Thursday, November 04, 2004

Continuity Added to Chapter One

This part is a modification of Chapter One. A transition has been added between Albert's madness and the salesman. While we know the purpose of the salesman's visit, none of the specifics are revealed. The two old men begin to talk about the old stories. At the end of the chapter, Albert asks for help.

The angry noise inside him almost deafened his ears so that he didn’t hear the telephone ringing. He shook his head, turned toward the ringing, and saw the phone. As always, someone calling quieted the cracking ragged voices. And as he picked it up, he felt the yoke lift and he focused on the task of finding out who wanted to talk to him.

Smiling and suddenly calm, he answered. “Albert Law, here.”

Hannah, his front person at the security desk, called him to let him know that an appointment was here and was he ready. “Yes, yes, tell him I’ll be right down.”

He surveyed his office. An old painting of his dad hung behind the end of the conference table. The tidy office allowed Albert to work on many different problems. He could take phone calls, review reports, hold meetings, and even eat lunch prepared in the small kitchen through the door on the right. The opposite door provided bathrooms for his visitors and a shower. After all, he needed a place to clean up when he spent the day in the factory. In a word, the office was utilitarian. Perfect, but not elaborate or fancy.

Albert walked toward the door opposite his desk, opened it, and walked downstairs. Smiling, he saw a salesman from a supplier. He had some new products ready and they were going to design the supply chain to deliver the raw materials to “Law Tool Company”.

The man down in the lobby wore black leather boots, leather chaps, leather motorcycle jacket, and a red handkerchief over his head. In his left hand, he held a helmet with gloves tucked inside. At his side, a black Samsonite briefcase sat next to him; the same one Albert remembers from long ago when they first met. “Hello Red Wakefield, great to see you. Hello, hello.” They shook hands like the old friends they were. Hannah had been standing talking to Red about the weather and his drive out to the factory.

“Glad you enjoyed our sunny weather this morning. It’s supposed to last through the weekend.” With that, Hanna excused herself.

Red and Albert turned and walked up the stairs.

“Albert, I didn’t bring anyone this time, you and I can draw things up faster don’t you think.”

“I suppose.”

Both men entered the office and sat down. “Red can you tell me that story, again, about your grandparents?”

“I first came here as a visiting salesman to this office and we sat there with a couple of other people talking about the product plans and machinery specifications in this same upstairs office with its simple furnishings. Simple furnishings, but substantial, old and likely to never wear out. It looks the same today as it did then. I sent out to get some sodas and while everyone drank the Cokes, I commented that my grandfather had a blue Tennessee Tuxedo he wore to the Lilimay Church of Christ where they sang that harmony singing.”

“Yeah, I said ‘What a Tennessee Tuxedo’? I think you made up the answer on the spot there. I had been confused; surely, you weren’t talking about the early television cartoon where Don Adams was the voice of Tennessee Tuxedo, the wisecracking penguin, with his dim-witted pal, Chumley.”

“When I was a boy, and that was a long time ago. My grandfather would wear what he called his Tennessee Tuxedo and sing those old harmony songs, his Sacred Harp songs. The first time I went I kept expecting someone would play the harmonica because all week they’d talked about the Sacred Harp songs everyone sang together, no matter what your voice sounded like.”

Albert listened to his story. The room was quiet. His mine was quiet.

The salesman told him how Grandma starched and ironed the white shirt on Saturday during his summer visits. She washed and dried the overalls, then hung the shirt and overalls together on a wire hanger for him to put on in the morning before they went to church. As a boy, they’d ride in the old brown pick-up down River Road to Church every Sunday and I never saw men dressed like that until I first met you, Mr. Albert Law.

“The funny thing was the men did wear their bib overalls over their Sunday cloths. The roads in those days were dirt roads and if it rained, they were mud roads. To keep from getting their church clothes dirty, if they had to get out of the truck after it got stuck, they’d wear overalls on the way, then take them off when they got to church.”

They looked each other in the eyes, smiled, and nodded back and forth, acknowledging each other with a small nod no one else would have noticed unless they were looking for it, because it was so slight.

“You know, Red, I always like that story. I have to tell you though, that thing about bib-overalls and a white cotton shirt being the Tennessee Tuxedo, there’s not a bit of truth to it. Not a bit. I went and looked it up. Found out the term wasn’t used until after that show about the penguin and owl during the mid-1960’s. Before that, they weren’t called anything like that. It wasn’t used at all until a few years ago during a revival of old timey music. There was one black gospel group, The Fairfield Four, which usually had 5 singers and no instruments; they wore bib-overalls and white shirts. But it was part of their act, and they even promoted themselves wearing the “Tennessee Tuxedo”. But it never was a term used by anyone wearing one because that’s all they had; the people from up north would use it to mock their country cousins.”

“Albert, you are so right, and I’m glad you like my embellishment. And you are right; my grandfather never called it the “Tennessee Tuxedo”. The farmers would wear those clothes, because that’s all they had, but they would be clean. Sunday meant preaching, singing and praying.

“They sang the Sacred Harp songs. The old songs came from a tune book from the 19th century, and used a system of printed shapes, instead of standard music notation, to help untrained singers learn how to read the music. I think untrained meant the people couldn’t read much. This is a full-body, shout-it-out singing, but not that old colored gospel. It was/is white people singing. The harmonies are stark and haunting -- raw, even; not a sweet sound at all, but Lord, what feelings. It was powerful; sometimes you’d think Jesus and the Holy Ghost both were there singing too. After Sunday church and all that Sacred Harp singing, Lilimay always provided a bountiful meal at noon called "dinner on the grounds” where the preacher or a deacon would say a 15-minute blessing. And if you are a boy, 15 minutes is daylong when you are hungry. Those were the old times and people still act that way if you know where to find them.”

“Red, I need your help.”