By Jon Dawson
Once while working on a genealogy project for school I discovered I was related to Dr. Samuel W. Francis, the inventor of the spork. As the family elders tell it, Samuel was a rebellious youngster who insisted on eating his soup with a fork. It reportedly took him an average of four days to finish one bowl, but his stubbornness resulted in a plastic utensil that led to the maiming of millions of stoned college students trying to figure out how the spork works at Taco Bell drive-ins at 1 a.m.
The funniest bit of family lore to ever come my way involves a relative I’ll refer to as Uncle Squirrel.
Whenever the family killed hogs, Squirrel would be given some meat in exchange for helping out. Curiously, whenever Squirrel would go out to his smokehouse to select some meat to have with supper, he always chose the absolute highest quality specimen he could find. Most people would use the good meat for an average meal and save the great meat for a special occasion — but not Uncle Squirrel.
Eventually, someone finally asked Uncle Squirrel why he always started with the best meat he had.
“I want to know I’m always eatin’ the best I’ve got,” was his reply, straddling that fine line between Zen and psychotic.
The most epic dose of Uncle Squirrel came when he decided to take his family to the Grand Ole Opry. At the time, it was a big deal to leave the county, so a trip to Nashville might as well have been a trip to the moon.
Having never been in a hotel before, Uncle Squirrel’s family took to the then-new Holiday Inn like ducks to water. Being a hardworking family with a rural background, the air conditioning and swimming pool were considered true luxuries. It took the hotel manager 20 minutes to convince Uncle Squirrel’s wife that she didn’t have to clean the room herself.
The biggest revelation, however, was this thing called “room service.” For people who grew up having to raise, plant, pick and kill whatever they ate, the idea of simply calling someone and having prepared food delivered to your room was astonishing. Not since he found out “Gunsmoke” wasn’t a documentary had Uncle Squirrel been at such a loss for words.
For starters, Uncle Squirrel ordered a bowl of butter-pecan ice cream. A few minutes later, Aunt Squirrel ordered a tuna salad sandwich and a Pepsi. It got so good to them that eventually, the kids ended up ordering one of everything on the menu just to see what everything looked like.
After seeing Loretta Lynn and Roy Acuff perform duets of “Hello Darlin’, ” “Louisiana Woman,” “Mississippi Man” and “Cold Sweat” at the Grand Ole Opry, Uncle Squirrel and his family packed up the car and prepared to make the long trip back to Kinston. Uncle Squirrel turned in the key at the front desk and turned to go, only to be called back by the hotel manager.
“We need to settle on your bill,” the manager said.
“No, I paid for the room in advance, you see,” Squirrel said.“Yes sir, you paid for the room in advance, but there’s the matter of the $348 room service bill,” the manager said.
After paramedics were able to revive Squirrel, the manager explained that room service wasn’t included in the cost of the room. Faced with a bill he couldn’t pay and a family he needed to get back home, Squirrel knew what he had to do. He sold the car to pay off the room service bill and bought bus tickets to get his family back home.
For years, a cloud of mystery hung over the events that took place during that weekend in Nashville. Squirrel told everyone back home his car had been stolen. That story stuck until one of his children let slip at a Christmas gathering why her father always threw any trash that was in his truck into the local Holiday Inn parking lot, or why he insisted on stopping in to take advantage of their free continental breakfast even though he wasn’t staying at the hotel.
“Mathematically, he figured he’d get that $348 back if he knocked ’em off for a couple of donuts and some orange juice every couple of weeks,” his nephew said recently. “When Holiday Inn switched over to bagels, he admitted defeat and just let it go.”
Jon Dawson’s books available at www.JonDawson.com.