Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 1: The Everlasting Arms Motor Ark


Once upon a time, there was a theatre company in New Orleans. The group put on dozens of shows over the course of about 15 years, but none was as popular as Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas. Something in that redneck holiday jamboree captured folks’ attention, made them laugh.

A few years back, it ended. Not in a bad way, it was simply time for everyone to move on. To this day, though, people still ask if we’ll ever remount Grenadine. As much as I’d love to say yes, I have to be honest: I don’t know, but I kinda doubt it. Between the lack of venues in New Orleans and the fact that our performers are so damn busy these days, it’d be a long row to hoe.

But Grenadine and her friends still live on in my mind, so I’ve decided to let ’em romp around a bit. It’s not nearly as much fun to read about them as it is to see them gallivanting on stage, but for now, I suppose it’ll have to do.

Here’s chapter one of Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas. I’ll see about posting chapter two next week.

Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 1:
The Everlasting Arms Motor Ark

The traffic out on Route 12 could give anyone a conniption fit, but on Christmas Eve, it just might drive you to drink.

Of course, you’d have to mosey 20 minutes out of your way to sip anything other than rubbing alcohol since Hogwalla County is dry as a you-know-what bone. Even for a little ol’ bottle of cooking sherry, you’ve got to motor clear over to London. (That’s London, the seat of Callawamba County, not the place in England. Though you can probably get sherry there, too, I reckon.)

Y’all might think that a little podunk town like our Pittsville wouldn’t have big-city problems like traffic. But you, sir–or ma’am, whatever–would be dead wrong, because first of all, there is a lumber mill just outside the city limits that accepts log trucks 23 hours a day (the exception being noon to one, which is sacred because it’s lunch, of course), and those damn big rigs run every whichway through town, blocking intersections and making wide right turns and causing all kinds of mayhem and…and….

Hold up, now. I lost my train of thought.

Oh, right: and second of all, the streets of Pittsville are capital-T treacherous today because it is Christmas Eve, meaning that everyone has forgotten how to ding-dang-diddly-dong drive.

(Quick question for y’all: are we supposed to call the whole day before Christmas “Christmas Eve”, or just the nighttime part? Because it feels weird as all get-out to say “Christmas Eve” when the sun’s still shining, and I’d rather be torn apart by wild elephants than say “Christmas Eve Day”. Maybe if some of our elected officials up there in Washington, D.C. would stop their bickering for five straight minutes, they could address important issues like this.)

Anyway, you combine the lumber mill and Christmas Eve and the general lack of spirits, Christmas or otherwise, and that pretty much explains why I am pitching an F-I-T fit–a fit that won’t do a dang thing to save the full gallon of Bluebell strawberry ice cream turning to mush in the back of my station wagon, but at this point, I don’t really care.

And before you go making some kind of snide remark, yes, I am aware that it’s December, and I understand that ice cream might seem better suited for a 4th of July picnic instead of a Christmas Eve barbecue, but perhaps you’ve heard about all the global warming that’s afoot? Heck, it might as well be Independence Day for all the red filling up garden thermometers across town. The things peaked at 75 degrees just after lunch. Seven-five. And I don’t even want to guess about the humidity. Feels like I’m driving through a car wash with the windows down.

I tell you what: it’s a good thing I didn’t bother putting on any makeup before heading to the store. It would be clean down to my chin by now–even with the the a/c cranked up full blast, like it is. Lynda Carter can say it all she wants, ain’t nobody invented a mascara that can hold up to a good holiday dinner sweat….

Christ on a cracker, this redneck in front of me has finally figured out how to make a left-hand turn. Glory be His name, amen, y’all. Now if only I can get back to the motor park without having to stop for gas, I will be a lucky so-and-so!

I could’ve stopped at the Starvin’ Marvin about two blocks back, but their prices are so high nowadays, ain’t nobody pulling in there. Between you and me, I don’t know how they keep the doors open. I guess they’re doing one heck of a job selling Doritos to all those children down at Pittsville High who sneak out back during lunch hour and smoke their little marijuana cigarettes behind the cafeteria dumpster. Them little nitwits act so smart, thinking we can’t tell what they’re up to, but I assure you, we can. I may not look it, but I was young once, you know.

Mm-mmm, speaking of Doritos, I sure could go for some of that right about now. Or a Chick-o-Stick. Or if I was lucky, a Ho-Ho or two. Too bad you can’t find those things for love or money no more. It’s like there’s an embargo going on. I hope Mr. and Mrs. Ho-Ho aren’t having fiscal troubles like those poor people over at the Twinkie place a couple of years back. That would be a crime against humanity, that’s what that would be.

Good lord, now who on earth is texting me on the day before Christmas? They’ve got to know I’m up to my eyeballs in preparing for tonight’s party. I tell you what, I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of so much as opening my purse. Even if I were the kind of person who texts and drives, I wouldn’t check it–not today. I’m just gonna sit here trying to be patient and sing some Ronnie Milsap to myself. My cassette deck keeps trying to give up the ghost, but I know how to hit it just right so that it sits up and pays attention in emergencies.

I thumbed my way from LA back to Knoxville, I found out those bright lights ain’t where I belong.”

Amen, Ronnie!

“From a phone booth in the rain I called to tell her I’ve had a change of dreams, I’m comin’ home.”

You know, poetry like that just soothes the soul. If they played more Ronnie Milsap to the inmates at the Hogwalla County Penitentiary, I bet you five brand new one-dollar bills that they’d have a lot less repeat business.

One thing about that song, though: Ronnie’s blind as a geriatric bat. So, if he’s hitchhiking, how on earth does he know when someone stops to pick him up? Heck, how does he keep himself from wandering into traffic? Come to think of it, I hadn’t heard anything out of ol’ Ronnie in a while–I wonder if he done stepped out in front of a bus? Lord, I hope not. That would put a serious crimp in my day, that’s for damn sure.

Well, praise the lord and pass the ammunition: I can see the Everlasting Arms Motor Park. Or at least the sign. A tornado whipped through here a couple of years ago and shot a Coke can right through the “P” in “PARK”, so now it looks like I live at the Everlasting Arms Motor Ark. Some folks like that because it sounds biblical, but personally, I’d rather have a new sign. I know Mr. Stouge got the insurance money to fix it, but he done invested it in something he calls the Pittsville Gastropub, just across the road. I remain largely uncertain what a “gastropub” is, but it appears to be fancy talk for a combination gas station-lunch buffet that caters mostly to Pentacostals after Sunday church. All I know for sure is, I got food poisoning from the butter beans. Earl tried to convince me it might’ve been from an old pint of ice cream I found at the back of the freezer and ate later that day, and maybe he had a point. But either way, I will never darken the doorway of that place again.

Lord, I talk about ice cream an awful lot, don’t I? Truth is, I love it. I could do without meat and cheese and all that other stuff–don’t tell anybody, but I could almost be a damn vegan–but lord, please don’t take away my ice cream. No, indeed.

Well, looky here: I’m pulling up to home, and I still got an eighth of a tank! Well, maybe a sixteenth. Depends on which eye I squint. Either way, it’s probably not enough to putt-putt all the way back into town day after tomorrow to exchange the god-awful sweater that Tater done bought me from the Kohl’s. (I know it’s god-awful because he asked me to wrap it for him. What on earth do they teach children in school these days that that boy can’t even wrap a Christmas present? Just put it in a damn bag, son!) But if I ask real sweet-like, Earl will probably siphon some gas out of his generator for me. Twenty years and fifty-seven pounds later, I can still play that man like Lee Ann Rimes can play…well, whatever the hell she plays. Xylophone for all I know. I don’t pay much mind to singers who ain’t got no meat on their bones. Bless her skinny little heart.

Seems awfully quiet around here, don’t it? I know Lorena Jeffcoats done went off to visit her mama and them, and the Chisholms told me that they were doing a “destination Christmas”, which probably just means they’re driving over to Dollywood for the weekend. That’s Billy’s doing, of course. Ella Chisholm insists that she just loves Dolly, but when “Jolene” came on the radio as Earl was working on her car last Tuesday, she didn’t so much as tap a toe. No, them visiting Dollywood is all about Billy’s peccadilloes. Even back in junior high, he was a breast man. I was what you call an early bloomer, so I would know.

Still, seems like there ought to be a few people wandering about. Let me get down from the car and give a little holler.

“Tater? Madge? Can one of y’all help me unload these groceries?”

Lord almighty, these bags is some kinda heavy. Serves me right for waiting until Christmas Eve to do all my shopping, I guess, but–ow! Well, there goes all my produce, right onto my good foot! I done told Vernell to double-bag them canned yams, but that man wouldn’t listen to Moses himself. I’ve got half a mind to drive right back down there and give him a talking to. But of course, that would mean getting back in the car and stopping for gas, and chances are, by the time I got to the Piggly Wiggly, I’d have forgotten what I was even angry about. Don’t tell me I don’t know myself.

Well, at least Earl’s here. Look at him–passed out right beside the barbecue grill. Poor thing. I bet he was so eager to start cooking, he camped out here, waiting for me. Ooh, I hope he washes up before he lights the grill. The fumes off him could start World War III. I don’t mind him smuggling a little of the good stuff across county lines, but I sure as heck wish he wouldn’t drink it so close to the propane tank. One mistake with that cigarette lighter, and that would be all she wrote.

“Hey, Earl? Could you grab the bags in the back? I got some Little Debbies in there just for you. Two boxes of them little Christmas trees you can cut in half so they look like staircases. I know how much you like that. Earl? Earl? Earl Meriwether McGunkle!”

That man could sleep through a hurricane, I tell you what.

Ugh, I don’t think that ice cream is going to make it all the way to the fridge.

“Earl, I’m just gonna put this Bluebell right on top of these PBRs. Beer and ice cream in one cooler–it’s like Santa came a day early, huh?”

Still nothing.

Oh, Grenadine, you poor, poor woman. Your trailer’s a mess. Your husband’s drunk as Cooter Brown. Your son’s…well, bless his heart, he’s three sandwiches short of a picnic. It’s times like this I wish I drank the hard stuff.

“Sorry, Earl, I’m gonna take me one of them contraband PBRs. I am a woman in need.”

Oh, yes, that’s the stuff. That is some blue-ribbon beer, that is.

Land sakes, woman. Two sips, and you’re already buzzing. I don’t care what they say down at the Pittsville chapter of the Jenny Craig, you are a lightweight.

Well, that’s enough of that, girl. You’d best get a move on. Company’s gonna be here for the barbecue faster than Grant took Richmond, and you ain’t even started the yam surprise.

“Tater? Madge? Anyone wanna help me with these here groceries? Somebody say something if y’all can hear me.”

Dangit, it’s like a ghost town around here. Like everybody done up and vanished…

Oh, my word.

Sweet lord in heaven above.

The Rapture!

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