Before I describe the setting for this now-famous event, I should tell you a little about the important players. There was, of course, Big Mark Hampton, a tall, lanky, and balding middle-aged man who was a husband and the father of two. And then there was Little Mark Hampton, Big Mark’s six-year old son. He was my best friend and we did almost everything together. Little Mark had a four-year old sister, Belinda, who everyone affectionately called “Bellie.” God only knows why, because she was precocious and sassy, but definitely not affectionate; at least not to me. I think Little Mark may have been Junior but “Little” was used probably for the same reason I was called Little George. My father’s name was George and so was my Grandfather’s. In our case, Dad was known as Big George, I was known as Little George, and Grandaddy was known outside the family as Mr. Holland. But I’m starting to ramble.
Big Mark was a traveling salesman for a paper company. He was on the road for two to three days at a time, arriving home most often after midnight. On those occasions, he would enter the house stealthily so as not to awaken the family and creep into the spare bedroom, which was just down the hall from the kitchen. Mrs. Hampton always left him a spare set of pajamas in there so that he could rest comfortably. Many were the mornings that I came to play at their house and would find Big Mark plodding from the spare bedroom in his pajamas. He would head for the kitchen, grab a fresh cup of coffee, and sit at the breakfast table peering blearily out the window.
Next, we have the tea party organizers, Mother and Mrs. Elizabeth Hampton, who I have already mentioned. In planning the party, they weren’t certain who to invite so they invited everyone they knew and were pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic response. Of course there was my grandmother, Mrs. Holland, and Mrs. Hampton’s mother, Mrs. Dalton. Mr. Dalton owned the town mortuary and was the former town mayor. My grandfather owned the Ford dealership and was the current mayor. They had known each other since their grade school days and amicably called each other “Snod.” Don’t ask me why. I truly don’t know the answer. Next we had Mrs. Carl Harrow Sr. and Mrs. Carl Harrow Jr. The Harrows owned the grocery store and Mrs. Harrow Sr. was Verna while Mrs. Harrow Jr. was Theresa. One of the more important characters in my narrative is Mrs. Reece Weaver. Her husband was the president of the local bank. Her name was Annabelle and I remember her as being extremely sophisticated. She was very cordial but distant and she was always surrounded by the delicate fragrance of gardenias.
Beyond the folks I’ve just mentioned, my memory becomes a bit hazy. I think the owners’ wives of the cotton gin, the feed and livery store, and the drug store were there. I think there may have also been a school teacher or two in attendance. I remember Mother telling Mrs. Hampton that this was a “fine gathering” and they set out to make it a memorable event. And was it ever!
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