Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"Santa’s Gonna Come In A Stagecoach"…

A foggy celebration...

“It’s getting late and I think we should go,” my little brother said. “The river’s looking kinda foggy already.”

Twenty minutes later after shutting the campsite down, my brother escorted me out from the rain soaked dirt road that wound around one side of the Little Black River to the main road. We decided to take I-59 back to our homes, but when I checked my gas meter, it was pretty low. So I double blinked my brother to signal to him that I was gonna stop for gas.

I decided to take the more direct route home to Folsom. I took my brother’s advice in the morning getting to his campsite, but I did it accidentally. With the tank full, a fresh coffee in hand, and a half eaten apple fritter, I popped in a cd and took off south for home.

“Well, I been sorta worried about Santa Claus this year!”

It was the last day of the Thanksgiving holiday where many folks put up their Christmas decorations before the work week starts up again. I decided to bring along one of my patented Christmas cds that I duped from cassette tapes years ago.

“Santa’s Gonna Come in a Stagecoach instead of his trusty sleigh,” sang Buck Owens as I drove off from the gas station. The route was almost as straight as an arrow driving south from Lumberton, to Poplarville, then Bogalusa, Franklinton and finally Folsom. I figured it would take me a little over ninety minutes to get home in time for Sunday night football.

Little did I know it would take me a lot longer than that.

It was almost dark by the time I made it into Lumberton. Off to the side of the road in a culvert on the other side of the two lane highway were three cars. Lights were blinking red and blue but it wasn’t from a newly set up front yard Christmas display. Apparently, someone took a curve too fast and slid into the culvert. A tow truck was pulling the car out as a local patrol car was overlooking the operation.

As I recall, the morning trip did have quite a few curves along the way with warning signs of suggested speed limits but with some patchy fog settling in maybe the driver didn’t see what was ahead of him.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay”… Oh, tidings of comfort and joy” I sang to Chet Atkins’s instrumental version of the song as I drove away from the accidental mess.

I came up to what I perceived to be downtown, or the main drag of Lumberton. The drive was decorated by what appeared to be the city’s humble light show. It was short and sweet, but very cute.

Driving further south I saw in the distance a whirling light high above the pines. As I approached further, it was obvious the beacon light from the local airport and not a star from Bing Crosby’s, “Do You See What I See!”

Funny, because I never noticed it at all before. The beacon cast a strange light across nature’s trees and man’s square metal hangars.

It seemed the further south I drove the thicker the fog got. It was still in patches along the road and not so solid, but the visibility was getting worse. Although I thought the rain had passed during the day, it was now raining off and on, forcing me to turn on the wipers and then, turn them off again which seemed to blur the windshield even more.

It was until I almost ran over, possibly, a possum that I realized my vision could be significantly improved by having the defroster on instead of off. It certainly made a difference with wet, winding roads and oncoming pickup trucks sporting only one working headlight. 

So many times, I thought what was a motorcycle was instead a small truck. Yes, the defroster most certainly helped, but the fog was getting heavier and even though the rains had stopped, I was nowhere near Poplarville which should have been just seven or eight songs away on the Christmas cd.

Something was just not right. It seemed so simple to do. Just take Hwy# 13 south to Franklinton and then, Hwy# 10 to Hwy# 25 south.

All along the route, rural farms and home’s Christmas decorations had shown me the way through the rain and the thickening fog.

I was becoming a bit nervous and pissed off. I pulled out the, by now, stale apple fritter and attacked it occasionally washing it down with luke warm coffee. 

“Everybody helps to make the season bright, 
The houses turn on their Christmas lights at night…

“It’s worth the wait the whole year through,
Just to make happy someone like you. 
And, I’ll never outgrow the thrill of Christmas Day!”

I always loved that Beach Boys song sung by Beach Boy, Al Jardine. It kinda calmed me down as I sped up the van to find out where the hell I was. It didn’t take long…

Christmas beamed brightly on this Thanksgiving Sunday in Columbia, Mississippi especially downtown. I couldn’t believe it when I stopped in a McDonald’s to use my iPad and have another cup of coffee. 

Columbia, Mississippi?

Looking at the map, I found that somehow, some way, I had replaced 13 south with highway 13 north and was about forty miles and who knows how many songs away from where I was supposed to be.

“It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees,
They're putting up reindeer, and singing songs of joy and peace,
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on…”

It was the Linda Ronstadt version of Joni Mitchell’s song,“River” that came up as turned on the ignition and headed back south.

By now, the fog was just thick. It felt like a blanket that attempts to smother you in your dreams. As much as I wanted to speed up to make up for lost time, the fog was just too thick. Off in the distance were faint red tail lights that I decided I should follow to ascertain where the next turn would be.

Eventually closing in on him, I noticed it was a red, late model Ford Mustang. He was taking his time with me close on his tail. Ten minutes of this was making me crazy. It reminded me of my Los Angeles days having to tolerate slow, distracted drivers, but as I was gonna take a chance on passing him, he slowed down even more to find his house and driveway.

“Just a little bobsled we call it old Saint Nick,
But she'll walk a toboggan with a four speed stick.
She's candy-apple red with a ski for a wheel,
And when Santa hits the gas, man, just watch her peel.

It's the little Saint Nick, Ooooo, little Saint Nick…

In time, I could once again see the Lumberton airport beacon which barely cut through low clouds and fog. It was almost like starting all over again! Driving through “downtown” Lumberton, I realized my big mistake where highway# 13 splits in two different directions. In the dense fog, I never saw the sign directing me to turn left to continue south.

Within no time, Poplarville, not Popularville, as I once thought it was pronounced, was in my sights… fog and wet streets notwithstanding! 

“Got laid off down at the factory,
And there time is not the greatest in the world.
Heaven knows I been workin' hard,
Wanted Christmas to be right for daddy's girl.”

“If we make it through December, we’ll be fine!”

Yeh Merle, and I’ll be fine whenever I get home. Now that we got our directional act together, it’s on to Bogalusa. Approaching that town, you can actually smell it before you see the welcome sign. There’s a paper mill in the center of town and it contributes heavily to the city’s olfactory mystique.

On the southern end of town, a skunk moseyed across the highway. Lucky for all involved, the fog was not so bad and I was able to see him in time. Perish the thought of a dead skunk in the middle of Bogalusa’s already pungent aroma.

By now the cd had once again rebooted itself and started replaying the festive vibes. The closer I got to Folsom the better the weather got. Now with Willie singing his original version of “Pretty Paper,” we were off to Franklinton. Continuing south the things that I could see, looked familiar to me. There was an antique 1940’s Chevy, I think, that was covered in decorations when I passed by it in the morning. Now, it was all lit up in sort of a haphazard way but nonetheless festive.

The colorful and sometimes blinking lights were a welcome sight. The fog, which was not so much a problem now, seemed to create a softer, kinda smeared kaleidoscope every where I looked.

In downtown Franklinton, the little Mexican restaurant across from the courthouse that we visited a year ago was no longer there. It didn’t look like anything replaced it. The courthouse was a real trip. My wife and I went there to have our passports renewed. Everyone there was so laid back and friendly. The office that we were there to see was closed for lunch. I think they left a bit too soon, but the attendant suggested a few places just down the block to have us some lunch too. The guards and the attendant apologized on behalf of their hungry employees and suggested we return around two o’clock.

Now, that’s my kinda of lunch break, ha!

Driving through downtown and crossing the Bogue Chitto River bridge, I was fog free and only a few more Christmas favorites to Folsom. 

Talk about “a Three Hour Tour!” 

One would ask why not use your GPS or let Siri guide you, and that would be a great question. But, I hate it when she burst into a favorite song to tell you to “Turn at the fork”… “Turn left at the fork!”

I must admit she did earn her eclairs in Europe, that’s for sure. But, this was such a simple drive. One that I completed earlier that morning with little problems… except when I missed the exit of I-59 and ended up at a Starbucks in Hattiesburg.

Well, turning off Hwy# 25 onto Hwy# 40 in Folsom, I was greeted with my two favorite holiday songs, Nat King Cole’s, “Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts”)… and the original song sung by Judy Garland from the movie, “Meet Me In St. Louis,”…

“Someday soon, we all will be together,
If the Fates allow…
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow,
So have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now!”

And, have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, starting right now!

Copyright 2018/ Ben Bensen III