New York Yankee centerfielder Mickey Rivers once said, “It was so cold today that I saw a dog chasing a cat, and the dog was walking.”
Arctic air will do that to man and beast. The cold snap last week here was a reminder of a time when the thermometer also dipped below zero in Staunton, Va.
As is their way, the weather forecasters were predicting disaster, and dispensing advice that anyone above the age of reason would surely know.
“The dangerously cold wind chill could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 seconds,” one local radio forecaster intoned. “Wear adequate clothing to keep warm,” said another, as if Brenda and I would be venturing outdoors in our shorts and sandals.
Back in Staunton, that frigid weather had us discussing a trip to Florida to escape the cold, but we remained undecided. “Let’s at least go down to the travel agency and check out prices,” I said.
Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers lived around the corner from us. We were driving toward downtown on Beverley Street, and as we approached Harold’s home, we saw him getting mail from his mailbox.
I rolled down the window and yelled, “Hey, Harold! Is it cold enough for you?”
“Well, a Greyhound bus just went by a few minutes ago, and it’s so cold the dog was riding on the inside,” Harold answered in his big, deep voice, with a wry expression.
We all laughed as Harold continued on. “Did you hear about the man who told his doctor he couldn’t stop singing ‘Green, Green, Grass of Home?’”
The doctor said, “That sounds like the Tom Jones syndrome.”
“Is it common?” the man asked alarmed.
“It’s not unusual,” the doctor replied.
“Oh, brother,” I said, as we laughed again and pulled out of sight.
We had just entered the downtown when a huge icicle dropped from the roof of the historic Dixie Theatre and hit the windshield, splintering the ice into a hundred pieces.
“That does it. Let’s go to Disney World!” Brenda said. Within 30 minutes we were booked on the Amtrak Auto Train.
The next morning we drove to the train station in Lorton, Va. Our names were called and as we walked to our assigned passenger car, a younger, uniformed gentleman took our tickets and led us to our sleeping compartment.
We were shocked! It was a micro-compact sleeping quarter, which would hardly accommodate two people.
“Sir, excuse me. We had ordered a full-size sleeping room,” I said.
The man looked at our tickets for several minutes, and said finally, “I’m sorry, but this roomette is your assigned room.”
Our hearts sank. We knew it would be impossible for both of us to sleep in those cramped quarters.
Seeing our disappointment, the attendant asked where we lived. We told him we lived in Staunton, Va. Surprisingly, a warm smile came across his face.
“Do you know Al and Kitty Hamilton?” he asked.
“We sure do! They are our neighbors and two of our best friends,” we replied.
“Wait here,” the attendant said. “Kitty and Al were my ministers years ago when we lived in Staunton.”
Brenda and I looked at each other, wondering the outcome. Our fate was in the stranger’s hands.
The attendant soon returned. He had managed to change our accommodations to a full-size bedroom sleeping car. We thanked him for his kindness.
Finally, we boarded the train and headed to the land of sunshine through Fredericksburg, Va., and then through Ashland, an old, Civil War train town.
As we glided along the North Carolina woodlands, we rumbled through the towns of Rocky Mount and Wilson. Shortly, a large sign with a picture of Frank Sinatra’s former wife, actress Ava Gardner, appeared outside our window as we entered Smithfield, N.C. We later learned Smithfield was Ms. Gardner’s hometown.
The captivating aroma of fresh-baked bread soon lured us to the dining car for dinner. An elderly lady joined us at our table, and we were soon making casual conversation with her. We told her about having seen actress Ava Gardner’s picture a few miles back.
“Did you know Ms. Gardner was once married to Mickey Rooney?” the woman asked politely. “Those people in Hollywood sure get married a lot. Isn’t that unusual?”
“It’s not unusual,” I answered. Brenda chuckled, and the woman stared at me for a long time before clearing her throat and retiring to her quarters.
“I don’t think she appreciated your sense of humor,” Brenda said.
“Not many do,” I replied. “Regardless, I can’t wait ‘til we see Mickey and Goofy tomorrow.”
“I bet so. You and Goofy have so much in common,” Brenda said, switching off the lights, as the curtains fell in our Pullman, and our joyful journey through the handsome Southland continued nonstop.
Pat Haley is a former Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.