Writing to a singer I loved very much in my own childhood, and still do. Little Eva, who hailed from Belhaven, North Carolina. In my own childhood in California at the time she was singing this, I listened to music like this coming out of Motown, all the girl groups of that time. The memories run deep, because when you look at the year on this? I was very, very young. About half the age of Cassie, that little character I’m writing.
Here is Little Eva doing “Loco-Motion” and the dancers as well. It’s very possible that I might have seen this on TV at that time. I can remember my mother holding my hand at the JFK and MLK footage in that era, on TV.
Image for Lazyboy Carruthers
A Little Book of Holiday Comfort
Lazyboy Carruthers swung his old rusty truck out of the parking lot at Super Tigers with one thing on his mind. The She-Crab Soup down in Wanchese on Fisherman’s Wharf. Well, being the good ole boy he was, and always thinking of how he could kill two birds with one stone, he planned on collecting the rents as he went. Lazyboy was one of them golden boys of the South. He hadn’t ever had to do very much in life. Because of his Daddy. Old Man Carruthers owned just about 100 buildings all over the Outer Banks. He’d been collecting them since his childhood when his father before him had said that rentals were the way a man could get rich.
Lazyboy was one of them bad landlords people never like to pay the rent to. You know what I’m talkin’ about don’t you?
Not only did he treat Maybelle like a slave and she was his wife, he just felt that everybody else was supposed to be a slave too. That is, everybody was working to continually fatten his pockets. He had that money tucked all over the country, and maybe even outside the country for all Maybelle knew. He had beaten her soul down for so long she never dared to question even one of his intentions. He’d married the prettiest belle in the county, yes he had. And then he worked on destroying her soul until he had broken her, like a man breaks a horse the wrong way with a bit.
He decided to take the Beach Road on down from Kitty Hawk and it was a nice short drive. Little did he know, that Benjamin Webster was headed to the very same place that day. Benjamin’s silver blue Mercedes pulled up alongside him and passed, just as Lazyboy heaved a wad of chewing tobacco right clean out the side of that old truck’s window.
“How y’all been Lazyboy?”
“Pretty good Stevie, how ’bout you?”
“Fishing’s been fine.”
“You got any of them hush puppies today?”
“Lazyboy you know we do, I’ll get you some fresh ones.”
“Maybelle’s up yonder with them Blue Ribbon girls of hers. You should have seen the pies coming clean on out of the old homplace Stevie. She didn’t even want to let me taste one bite.”
“Well did you or not?”
“‘Course I did. She’s nothin’ but a lil ol’ pushover when it comes right down to it. You know that.”
“What can I get for you today?”
“I’m gonna start off with that She-Crab soup of y’alls. Been thinking about it since Kitty Hawk. Bring me my hush puppies first, and some sweet tea. Been feeling poorly lately.”
The restaurant was empty except for one man sitting at the far end of the room. It was Benjamin Webster and he had taken a circling route to find the place he’d heard of up at Pelican’s Lair. The country is so beautiful here, he’d thought as the wind swept his hair back at the temples on the drive. The sea had been mild all noon and into the early afternoon. This is a family place, he thought. A place a man might really have family. Maybe that’s why Dad brought me here.
Dad remember how you told me Christmas was going to be fine that year even though mother left you?
Benjamin could almost see his father smiling against the glass of the long windows that looked out over the water. I bet you wanted to move us here didn’t you, Dad? he thought. But you couldn’t because of work. You did so love all the things on the water.
“It was delicious,” he said to the waiter. “Check please?”
The little gift shop was full of Christmas ornaments. Benjamin wandered among them, touching them, remembering when he and Beth had had their last tree. He hadn’t had one since. Office parties and the glimmer of Holidays in New York had filled all the gaps for him.
Suddenly he wanted a shell, hand painted with a lighthouse like his father had taken him to see out down by Hatteras. It was striped black and white. He didn’t notice Natalie at first. Their eyes meet fleetingly, in the way that strangers gaze at each other in unfamiliar situations. She’d been in Manteo, and she’d come to have dinner alone early. Anything to get out of town when she had driven past Super Tigers and seen Priscilla in front of the store with the Blue Ribbon girls. In small towns it’s hard to avoid catastrophe and gossip. She knew she’d been the brunt of that because of Leo.
Her eyes lingered over the ornaments and then, maybe too many times, took in the handsome man. He was looking back at her. It was slow, like the drench of syrup as it pours over things. She smiled at him as she passed, even though her eyes were sad. Benjamin felt a flicker stir. It was the first time he’d lingered looking at a woman. She seemed to be in her early 50’s, to his fifty eight. She was beautiful. He couldn’t stop looking. Her blond hair fell to just below her shoulders in soft waves. She was the opposite of Beth, nothing gamine about her at all. Benjamin shook his head and paid for the little ornament. He’d already made the decision to come back just to see if he could see her again. There was a pull that is the gravitational force of love. It starts like the tiniest flame, entering through the eye. He almost felt guilty, as if he had changed the relationship he’d had to his one and only love. He’d had that first thought that there might be someone else.
“Natalie, how have you been?” the waiter asked.
“I’m alright, and you?”
“We’ve been fine. The new baby is doing well.”
“I’m so glad to hear that.”
“What can we get for you tonight?”
“We’ve got some left.”
“I’ll have that.”
“Staying for dinner?”
“No, just the soup today.”
Lazyboy Carruthers had been watching her, the way that ferrets watch a thing. Maybelle had told him about Leo and Priscilla and he was curious. Just curious enough to try and throw his weight around. Curious enough to see whether Natalie was desperate. Like most men think that desperation in a woman is a good thing. Something they can take advantage of when they feel like it. Lord knows he’d done that with all the women who had been tenants from time to time. When they couldn’t pay the rent he’d been the first in line for favors.
He reached out to touch her pretty blond hair with his filthy hand.
Natalie hadn’t noticed him in the restaurant and she recoiled when she realized who it was.
“Take your hand out of my hair, Lazyboy.”
“It just looked so pretty Miss Natalie. Like the spun gold on Christmas angels.”
“Don’t touch me again.”
“How y’all been since Leo’s gone?”
“It doesn’t seem that way to me, Natalie. A pretty woman like yourself eating all alone and all.”
“I’m fine Lazyboy.”
The waiter came with her soup, just in time.
“I think I’d like to move to that little table in the corner,” Natalie said. “If you don’t mind.”
“Of course,” the waiter nodded. “Miss Natalie I know this time hasn’t been easy for you.”
“Thank you,” she smiled. It was wanly, but she had managed it. Just getting out of the rat face on Lazyboy for as long as she could would be enough. She didn’t realize that it was the same table Benjamin had chosen. There was a cashmere muffler on the seat beside her. She reached out to touch it softly before she called the waiter over. “Somebody must have left this,” she said. “From out of town?”
Lazyboy had evaporated like a bad dream.
“That man must have left it.”
“The one buying the ornaments?”
“Yeah that was him,” said the waiter. “He was real, real nice. Left me a huge tip.”
“I wonder who he was?”
“He said he was staying up in Nags Head at an old cottage where he’d been as a boy.”
“Maybe he’ll be back for it,” she said. “Here, for the lost and found.”
Her soup was delicious and for the second time she’d been out alone it didn’t seem so bad. For the longest time she watched the boats coming in and out of the little harbor. The men were making Christmas trees out of the old wire used for crabbing, and tomato cages turned on their ends. She could see them stringing multicolored lights and making Christmas balls and trees. The harbor at dusk was suffused in a sunset glow as bright as a watercolor against the running blues of the Sound. One bite at a time, she thought to herself. One bite at a time until you can manage to get your strength back.
Natalie knew it was going to be harder than she had ever imagined. After so many years with Leo, she was going to have to rebuild her life anew.