Monday, March 23, 2009

Letters from Home - Uncle Thelbert's Birthday

My family has never been what people would consider sophisticated. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has described rednecks as having "a glorious absence of sophistication". Though I wouldn't necessarily put my family in the redneck category, the rest is true enough. Don't get me wrong—they are fantastic people and would do anything to help anyone in any way they could, but erudition has still managed to elude them. Simplicity notwithstanding, they are some of the funniest people I have ever known. The Simmonses are storytellers by nature, so when I get the occasional letter from home, I know some event has taken place and has been chronicled for me. I thought I'd share these letters with you as I get them. If you enjoy them, comment and let me know. Here's the first one...


Dear son,

Hey there, how have you been? We’re doing real good. We just got off the phone with your cousin Ardell. He was calling to tell us thank you for taking them to dinner the other night for your Uncle Thelbert’s birthday. We took your suggestion and went to that Japanese place where they cook right there in front of you. We didn’t have to take our shoes off or sit on the floor, either. It’s a good thing, too. We never would have got your daddy back up, much as he ate. We had a real good time. It was us, your daddy’s cousin Junior, Uncle Thelbert and Aunt Vernell, and Ardell and his girlfriend Ruby. Vernell was her usual self. She’s not happy unless she’s miserable, bless her heart.

When we got there, this little gal (she didn’t look oriental, and I didn’t ask, but I’d have thought you’d have to be oriental to work there) anyway, she seated us at a table that already had some other folks at it, but we were spread out pretty good, so that was okay. Then this other little gal came and took our drink orders. She was definitely oriental. Vernell ordered coffee, and this little gal said, “Sorry, no coffee.” Vernell shot her a look and said, “What do you mean no coffee? You mean to tell me y’all don’t serve coffee?” The little oriental gal nodded and apologized again. Vernell threw her hands up and said, “Fine. Just bring me some water. Cold as it is outside and I’ve got to drink ice water.” The gal got around to Thelbert. He had been eyeing them big umbrella drinks with pineapple and cherries and whatnot all in them. He ordered one, and Vernell rolled her eyes and told him he didn’t need one. She just doesn’t have much of a sense of fun, and when other folks enjoy themselves, it annoys her something terrible. We told her, “Vernell, it’s his birthday. If he wants one, let him get it.” She made a face and told him to just get whatever he wanted. When the drinks came out, everybody ooohed and ahhhed over Thelbert’s big old umbrella drink. The top of that thing was a high as the top of his head! Vernell was just steaming, but she managed to keep her mouth shut. We ordered our food, and then we sat and chatted for a little bit.

Pretty soon this young man came rolling a cart of food into where were sitting. He had a big old chef’s hat on and couldn’t hardly speak English. His little name badge said ITSUKI. I don’t know how in the world you say that. He went around and pointed at each of us and told us what we were getting. I couldn’t understand well enough to know if that’s what I ordered, but he had a great big old butcher knife in a holster so we just agreed. Then he commenced to flinging that knife around and banging it on the griddle along with a fork he pulled off his cart. Vernell looked at me and said, “What in the hell is he doing?” I told her I didn’t know, but he was good at it. Then he squirted some kind of oil or something on the griddle there and said something that sounded like “big fire”. He put his lighter down there to the griddle and the whole thing went WHOOOMPH and caught fire. Vernell screamed, the plate in Junior’s head shifted and he wet himself, and the retired firefighter in your daddy kicked in and he got up and started beating the fire out with his coat. I wish you’d have warned me that the fire was “part of the show” as they said. And you really ought to offer to get your daddy a new coat, by the way.

After everything calmed down, Suzuki cleaned the griddle and started cooking the food. He dumped a pan of rice on there big enough to feed an army. Then he got to twirling his spatula around and banging it against his little salt and pepper shakers. He cooked a few shrimp and was flipping shrimp tails around and flipped one up and caught it in his hat. He told Thelbert, “Now you catch”. Thelbert had had a second drink by that time, so he said ok. Vernell wadded up her face, but she didn’t say anything. We had to laugh when Thelbert started emptying out his shirt pocket. Lord have mercy, he had three pens, his glasses, two gas receipts, and a tube of Blistex in there. He pulled his pocket open and Isuzu flipped that shrimp tail right in there on the first try. Then he wanted your daddy to catch one, but I said he couldn’t because he’d forget it was in there and I didn’t want to find it in the wash. Vernell had just about had it. She leaned forward in her seat and said, “Are you about done playing, son? I need to eat so I can take my medicine!” That brought the little oriental girl back over, and she asked him if everything was okay. He said something in Japanese to her and she hung around. Then he bowed at Vernell (I guess that’s how you apologize in Japanese) and started serving up the rice. While he was dishing it out, Vernell got to looking around and said, “Wait, is that all you’re going to cook is rice? Where’s the rest of what we ordered?” Suzuki told her, “Rice first. Then vegetable. Then meat.” That did it for Vernell. She crossed her arms and starting braying like an old mule. “You mean you don’t cook it all together? Why in the Sam D. hell would you cook just one at the time?” She shook her head and got up and grabbed her purse and said, “Well, I’m going next door to the Dixie CafĂ© where I can get all my food at once.” Then she shot that little oriental gal a look and said, “And coffee.”

I felt a little bad because none of us went after her, or even tried to convince her to stay. But with her gone, we really had a good time. Poor old Kawasaki looked like he was about to cry, so Thelbert told him, “Son, don’t you worry about her. I’ve been married to that woman for forty-eight years, and I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen her smile or laugh.” That seemed to cheer him up, and he did a little bow to Thelbert and got to flinging his knife and fork around again. He made some real good vegetables, and the best steak I’ve ever had. We sat there as we ate and talked and laughed and had the best time. And when the folks working there found out it was Thelbert’s birthday, they all gathered around him and clapped and sang something. I guess it was their version of Happy Birthday, but it was in Japanese, so I just couldn’t say for sure. They even brought out a big chunk of pineapple with a candle in it. Thelbert was just like a kid, making his wish and blowing his candle out. I’m glad he got to enjoy a little time without Vernell fussing about every little thing he does. We sat and chatted a little longer until they cleared the dishes away and left the check.

About that time, we saw Vernell come back in and make her way over to us. She was a little quieter, but you could still tell she was upset. She said, “Well, are y’all just about done?” We told her we just had to pay the check and we could go. She nodded and looked around and said, “Well, let’s get the ball rolling. Who do we pay, that little Chinese girl or the fella that was out here making all the racket?” Once we got the bill paid, we headed out to the parking lot. Thelbert told Vernell, “Mama, you missed a real good dinner.” She said, “Hmmph. I did no such thing. Y’all were the ones who missed a real meal. And next time y’all come to this place, y’all can just leave me at the house.” Thelbert leaned over to me and whispered, “I just got my wish.”
Well, I guess I’ve about talked you ear off, so I’ll go for now. You take care and we’ll holler at you later.


Mom & Dad