If I want to know that you're an old-time Saranac Laker, I only have to say the magic words and then check your reaction.
If your eyes light up and you break into an ear-to-ear grin, I'll know you've been here since Way Back When. If a puzzled frown creases your forehead, I'll know you moved here fairly late in the day.
The magic words are "Paul Harvey."
Paul Harvey was a syndicated radio personality. Or maybe more exactly, he was the syndicated radio personality. Certainly, we thought so in My Home Town. Fact is, we were so enamored with him that in 1958 we crowned him Winter Carnival king.
When it came to radio, Paul Harvey had it all. He had timing, delivery, pitch, tone - everything. Since his show was broadcast nationally, he obviously was nationally respected. But in Saranac Lake, when we had only one radio station and precious few TV's, he was less respected than he was idolized.
He had two trademark expressions. One was at the end his show, when he said, "Paul Harvey, good day," with a long pause after "Harvey," and with "day" being a half-octave higher than "good."
His other classic was, "And now you knowthe rest of the story." With this line he'd always emphasize, the rest.
"The Rest of the Story" was a two part bit. First he told some tale or other, and then after a few commercials, he came back and added the kicker, which inevitably if not a mind-blower, was at least a major surprise.
From childhood on, The Rest of the Story always stayed with me, both as a reminder of Paul Harvey, and as sage advice about life in general, because all too often when I thought I knew what was going on, I only knew part of it. That was sure the case with McCoy, a guy I was stationed with in the Navy.
For sure only skin-deep
I never knew McCoy's first name, but that wasn't unusual: All of us low-ranking enlisted guys got called by last name by our putative superiors, so it was only natural we called each other by last name as well. Besides, McCoy - like anyone with a Mc or Mac name - was mostly called Mack. I'll never forget his wife's name, though (or his wife herself, for that matter). It was Dessa Lee.
Both McCoy and Dessa Lee were kids from somewhere in the wilds of west Texas. Mac was a nice guy, easy-going, talkative and unfailingly pleasant. He was one of the few guys who smoked a pipe, which he seemed to always be puffing contentedly.
But as good a guy as he was, he wasn't much in the looks department. He wasn't exactly ugly just funny looking. He had narrow shoulders and wide hips, and a trapezoidal head that seemed twice as big as normal and was always at an odd angle to his neck. On top of that, he had tiny pointed ears and hair that stuck straight up, like porcupine quills.
Because we all got along, I never heard anyone make fun of Mac's looks, and they only became an issue under one circumstance when we first saw Dessa Lee.
Dessa Lee wasn't pretty, lovely, or even beautiful. Instead, she was breathtakingly gorgeous. She was tall probably 5 foot, 10 inches, at least - and built along the lines of Raquel Welch. She had long natural golden-blonde hair, ice-blue eyes, and a peaches-and-cream complexion. Complementing that were high cheekbones, a fine aquiline nose, and perfect teeth. She wore no make-up - nor did she have to. I never saw anyone as beautiful as her before I met her, and I've never met anyone as beautiful since.
The first time we met, I was hit by the same question everyone was: How did Mac ever snag her? That the weirdest-looking guy on the base had ended up with the most beautiful woman on God's green earth seemed cosmically unfair, if not downright criminal.
Of course we were all just jealous. It was as if Mac had some secret juju we'd never have, so while he was King Stud, we were doomed to be wallflowers in the Ballroom of Life.
Sour grapes? Perhaps. But they disappeared the first time I was in Mac and Dessa Lee's company. For beyond her obvious attributes, Dessa Lee had an huge drawback: She was mean as a snake.
Born to lose
Actually, she was pleasant to me, and everyone else except Mac. And when it came to Mac, she was unrelentingly vicious. In her eyes, the poor slob couldn't do anything right, and she never hesitated to tell him.
She bugged him about his haircut, his posture, his jokes, his this, that, and the other thing. Beyond that, she controlled every aspect of his life: How often he could smoke his pipe, how much coffee he could drink, what clothes he could wear.
Plus she controlled the purse strings. He had to turn his whole paycheck over to her and in return she only doled out to him whatever pittance she thought he should have. I remember once a bunch of us were in the snack bar shmoozing and one of the guys asked Mac how he'd liked bowling with them the week before.
Suddenly, Dessa Lee fixed Mac in a death stare with her fabulous baby blues. He seemed to sink in his chair.
"You did what last week?" she hissed.
Poor Mac looked like he was about to get flayed with a cat-o-nine tails, which in a metaphoric sense, he was. But none of us waited around to find out - we just donned our white hats and tore out of there in a flash.
It was apparent that Dessa Lee was a shrew whose greatest (if not only) joy in life was taking constant target practice at Mac's bullet-ridden psyche. What was not apparent was why she did it. I had no clue, but I finally found out when I eavesdropped on a conversation between Mac and his best friend, Gonzo Alonzo.
Because they were both Texans and thus home town boys, Gonzo could talk to Mac about stuff that off-limits to us - like Dessa Lee. That's just what he did when I was eavesdropping. Mac had just finished a tale of woe about Dessa Lee refusing to put jalapenos in their chile con carne because it'd "rile up his blood."
"I mean," said Mac, almost in tears, "if your chile ain't got jalpenos in it, it ain't chile."
"Damn," said Gonzo. "What is it with that woman anyway? Way she acts, you'd think she was born holding a grudge against you."
"Well, if ya wanna know," said Mac, "that's the God's honest truth."
"What?" said Gonzo. "That she was born holding a grudge against you."
"Yep," said Mac.
"How's that even possible?" asked Gonzo.
"You know her maiden name?" said Mac.
"No idea," said Gonzo.
"Well, I'll tell ya," said Mac. He took a deep breath, shook his head, and then exhaled. Then he spoke again, "Believe it or not, it's Hatfield."
And now you, dear reader, know the rest of the story.