Hank Moses was in trouble, and he knew it.
He’d spent nearly forty years of his life as a single man, most of it living in a trailer his Mama, Joy-Ann had left him. The last five years as the proud father of Chewy, a harmless looking tan chihuahua.
They had their routine down pat. Each day, He’d have his coffee first, scan the Montgomery Advertiser that landed promptly on his porch at 6 a.m., and tell Chewy that he loved him, and to be a very good chihuahua while he was gone. Then he’d take off in his weathered green Plymouth Valiant to Sonny Treadway’s lumberyard where many men in the county that were his age worked.
After his day of labor, he’d stop at the Howling at the Moon Club, watch the dancers for a while, have a beer or two, and before he got too liquored up, would head for home. Chewy would be waiting at home anxious for his treat of a half can of Vienna Sausages. The other half of the can would be for Hank.
They would get up in Hank’s Lazy-boy recliner, and they’d watch the news from WTVY in Dothan. Then, they might watch (depending on the reception and the night) Star Trek, Bonanza or Gunsmoke. Supper was simple, something that Hank dumped into a fry-pan and browned, or an uncomplicated mix of rice, hash, hamburger meat, or some kind of beans, all cooked half to death on top of his stove. Chewy would get his Mighty Dog and both would be content.
Then, it was time for bed.
This routine rarely varied, and both human and canine were happy with it.
Until Georgia Grace Vernon got involved.
George Grace was something of a Mulberry County celebrity, at least after she won the Rattlesnake Round-up pageant and then nearly won the beauty contest at the Peanut Festival. The county was proud of her–all five hundred pounds of her, with her beaming Pepsodent smile and her hearty back-slap, even if Georgia Grace didn’t always know her own strength.
Though Georgia Grace had many suitors, she had never been in love. When it happened for her, it happened BIG.
She saw Hank over at Morty English’s filling station, holding Chewy with one hand, and scratching a mosquito bite on his neck with the other. Hank was about 129 pounds soaking wet, and that day, it wasn’t raining. So he was more like 125. So this very small man and this very large lady set eyes on each other (she saw him first) and the world was never going to be the same after that.
Georgia Grace had found the man who she planned would father her babies.
Hank found out his part in Georgia Grace’s plans later, and it nearly scared him to death.
Hank’s mother had been a bit overbearing, and on the large side herself. She’d kept her boy under her thumb until she breathed her last. And Hank, loving his Mama as he might, had enjoyed being woman-free the last five years. He didn’t want to give it up for anything.
Georgia Grace put her plan into action almost immediately. Step one–surveillance. She became the shadow Hank didn’t know he had. Suddenly, she was nearly every where he stepped. If he went to Mort’s for gas or an oil change, she was in the line right behind him. If he was at work, he’d see her driving by in her red Buick a few times a day. He knew this because her car was about the only one that came around the lumber yard with a woman in it. And also because she always hit the horn, hard and hollered out his name.
It didn’t take Hank long to understand his peril.
He at first, tried to nicely side-step her, nodding in a flustered, gentlemanly fashion when she’d pass by. He had no intention of giving up his freedom. He liked women, at least the women he liked to look at when he went to the Howling at the Moon Club, but they were liked at a distance. He was shy, socially awkward, and really didn’t see himself as much of a catch.
Georgia Grace did, however, and he was to be HER catch. She talked about him to her sister-in-law Eleanor Grace until she was ready to have the heaves. No one had bluer eyes than Hank. No one managed to comb his quickly thinning brown hair in such a handsome fashion. To hear Georgia Grace tell it, Hank was, the epitome of all a man should be, in a slender, sweet package.
Eleanor Grace tried to help her. When Hank came through her line at the Hoggly Woggly, she’d pretty much broach the topic on a regular basis:
EG: “Hank, you know you sure are a handsome fella. If I wasn’t happy with Clevus, I’d chase you right down.”
Hank: (a bright shade of vermilion) “Why thank you, Eleanor Grace, but I don’t know what Clevus would do if he heard you say that.” He’d then chuckle nervously and wonder why it was taking so long to get bacon, Pine-Sol, some light bread, and Gale Gorman’s ‘He-Man Shaving Cream” rung up. Alas, there really wasn’t another grocery store within a 20 mile radius at the time.
EG: “Well, let’s don’t worry about him. What I’m trying to tell you, is there is a fine gal that has taken a shine to you, she just worships the ground you walk on.”
Hank (getting more nervous) “Well, thank you again, Eleanor Grace, but I’m not in the market for a girlfriend right now. If I ever am, I’ll sure give Georgia Grace a call.” He would then pay quickly and skittle out of the store like he owed someone money.
He was a man pursued. Not just by Georgia Grace, but now by her immediate family.
He’d go into the bank, and Clevus would leave his plush office, rise to his alarming former linebacker height of 6 foot 5, and heartily back slap Hank nearly into the next room. Truth to be told, Georgia Grace had learned most of her manners from Clevus.
He would point out the mini-shrine that he’d put up at the bank, detailing Georgia Grace’s beauty pageant wins, speeches, and singing debut at Posh Corner in Birming ham after she won the Rattlesnake Roundup. For the centerpiece, Clevus had huge color, blow-up pictures of his little sister in her crown, finery and sequins. In line with the theme, she was standing next to two tough looking characters carefully holding live rattlers. The whole effect nearly moved folks to tears.
Every time poor Hank went there, he was led to the shrine and told to look at it. “A man could do a whole lot worse than marry my sister, Hank.” Clevus would say, his grip on the small man’s shoulder tightening ever so slightly. “And to be in our family. We’ve been here since they kicked us out of Savannah in the 1850’s. A proud heritage. A good name.”
Poor Hank was thinking about selling everything and joining the merchant marines when the worst possible thing happened. Georgia Grace started coming to his church.
There were two main churches in Contentment, both in perpetual rivalry with one another, very willing to sheep-steal at any opportunity. Both churches would tell you earnestly that the royal road to salvation started and stopped at their door, forget the pesky bit about accepting Jesus. No one did it better than them.
Hank went to the Presbyterian Church. It was old, sort of formal, where nothing unusual ever happened. The members of the church just wouldn’t have had it. They were the more monied bunch, staid, well-dressed, a bit stuck up, but in a well-intended kind of way. Hank had been brought up there, after all, and his Mama’s funeral had been held there. The fact that he owned his trailer and Plymouth out right was a plus. He was their kind of people.
Georgia Grace went with her family to Brother Holland’s Church of God church. Clevus went there too. He’d tried to worship with the Presbyterians, but got disgusted with them pretty quick. They would have been glad to have him, him being the bank president and all, but Clevus thought that they just didn’t take their worship seriously. They didn’t have a single altar call, or a tearful re-dedication with all the gory details of past sins committed. Their preacher, John Termins, had the audacity to not let folks call him ‘brother,’ insisting on them calling him Pastor.
Clevus didn’t feel like that church was any fun at all. So, he and Eleanor Grace (when she would go to church) would take their growing herd of offspring to Brother Holland’s church where they felt like worship really happened.
So, it was a shock to all when Georgia Grace started attending the Church of the Divine Lamb where Hank went. Upsetting, even.
The matrons twittered about her being ‘after’ Hank, and they had good reason to whisper. Georgia Grace was many things, but ‘subtle’ was not written into her book. She would come in dressed in yards of pastel lace, looking very pretty, mind you, and plop down on the other side of same pew where Hank was sitting. Hank would pretend not to notice.
As Sundays went on, the whole church got concerned. Pastor would be preaching a gentle sermon, telling the whole congregation that they were the finest people imaginable, which had Georgia Grace in confusion. By now, Brother Holland would have gotten worked up and be blasting his folks left and right, telling them that he knew they were sorrier than mud, and had better ‘get right’ or be left. But Georgia Grace had a goal in mind, and it was the sweet, shy, slightly dozing man down the pew, who kept one eye sort of open to monitor her behavior during the sermon.
After this had been going on for about four months, Georgia Grace was just plain frustrated with Hank. She’d asked him out, offered to cook all sorts of delicious food for him, even bought a nice plaid flea collar for Chewy. Hank nicely refused all of it. She started writing him poetry, mailing it to the trailer. If he read it, he never said. He just started trembling when he saw her.
She wasn’t a gal to give up, so that day, she looked around to her left and right, and then stood up, and took a big side-step over in the pew to where Hank, now totally awake, sat. He gently slid down a bit, closer to the end of the pew. Georgia Grace wasn’t going to take that. She again got up and slid a little closer. Hank slid a little further down. Georgia Grace moved again.
Hank was looking petrified. The sermon was droning on, but nobody was really listening anymore. Georgia Grace moved, Hank moved away. Til there was nowhere to move. Georgia Grace sat down, hard on the pew next to Hank, so hard that the pew made a noisy sound as it settled back down. They were thigh to thigh now, and there was no way of stopping it.
Content that her prey had been cornered, she then proceeded to wait until the church greeted each other, and turned to Hank and nearly hugged the stuffing out of the small man. Hank, gasping, patted her back and looked around at his fascinated church family as if to say, silently, “It ain’t me, it’s her.”
At the service’s end, he practically ran out of the holy building.
The next few Sundays, it continued like this. Georgia Grace would play hard to get at first by sitting on the far end of the pew, but then would get impatient, and thump, thump, thump, start moving closer in loud increments. The poor pastor was beside himself. No one was listening to him anymore, despite how he piled his compliments on. The folks were watching Georgia Grace’s determined courtship like a bad car accident.
It was better than watching wrestling down at the farm center. Only, no one was faking anything here. Georgia Grace was determined, and Hank Moses was defending his bachelorhood as best as he could.
Then, one Sunday, she wasn’t there. Hank looked around, waiting for her to commandeer and start annexing the space between them, like Hitler moving closer to Poland. But, she never showed up. Hank went from relieved to worried fairly quickly. Was Georgia Grace ill?
Another Sunday passed, and no Georgia Grace. Hank had noticed other things too. He used to not be able to peel her off him, now she was never around. Not driving by his work, not in line near him at the Hoggly Woggly. Not sitting behind him in the movie theater. He knew she still lived in Contentment, but for all intents and purposes, she had evaporated, which is awfully hard for a 500 pound woman to do.
Eventually, he asked Clevus about it. Clevus looked at him as if he were an untrustworthy bank customer trying to get a loan. “Well, you missed the boat, son. Georgia Grace has done got her another man.”
And sure enough, she had. She was dating Travis Hitchcock on a regular basis. After awhile, it was Hank looking for her, not the opposite. It wasn’t easy, because Georgia Grace often made Travis take her out of town, to Dothan or some big city like that. Hank, scratching his thinning hair, would put Chewy in the Valiant, and follow them around. One time, he saw Travis give Georgia Grace a healthy good-night kiss at Aunt Ginny’s house, and his heart sunk.
Everyone was shocked when Hank showed up at Brother Hollands church. Travis wasn’t there that day. He’d thrown a drunk of major proportions with his twin brother Ricky, and they were in no shape the following morning for worship. Georgia Grace sat in lovely white lace, all by her lonesome in the church pew, waiting for the rest of the Vernons to join her.
Hank, with a determined look on his face, sat down at the other side of the pew. Georgia was surprised, but was determined not to show it. Clevus came in, and seeing the dynamic, wisely sat behind the pair. The rest of the family, including Aunt Ginny, all followed suit, leaving Georgia Grace and Hank the only ones in that pew.
Brother Holland got started early that morning, determined to tell everyone there that they were a sorry sack of dirt and that the Devil wanted each one of them in hell. Half way through the sermon, Hank got up, and moved down the pew towards her. He sat down hard, making a thumping sound that got some attention away from the good pastor. Brother Holland changed gears and started describing what hell would be like for the no-goods filling his church. Hank moved again.
This time, he was a quarter of the way away from Georgia Grace. This time, she had to take notice. She looked at him, and gave him a polite smile. Hank, wearing his Aqua-Velva for courage, and his best navy blue leisure suit, gave her a provocative wink.
People lost interest in hell and were riveted on what was happening in pew 13, center row. Georgia looked back at Brother Holland, who had no idea that folks weren’t listening to him, and pretended to be fascinated by the gory horrors he was hollering about. Right then, Hank stood up, and plopped right down next to Georgia Grace.
He proposed on the spot.
Georgia Grace let Travis down easily, and quickly married Hank. Turned out that the pair could not have children, but they did find Chewy a mate, a gray chihuahua named Hilda. The two dogs were prolific, and even now, I bet you could find a pup with some of their blood in it if you were in Mulberry County.
This was the beginning of many wedded adventures for the young couple. And Chewy, once he got used to his new, big “Mama”, felt like his human Daddy had made a pretty good choice.