Missing Walter

There are two “New Souths”. The urban New South consists of an area abounding in technological advances, politically correct industries, indoor plumbing, interstate highways, and movie theaters with more than two screens. The other New South, agricultural, insular, a landscape filled with satellite dishes and double-wide trailers, dirt roads and outhouses, this is where I live.

Southern historian Clement Eaton writes, “The type of amusements that delight a people indicate the stage of their civilization.” Around here folks enjoy Mud Runs, Turkey Shoots, Pig Pickin’s, Collard Festivals, and parades. Christmas parades in rural North Carolina don’t feature 100-foot helium balloons or pop stars standing before bleachers full of local dignitaries, belting out their favorite holiday tunes. I used to be on the Board of Directors for the local Historic Foundation and we sponsored the local Christmas parade. This is how it goes.

Usually there are over 130 entries, most of them being small children in sequined-covered leotards and white go-go boots haphazardly tossing batons in the air and hitting each other on the head while straggling behind a banner proclaiming “Grifton Shad Festival Queen and her Court”, or “Terrapin Track Christian Academy Marching Crusaders”. The rest of the parade is made up of antique tractors, high school bands, and the lone owner of the local newspaper in his 1954 Thunderbird convertible. It usually takes about an hour for the entire procession to wind its way down four blocks of Main Street, up two blocks on Market Street, and back toward the Railroad-Station-turned-Civic Center. It wouldn’t take so long if it weren’t for the antique tractors always stalling out.

For a couple years, my duty as member of the Board of Directors for the local Historic Foundation in charge of the Christmas parade, was to procure a Santa. Every Christmas parade, Santa rides in the back of a restored 1920s era fire truck. I lost that job, fell hard and flat from grace when I chose Harvey to play the part of Santa. Just nine months from his Santa experience, Harvey had already joined and resigned from the local police force. He resigned because he was indicted and convicted of molesting minors. Who’d a thunk it? He seemed nice enough. Now Harvey is currently serving a seven year prison term for his penchant for over-sexed teenage girls.

The local Kiwanis Club took over the parade this year, which freed me up for a camping trip. Good thing. I was growing bored with the same-old every year. My kids are grown and I paid my stay-at-home-PTA-homeroom-chairperson-every-freakin-fieldtrip-chaperone-mother dues, and I don’t ever want to have to bake cupcakes and applaud for anyone else’s child again. But I’ve gone to some other parades this year, out in the county. Sitting here now with a camera full of digital photos and a half-filled computer screen, as hard as I try to describe this year’s Christmas parade in nearby Englehard, I just can’t seem to get my mind off of Walter.

Walter’s story started a long time ago, but the most recent chapter was written last weekend when my daughter’s soon-to-be-ex-husband was supposed to bring her the Christmas ornaments they had stored in the grain bin down by Grandpa Charlie’s house. My daughter, nervous concerning any encounters with the soon-to-be-ex, would be at work at the time of the delivery and she wanted me to be sure the ornaments were left in her carport. But a message on my answering machine relayed the information that the soon-to-be-ex wouldn’t be delivering the goods, after all. Rather, his brother would be dropping them off because the rest of the family was at the hospital with Walter.

Walter, the soon-to-be-ex’s cousin, was in a wreck the night before. The family doesn’t talk nice about Walter, except to his face. But, come an injury, he’s the cause célèbre, and everyone’s got to rally to his bedside and praise Jesus. My soon-to-be-divorced daughter, a dispatcher for the hospital med-flight and ambulances, didn’t realize it was an ambulance for Walter she’d dispatched the night before.

Seems Walter got himself a motorcycle and was riding down the highway minding his own business when a drunk driver pulled out in front of him. Rather than hit the car head on, Walter laid down the motorcycle. If he’d hit it head on, he’d have been killed. And he’d have escaped the accident with little more than “road rash” if he’d been riding the motorcycle wearing a little more than his bedroom slippers.

Messed up his foot real bad.

It was around the time of Walter’s accident that I found myself making arrangements to help out the Shriner’s for their Christmas parade in Englehard (I’d be riding along with my soon-to-be-divorced daughter, who’d be driving Bookman’s pickup — the truck that pulls the lead trailer ahead of the Turtle Cars). All through the planning, I just couldn’t help but think about how Walter wouldn’t be at that Christmas parade. To my knowledge, he’s never played Santa, but he’d a made a good one.