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Throughout the mid-1950s, my grandmother and I with our matching luggage packed always boarded for our vacations of various lengths there a train to and from Manhattan's Grand Central Station, that marvellous historic adventure in architecture, exploration and teemingly assorted populace, leaving the organ grinders with their trained monkeys behind on Boston streets for Fifth Avenue vendors of fresh, hot-roasted chestnuts and a taxi to the Barbizon Plaza on Central Park South, her only chosen residence in the City. Cocktails were in the afternoon at The Plaza to the accompaniment of classical pianists on their deeply shiny and darkly grained grand with peanuts and liveried service on linen and china, crystal glasses twinkling under chandeliers the same. With her usual eclectic taste, Macy's was my grandmother's favorite department store. I don't remember our ever shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue or Bergdoff-Goodman's, and dinners were almost invariably and conveniently at the Barbizon hotel. Breakfast was delivered, my favorite of treats, to our room with twin beds on whatever floor we'd gotten that time around to accommodate differing window views. The Park's Tavern On The Green was acceptable for lunches as was a mid-town coin-operated cafeteria famous at the time whose name I've since forgotten. Carnegie Hall had a charming and cozy restaurant also, and we frequented movies in the afternoons as well as smaller shops, galleries and napping, a regular part of any routine anywhere. "People watching" in the Park and elsewhere was also a favored activity. We boarded buses and subways also occasionally. Once in the Barbizon's very formal underground dining room, I ordered Roquefort cheese salad dressing and the waiter brought something pinkish with beige and green-looking lumps instead. Objecting, he explained from his elevated position that that was the way real French Roquefort was prepared. Unconvinced and unimpressed, I demanded my creamy white with chunks of blue-streaked crumbles which he did return to serve, having scraped negligently somewhat the previous profferment from the leaves of various bite-sized greens. In the best restaurants then, waiters and the maitre d' ruled and patrons fell in line or paid for rebellion in learning to behave properly the next time.
My grandmother and mother loved to travel, visiting new and familiar places mostly in neighboring states of New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Connecticut where my grandfather's relatives lived in and around Hartford. In addition to annual trips to Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Manhattan and Rockport Massachusett's art colony, we once spent a week in Canada at Quebec's Chateau Frontenac along the Saint Lawrence Seaway with its islands, trawlers and smaller ships, and in the bustling, cosmpolitan city of Montreal. Closeby Cape Cod, Provincetown, Kennebunkport, Nantucket Island, Martha's Vineyard and Plymouth Rock were other occasional haunts where we stayed in excellent lodgings and explored historic sites along with mostly seafood restaurant fare and decor. Our neighbors across the street in Newton Centre were the Pearsons with their two daughters and two older sons. I was in love with Teddy, the second oldest, as was nearly every young girl for his dark and manly good looks, humorously friendly personality and sex appeal, but I had a special "in" as our families were close friends and his sisters my regular playmates. The Pearsons owned a rustic summer home amidst forest greenery and near creeks and river in the backwoods of New Hampshire which we visited for extended overnights off and on. On one expedition there, we girls tried fly fishing and I messed up some of Teddy's precious and carefully stored tackle equipment nearly irretrievably -- a true measure of affection and admiration, at that age anyway. His, and their mother, Jessie, was my ideal for that role -- a generously-sized and buxom woman with not much seeming structure to her life and days but lots of warmth and joy and humanity, particularly in her enfolding hugs and the softly inviting bosom that exuded love and comfort to children especially.
Driving away one evening many winters later from Virginia's Emory and Henry College, after a performance there by the Harlem Choir, on a narrow two lane road leading toward Route 81, my little Grand Am suddenly lost power nearly completely and the battery and oil lights came on. I pulled over as best I could onto the grass and turned the engine off. Then I stopped the first car that came by. It had a youngish country boy and woman in it. They didn't know anyone I could call from the cell, sort of grudgingly said they would get help for me and drove off. Another car stopped in a few minutes, and I told that man that help was supposedly on the way. Quite a few minutes later, yet another nice-looking, middle-aged man stopped, with a woman in his car. He insisted on pushing my vehicle completely out of the road with me steering, somewhat confusedly. When it finally got completely onto the grass, I told him that had been "exciting." He wanted me to get in their car to warm up, but I told him I was fine. He said it was only 15 degrees, and I couldn't stay there like that, brought me a blanket from his car. He looked at the engine lights, said maybe it was the alternator, which would be trouble since it was Sunday and tomorrow would be a holiday, Martin Luther King Jr Day, and he didn't have his tools with him.
He looked at the gas gauge, which was nearly empty, on one-eighth, and said he'd be back in five minutes with a can of gasoline. While he was gone, I contemplated freezing to death, saw my life flash before my eyes and decided that I was content and satisfied with what I knew, that I was tired, and that it was okay if I died at that time. But I knew that man wasn't going to let me get away with it. He was too concerned with saving me. I wondered if the $14 cash I had with me would be enough to pay him. He returned with two gallons of gas from his house, because the station didn't have a carrying can, and put that in. My car purred and started up like a happy kitten. He wouldn't let me give him any money for the gas or his time, so I asked his name. He said it was Tony. I thanked him and said I'd pray for him. He looked very serious and said, "Thanks. I'd appreciate that." He told me to stop in Abingdon for more gasoline because I wouldn't make it to Jonesborough on what I had. As I was driving down Route 81, I noticed that his blanket was still in the car.
A few days later, I had dinner with friends at an Indian restaurant in Johnson City. I told them all about Tony, his generosity of time, labor, and materials, and all of us prayed gratefully for him.
Original material c. A Country Rag, Inc. and/or Jeannette Harris, Jonesborough Tennessee, April 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved.