The following is a personal anecdote from my life which I’ve been setting about to blog, just finally got around to it. This happened a few years ago and I feel like I’ve told the story hundreds of times. It’s on how I managed to piss off my distant cousin Dixie Carter who had graciously invited us to her house around Christmas. To give you the full idea I must talk about the day as a whole.
The year of 2002, both my grandmother and mother (who were from the Carter family) died. Nana died in Feb and mom died in November. Through that side of the family, we are related to Dixie Carter, best known for portraying Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women. Even though it’s a distant relationship (my grandmother was first cousins with her father), as far back as I can remember we managed to watch almost EVERYTHING that she ever did. I remember watching Different Strokes, a short lived show called Filthy Rich, and even going back to some old soap opera, everyone was so proud of Dixie.
Since Dixie was really from a small town in West Tennessee, she maintained close ties there where she kept a home. My grandmother’s brother, John David, regularly went over to visit. He was actually better friends with her father, Hal Carter Sr. From time to time, Dixie would come to Memphis and my family would go see her if possible. I did meet her when I was 14 at some function where she was being honored at Memphis State. She seemed to always like Nana and her sister who lived with us, Nora, sometimes sending those gourmet popcorn cans at Christmas.
There was a couple at church that somehow got to know Dixie’s personal assistant and therefore managed to meet her on occasion. After my mom died, they made sure she found out and for Christmas of that year,
Dixie invited us to her house in Huntington for a party. The drive is only about an hour away from Memphis so it was really exciting. Dad, Nora and I were invited but by then my aunt was in real bad shape mentally. But nevertheless we went.
It was on a Sunday so we decided to spend the whole day up there and let Nora spend time with her old friends. We went to her old church where Nora became an instant celebrity. I remember being told Dixie
sometimes came to church so we wondered if she would show up or not. The service started and I was thinking she wasn’t going to come but when it was time to sing the first hymn this LOUD opera like voice
came through so loud I thought my ear drums would burst. I realized immediately Dixie and her family had sat down behind us. (I knew Dixie had wanted to originally be an opera singer so she always sang like that, as evident by her singing on Designing Women). I didn’t want to tell Dad because I was scared he would turn right around in her face and wave. Though I don’t know how he didn’t know she was there, she was RIGHT BEHIND US.
After the service, Dad and I did get to speak to her. We also saw Hal Holbrook (her RL husband) who surprisingly looks so YOUNG in real life. The camera ages him 10 years I think. Plus he is super tall.
Anyway, Dixie was real nice and told us to come by around 3. She was happy to meet Nora which didn’t surprise me. She was the one that was really invited.
After church we headed over to a lady’s house that had been good friends with Nora. Before we got there, Dad told me he wanted to ask Hal Holbrook something. Concerned because this is my father and I had a bad feeling, I asked him what. He said he wanted to know if Hal knew our OTHER famous cousin on his side of the family. I knew who he was talking about and he wasn’t talking about our actual cousin but who she is married to. Dad’s niece is married to Bernie Kopal. Yes, Doc from the Loveboat.
Immediately, I stated, “Dad, you arent going to bring up Bernie Kopal.”
Dad nodded, “Yup.”
Filled with anxiety, I started begging him, “God, Dad. No, you can’t do that. Hal never ever appeared on the Loveboat so why should he know him? They don’t all belong to some giant club or something.”
Dad shrugged and stated how you never know until you ask.
“But Dad, you can’t ask him that. Loveboat was considered either the jumping off place for actors or kiss of death for washed up ones. You can’t ask an academy award winning actor who is still starring in
current movies if he knows Doc from Loveboat!”
Finally I got through to Dad. But that scared me. That scared me very much.
Well, I won’t get into the visit itself. This story is long enough without that. I spent a long time with Dixie’s dad (also named Hal) who was still alive. I actually enjoyed that time best because he reminded me so much of Nana and once he found out I was her granddaughter I got to hear great stories of her.
Dixie was busy as you would expect at the party. There were lots of people there. The house is HUGE (given the rural surroundings) and I was amused that here on Sunday in a town which felt like you had
stepped into the 50s, she actually had a staff working on our dinner, complete with uniforms. I wondered if she had to ship them in.
While we were there, I kept following Dad around. I noticed he wanted desperately to speak to Mr. Holbrook and I was so nervous he would ask that silly question that I couldn’t enjoy myself. I didn’t even feel
like I could be myself around him or Dixie or anyone.
Eventually I had to leave him alone and went to the powder room. Cutting through the kitchen, I ran into Dixie who stopped me. For the first time, she was speaking to me one on one. I honestly felt elated.
Dixie: Cousin Shannon, (She always used cousin as a surname) I hope you, Dean and Cousin Nora are having a good time.
Me: Yes, ma’a’m. Again, I want to thank you for inviting us.
D: Oh, no problem.
At this point she pauses and I should have noticed she was nervous. Why I didn’t pick up on that? The problem was we were supposed to have a sit down formal dinner in 30 minutes and the cook had yet to
arrive and begin cooking.
D: I just hope everyone is comfortable. I know the cook isn’t here yet, and we are going to be late to eat. What can I serve people if there isn’t any food?
Ok, so here it goes. This is where I should have remembered two things…that Dixie didn’t know I can’t cook to save my life and that she wasn’t in the mood to joke anyway.
S: Awww, well let me help. I can whip something up real quick in the microwave for ya.
Now, the instant I said this, Dixie changed. I don’t think what I said was as a big deal as it sounds, but for some reason she didn’t take too kindly to that. Her face fell as if I just declared I didn’t believe the holocaust happened. She stated as coolly as Julia Sugarbaker would have said: Why no, cousin Shannon, that is not necessary.
She walked away from me and I remember thinking I could just die. Unfortunately, this incident only strengthened my need of where I was headed, so I had to walk away. However, from that point on, I felt like a complete outcast. Dixie would not have anything to do with me and not even make eye contact. We did get seated at the family table but I was regulated to speaking to Nora, bless her heart. Dad got to sit by Hal Holbrook and this point I didn’t care what he said. They got into a conversation about that movie Hal did with Cuba Gooding Jr where Hal plays a racist general. Dad told him he was in the navy and this perked Hal’s interest right up. Dad was candid and
much to my horror he told Hal that the part he played in that was not the nicest in the world. Hal laughed. Then Dad felt like he could ask about Doc and sure enough, Hal laughed again. Then he gets in a conversation about the Loveboat. Dad and Hal talked all night. He was a big hit.
So…from this point on if I get to meet another celebrity I will be too worried about being myself. Basically I don’t blame me totally, I think she overreacted but it’s funny I was worried to death my father was going to offend someone and I wound up doing it on my own. My good friend of mine who LOVES Designing Women was so excited about me going and thought I’d naturally would hit it off with my cousin so she had concocted this fantasy that from that point on frequent trips would be made to NOWHERE, TN, and she’d get to come along. She was so disappointed.
I think my sister, Cheryl said it best, “I can’t believe you told Dixie Carter that you would whip something up in the microwave at a formal dinner.” Oh well.