Monday, May 17, 2010

A Shot of Southern Comfort

From time to time in our lives, we run into a person who, for some reason or another, just seems bigger than life. These characters usually have something exaggerated in their personalities, something that makes them really stick out in a crowd. In my life, I have known a few of these people, but none stick out in my mind so much as my old driller, Jimmy.

I’ll pause here and answer the question that I am sure has popped into your mind. Beloved reader, I must confess: I have not always been a romance writer.

Shocking, I know.

It’s true. In my past, I have participated in a variety of vocations, but most notably, I was an environmental specialist for over four years.

Now, I know that you may be picturing me as the lady sipping tea at The Pump Room at the Roman Baths in England:

And you would be correct. That is indeed me, at my serene best. However, for those four years as a specialist, I pulled off a somewhat … less refined persona:

And yes, that is indeed a 3/8 inch ratcheting wrench in my hand. When the occasion called for it, I could dig a trench, rebuild a motor, and plumb a drain line with the best of them. I may have been my normal, prim self typing away at the computer and analyzing data in the office, but the moment I headed into the field, I had to roll up my sleeves and, well, get a little dirty.

So back to my driller. Jimmy is a good ol’ boy in every sense of the word. He drives an American made truck, he chews tobacco, and I have only seen him once in my life without his Alabama Red Tide ball cap on. He was in his early fifties when we met, and he was every bit as strong as an ox, and certainly could be as ornery as one. If he was fed up with his workers, he would turn to me and say, “Betchya didn’t know this was Jimmy’s Drillin’ and Daycare.”

The man could make a three syllable pronunciation out of any two letter word in the dictionary, and couldn’t give a short description to save his life (“Boy, I tell you wh-hat, it’s hotter than a $2 pistol on the Fourth of Ju-ly out here. I betchya could cook you some bar-b-que right there on the asphalt.”). Without fail, he ended every conversation, be it in person or on the phone, with a confident and succinct, "Roll Tide!"

He was everything a gruff, mule-headed, southern driller should be. But, wouldn’t you know, he had that fabled heart of gold. He once spent over four hours working by my side for not one red cent, just because he was worried about my safety working in this particular location alone. Over the years we forged a great relationship, one that I truly treasured.

Last summer, I quit my job so that I could focus on writing and baking. It was a huge decision, one that came with plenty of doubt and worry. Shortly after my last day, I came home to this message on my answering machine:
“Ah, yeah, hello, I’d like to order me a couple a cupcakes, one of them ro-mance novels, and a Miller light. Hey, Erin, I’m just kidding. I heard you was followin’ your dreams, and I wanna wish you luck, girl, in whatever you do. I hope it makes you happy.”

No name left, but then again, no name needed. It was one of the sweetest messages I have ever received. I am not ashamed to say I shed a tear or two over the sentiment.

So, why do I bring this up now?

We got a new phone this week, and my husband unplugged the old, broken one and set it aside for the garbage. When I saw it sitting there, panic seized me and I grabbed up the old unit and sprinted to the nearest outlet. Holding my breath and with shaky hands, I plugged it in and pressed the play button on the digital recording.
“Ah, yeah, hello…”

My relief was so complete, I sank to the floor in a limp heap. Silly, I know. But when you take a leap of faith as I did, quitting a perfectly lucrative job to chase my dreams, getting such sincere encouragement, especially when you can play it on demand, can mean the world to a person.

The phone may no longer work, but that answering machine sits next to me on my desk, plugged in and ready to go for the next time I need a shot of Jimmy’s kindness. I don’t think he will ever know how much that meant to me, but I believe I will go whip me up a batch of Alabama Red (Velvet) Tide cupcakes, and ship a few off to my dear friend this week. Who knows, maybe it will be a shot of encouragement to him, too. Oh, and Jimmy?

Roll Tide!

Perfect Cream Cheese Icing (Stay tuned for the Red Velvet recipe):
8 oz. Neufchatel cream cheese (1 package), softened
½ cup butter (1 stick), softened
1 pound powdered sugar (about 4 cups)
1 tsp. vanilla


  1. Aww, thanks KD! I think you are the only other person who has heard the message :)

  2. I think I got something in my eye now. I loved hearing your Jimmy stories whenever you'd come home from Alabama...

  3. Aw, that was a sweet story. I got goosebumps. Love it. Can you bring some red velvet cupckaes to our next meeting or I can just bring my lazy tail to your house and save you the trouble! :)

  4. Ginny Huff! Great to see you here :) Jimmy was always great fodder for storytelling, wasn't he? I have a feeling he'll show up here from time to time ;)

  5. Ah, Marquita, have I found your weakness? lol! I promise to make Red Velvet cupcakes for you in the very near future :)
    I think a writer's lunch date on the dock may be in order soon...

  6. I want a Jimmy message for whenever I need a lift! I have always loved hearing your Jimmy stories and this one made me feel as weepy as a southern willow. You should base a character on a girl who knows what the heck a 3/8 inch ratcheting wrench is. Would be fun to see her fall in love:)
    That picture made me laugh out loud.

  7. I think, Kara, we should ALL have a Jimmy message! As for a tool-toting heronie... hmm, maybe there is a story in there somewhere :)
    I glad I could lend some laughter to your day!

  8. EK, you pull off all the roles in your life with exceptional grace and poise, whether a pencil, spatula or ratcheting wrench in your hand. Wait...what's a ratcheting wrench? Anyway, thanks for the Jimmy story, a genuine person like that is a rare find.

  9. Andy, you are just too kind :) And you crack me up! Don't worry, if you ever have need for a ratcheting wrench, just give me at call ;)

  10. A lovely story, lovely pictures (including the cupcake!), and lovely, lovely prose, Erin. I adore reading your posts. Thanks for the warm dose of Jimmy-encouragement. And I second that recommendation that you write a 3/8" ratcheting wrench-toting heroine. What fun!

  11. Btw, from your post the other day:
    "I will be massively famous and fabulous ... Didn’t you know?"
    Yes. I have no doubt!

  12. You just put a big, goofy grin on my face, Katharine :) Thanks for the kind words, and for the faith in my future fabulousness - lol!

  13. Erin, what a great story! I hope you'll drop more Jimmy wisdom in here and there for us to enjoy. Sounds like a great guy! And I absolutely love the picture of you with the wrench...ratchet...whatever that was. LOL!

    P.S. Red Velvet is my favorite!!! Will you bring some to Disney World?!?! :)

  14. Thanks, Jerrica! I fully intend to sprinkle the occasional Jimmy wisdom through the blog ;)
    We'll see which cupcakes show up at Nationals...

  15. What a great post. If I hadn't been giggling over the photo's so hard I might have been in tears over Jimmy. Its so nice to see a gorgeous girl putting such honest (and grubby) photo's of herself out there. Icing recipe copied TY very much for the conversions :o)

  16. What a sweetheart you are, Heather :) Compliments will get you everywhere - lol! Thanks for chiming in!

  17. That was lovely. I could almost hear it :) I know that you will cherish that message forever.

    I still have my old cell phone tucked away in a silver box. Every once in a while, I pop my sim card into it so that I can hear my little nephew's first message to cute!

  18. Oh, Heather, that is so sweet! I think the two of us should probably record back ups at some point-lol!

  19. I think I love Jimmy. So funny, because I had a message like that I saved for YEARS from someone and when we moved, I lost it. I can still hear it in my head, though. My husband repeats it for me all the time, but he can't quite do it justice. The most inspiring statements often come from the most unlikely places.

  20. What a great story. Maybe you should bring Jimmy and cupcakes to Orland. Now that would be fun. Can't wait to hear more about him.

  21. So true, Tammy. How sad to lose the message itself, but it sounds like it really lives on in your heart. And extra points to your hubby for trying to recreate it ;)

  22. LOL-Amy, I could just see Jimmy getting his picture with Mickey now :)
    I can't promise Jimmy, but I CAN promise cupcakes!

  23. Erin,
    What a wonderful, touching story. It really means so much to have people like that in your corner. And good for you for taking that brave step to follow your dream.

  24. Thanks, Samantha :) It was a big step, but I don't think I will ever regret going for it.

  25. Erin, beautiful story. I've got a Jimmy of my own to tell the truth. He's a 76 year-old-man who plays online video games with me. He's gamed with me for over six years now and I love him to death. He's an old navy man, curses like a sailor, he's an old flirt but has a heart of gold. He was the only one in my life including my family who really supported my dream to write. You know I think I'll give him a call today to see how he's doing. It's been several months since I've talked to him. Thanks for the lovely reminder that friends come in the strangest places.

  26. Oh, Melissa, what a wonderful friendship! I am so glad you have a supportive person like that in your life too... especially when he has so many interesting and unique characteristics :) I'm sure he will be thrilled to hear from you!