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Smoke School Stories
The Great Wall, a fireside smoke school story by George A. "Butch" Whitlow
In this particular case, the Great Wall is a Chinese restaurant. It is just about exactly like any other Chinese steam table buffet where I have tasted the egg-rolls from New Orleans all the way on up to this small farming community here in Washington on the edge of the corn-belt of Southwest Indiana. My wife, Catherine has a younger sister, Teresa and Teresa just happened to be born with Downs Syndrome. Outside of my grandmother, Lois, Teresa is probably about the sweetest person I have ever had the pleasure to know. She is always pleasant, she smiles a lot and she laughs at all of my jokes. Teresa, well I donít think I have seen or heard her raise her voice in anger or at least not for very long.
Catherineís parents ED and Dorothy Lundergan (a good Irish name) just flat refused to let Teresa become a handicapped person. They put her in regular school right here where we are known as the Washington High School Cardinals. From the looks around here at the local cafes and clubs, you would think they got the name from the St Louis Cardinals. Well, to be honest, the whole community seems to be either a Cardinal fan or a Reds fan.
Teresa graduated with her class from Washington. I reckon she is maybe just a few years younger than me, and I am 55 I think. Ed and Dorothy wanted Teresa to have a regular job after she graduated so they fought to start up a work shelter called the Red Door. Teresa has worked there since graduation. Over the years they have had small jobs like putting the castors on creepers. The creepers were like the ones they used to work under cars at the old full-service gasoline stations like the old Jackson Street ESSO Station my Uncle Guy Sievers owned in Monroe, Louisiana back in the 1950s. That was before he struck it rich in the oil field boom in his Dallas Texas real-estate office.
You may ask, what does all of this have to do with the Great Wall. Well hold your horses. Teresa has never made what you and I would consider a great deal of money. I guess we may call it pocket change. But she has been rather thrifty to say the least. She probably has saved more money than you and I ever will. Well she likes to eat out about once a week and she likes to take the entire extended family with her. At times on a good week, we are talking maybe 10 or 15 people. Weather we go to the Ponderosa or the Great Wall, she never spends more than 20 bucks.
So we all come up to the head of the buffet by the register and we all order our drinks. Teresa goes first and she proudly flops a nice crisp 20-dollar bill upon the counter. Either Ed or I come in last and quietly make up the difference. For some miraculous reason the clerks all know about this tradition and never raise an eyebrow. Most of them know her by name. Teresaís favorite eating establishment is the Great Wall. So here we go.
Last Sunday night, I was cooking barbecue pork-chops for my friends and employees Billy Bob, my other brother, and Bubba. Bubba had brought along his lovely girlfriend Janet and their two toddlers. I had rented two fully equipped cabins at James J Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky just across the Ohio River from Evansville, Indiana which is about 70 miles from our old two story house in downtown Washington, Indiana. We were there to hold our sixth semi-annual smoke school in the park. The school has increased form 4 to 30 people in three years, thank you very much.
The cabins are small one-bedroom units built by the CCC after the war to end wars, WW Twice, as my good friend Justin Wilson used to say. The cabins have been modernized with fresh paint, and new central heating and fireplaces. They even have phones and a television with a VCR and a satellite dish so you can watch Lillian Gish on your satellite dish. They even had a nice large barbecue grill outback of each cabin. And there you have the setting for the rest of the story. The firs time I held smoke school in the park, I caught the largest 32 pound large mouth base you had ever laid your eyes on. I caught the bass on a piece of rotten bacon.
The smell of fish in the lake in back of the cabin, the smell of the pork chops slowing cooking, the sound of an orchestra of crickets and owls singing. Then came the unmistakable sound of my cell phone going off back in the cabin.
I get to the fireplace mantle and my cell phone just as the little beeb comes on that says someone has just left you a voice mail. I pick up the phone, push the buttons, and hear the sound of a small female voice," This is the Washington, Indiana Police, please call me back, there has been an emergency."
I quickly panic. I think right back to the day 10 years ago to a time when my Momma called to tell me that my Daddy had dropped dead on the front porch with a heart attack. Heather, my 12-year-old daughter had called me earlier to say she was going to a friends to spend the night and that Catherine was spending the night with Ed and Dorothy. Ed had just found out he had bone and lung cancer. Dorothy was in the final stages of kidney failure. This is why we had retired form the Louisiana DEQ and moved back to Catherineís hometown here in Washington.
I flat panicked. Had Heather gotten run over by a car? Was Catherine in a car wreck. Did Ed and Dorothy die? Or was there something that happened to my poor old Mommy, whom I had moved up here with me. She had already fallen down in her apartment and could not get up. "Help, I have fallen and I canít get up."
I listened to the voice mail three times till I was able to write down the police cell phone number. The young lady answered, " Washington Police."
"This is George Whitlow, did you have an emergency to report?"
"Yes I did"
"Do you own the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant?"
I guess she did not hear me.
"There has been an accident there."
"The water main busted."
"The water main busted and water is flooding down the entire mall."
"It is flooding out the Radio Shack, the Nail Salon, and Subway."
"Well, that is tragic, but why are you calling me?"
"Do you own the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant?"
I guess she did not hear me.
"What should I do?" She asked panicked.
"Shut the water main off, Darlin."
"Your employees want let me."
I said, "Listen I do not own the Great Wall."
"Your employees want let me shut the water off, can you come down here immediately and shut off the water."
Louis is my neighbor here on Walnut Street. Louis thinks he is about half Cajun because he lived for a while in the oil fields out of Orange, Texas. There are more Cajuns living in Orange, Texas that there is in Lake Charles, Louisiana. From time to time, Louis, my other brother Darryl- my other neighbor who looks and acts like Mr. Wilson. Well we get together in Darrylís air conditioned garage and drink beer, smoke cigars, watch the Cardinals, and eat a few pounds of fresh boiled shrimp or crawfish that I bring back from Louisiana. The mayor appointed Louis as the street commissioner.
"Do you know Louis?" I asked the female cop. "The street commissioner."
" Wake up Louis and let him come turn off the water."
"Because I am 70 miles out of town cooking pork chops on the lakeside and besides- I do not own the Great Wall."
Most of you know my voice. I guess you would say it is a deep southern Drawl coming form the redneck portion of northeast Louisiana. I have noticed that a few of yawl come to smoke school once or twice. Then when I call you on the phone, that most of you recognize my voice and call me by name before I say who I am. Thank you very much.
I say to the lady cop, "Listen to my voice. Do I sound Chinese to you?"
"Thatís it. I donít own the Great Wall."
"Well, I was wondering about that. Whitlow does not sound like a Chinese name. But your phone number was written on the note on the door."
"Take it down from the door."
"Who owns the Great Wall?" asks the Lady cop.
"I donít know, some sweet Chinese lady from China."
"What should I do about the busted water main."
"I canít do that."
"I just canít do that. Well what do you think I should do?"
"Honey, you sound like a very sweet girl. Now you are going to just have to be tuff. You are a cop. Put on your cop face. Take a giant step. Get tuff. Walk up the Great Wall. Bang on the door with your Billy Club. Yell, Open up! Police! Then walk on back to the back of the building and say, By the power invested in my by God. I am going to turn off this water. And do it. Be tuff"
"I think I will do that."
"Do it. -----And one more thing. "
"Take my phone number off the door."
And that is the way it is.
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