Thanksgiving Day Sale, especially DVD players for under thirty dollars, had their blood racing. Unfortunately, the store doors opened with a stampede of ladies trampling one poor soul into unconsciousness.
Velma Jewell said, "the poor dear" was found by paramedics lying on top of a $29 DVD player. People were just pushing and shoving toward the display of DVDs with little regard for the woman lying on the floor. The paramedics had a terrible time trying to do their job. Fortunately, a few kind people formed a buffer of sorts around the lady in an attempt to keep all of those feet at bay. A helicopter flew her to a local hospital.
I was raised to be shocked and surprised by this total lack of civility and decorum. My great aunt Mae said, "My, my, bless her heart. That woman just bit off more than she could chew, don't you know? It's never a good idea, dear boy, to take on a herd of cattle coming out of the chute. Lord knows though it would have to be Velma Jewell watching the whole thing. That woman is not cut out for surprises. When Velma Jewell was a girl, it seemed like she had an attack every five minutes."
According to my Aunt Susan Elisabeth, Velma's first attack of the vapors happened during the big Spring Dance of her senior year at Jefferson Davis High School. When Velma Jewell saw her best friend, Chancy Louise, wearing her dress and dancing with her boyfriend, she just swooned and took to her bed for a week.
Although Velma Jewell is sensitive, Cousin Wiley Joe is positively fragile. That's really no good for a lawyer that handles legal entanglements between friends and neighbors down here in the town of South Bank, no more than a stone’s throw from the Withlacoochee. A caseload of three or four clients a month still finds him suffering over each of them. He feels that to do his best is to severely hurt his opponent. The point, of course, is to defeat one's adversary. Wiley Joe is just not cut out for his chosen profession.
To her credit, Velma Jewell did try to help. She knew a former senator-turned-governor was one of his heroes. She told Wiley Joe to remember those famous words he used to confuse the opposition during the governor's last campaign.
"He was a master, Wiley Joe. Use his words to confuse the opposition. Honey, just say to yourself, 'the He-Coon walks at night.' Use it as a mantra. It's magic."
Stress does strange things to people, even those of us living along the pristine banks of a lazy river. None of us knew, including Cousin Velma Jewell, that Wiley Joe was beginning to take on the personality of the "He-Coon." It had been reported by several passers by that Willie Joe could be seen sitting in the law offices of Southland and Associates wearing a coonskin cap. It was said that the tail of the cap was exceptionally long and that he often put the tip end under his nose like a mustache. He took to buying fruit for his lunch and eating in the little park downtown. It didn't escape notice that he washed his fruit at the public drinking fountain. Finally Velma Jewell sought out help when every night after supper Wiley Joe could be found sitting on the garbage cans by the back porch steps.
I drove Cousin Velma Jewell and the He-Coon back to Bradford Manor Rest Home. Cousin Wiley Joe insisted on wearing the coonskin cap, which seem to upset Velma Jewell, although it didn't bother me a bit. His room was nice, but the door still locked behind him. Velma Jewell kissed him on the cheek and said, "Take care of yourself, you old He-Coon." Wiley Joe winked and stuck the tail of his coonskin cap under his nose.
"The He-Coon walks at night," he said, and we were gone.
BIO: Edward V. Folkes, Jr. is a native Floridian, living and working in Tampa, Florida. He writes, "The deep roots of the South are here in Tampa, but have been diluted over the years. I was raised in a small rural town, Dade City, Florida, about thirty miles north of Tampa, that I consider more 'cracker' county. Its institutions and society were certainly more deeply rooted in the Old South. I have family in both Virginia and Alabama, and thoroughly enjoy the connection and continuing experience of my heritage."
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