An elderly Appalachian couple, who've fallen in love in Memphis, take to the road
in a red Corvette because their wacky children decide to send them to separate retirement
homes. Soon the police are in hot pursuit as they try to reach their goal of California
so Velma can get her first glimpse of the ocean.
Chapter 1 - Velma
I'll tell you right now, this ain't no "Thelma and Louise" story. Leastways
not with the same ending. I'm here to tell you about it, so it's mighty clear Louie
and me didn't drive off no cliff into the Grand Canyon. We might be old, but we
ain't brain-dead. Yes, we was on the run, and yes, we had the cops and the kids
after us, and yes, we had all of America rooting for us. But that's where the similarity
My name's Velma Luanne Huddleston. I'm seventy-three years old and up until last
August, I lived at the Happy Valley Home for Retired Citizens in Memphis, Tennessee.
That's where I met Louie, the love of my life. He lived down the hall, and I met
him one day by the mailboxes. We got to talking and he told me about his grandson
who had made it big in a rock group called Hairy Armpits or Harry Krishna or some
Anyhow, as he was going on about his rock-star grandson, I listened politely, thinking
as how that hardly was something to brag about, if you know what I mean. Gavin was
one of them long-haired ignorant-looking creatures that prance around on a stage
in skin-tight leather pants, high-heeled boots and just as naked above the waist
as the day he came into the world. I know, 'cause Louie showed me one of his MTV
videos made back in the mid-Nineties when Hairy Armpits was the biggest rock act
in America, or so Louie said. It was news to me. I'd never heard a lick about 'em.
But to be fair, I wasn't a big MTV fan. Anyhow, for the life of me, I didn't understand
why them girls in the crowd we're going crazy at the way Gavin would flip his long
brown hair around and strut on the stage like a barnyard rooster with his pick of
the chickens. But Louie was just proud as pie when he talked about that young'un,
and who was I to burst his bubble about it? Lord knows I don't have a lot to brag
about in my family.
Farvis is my only son, and I don't mind telling you, he's just a mite slow. If you
ask me, it's because of all that liquor my late husband, Skank, put away. I think
it did something to that sperm of his. Contaminated it or something.
Farvis runs a used car lot called 'ElvisMobiles.' It's right on
Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, and like everybody else in this town, he makes
use of The King's good name to draw in customers, and hasn't nary a bit of shame
about doing it. Once a year, right before the big spring sale, he dresses up like
Elvis and goes on over to the front of Graceland with a film crew and makes a commercial
for ElvisMobiles. And every blame time, the cops come and haul
him off to jail 'cause he won't move off when the guards tell him to. Farvis figgers
he comes out ahead, though, even after his wife, Loretta, pays off the fine because
his annual appearance at Graceland has turned into something he calls a "media
event" and that brings in all these new customers. So, maybe he ain't so slow,
after all. Well...I'll let you decide for yourself after you hear my story.
Now, I mentioned Loretta, Farvis' wife. Well, for the life of me, I don't know what
that man sees in that woman. All I know is, he took his ducks to a poor market when
he married that one. She's just as hateful and disagreeable and awnry a woman as
you'd ever want to meet. And just between you and me, she looks like forty miles
of bad road. (Not exactly Victoria's Secret material, if you get
my drift.) And you know what else I think? I think Farvis was having his way with
Loretta long before the wedding cake was cut, and her daddy found out and came after
him with a shot-gun. Why else would he have bought himself a life sentence to that
sour-faced Bible-toting straw-stick witch who can't open her mouth without a stream
of scripture spilling out of it. I'm not saying I'm an unbeliever. Hell! I pray
every night before I crawl into bed. But I'll be doggone damned if I go around spouting
off scripture to any Tom, Dick or Harry that happens to cross my path. That exactly
what Loretta does ever chance she gets. And pray? Oh, my Lord. That woman must bug
the hell out of God. I'm surprised He hasn't sent down a lightning bolt to render
her speechless just so she'll give Him a little rest. I swan! I'll bet Loretta prays
to the Almighty every night for a smooth and satisfying dump the next morning.
Anyhow, Farvis and Loretta get along about as good as two rabid dogs fighting over
a hunk of bloody sirloin. They don't fight physically, you understand. Far as I
know, Farvis has never lifted a hand against her. I guess he didn't inherit Skank's
mean streak, and much as I don't care for Loretta, I wouldn't wish Skank's mean
streak on my worst enemy. No, they don't fight with fists, but with words. Pick,
pick, pick. It likes to drive a body crazy listening to them going on. Sometimes
you just want to hog-tie 'em and plaster a big piece of packing tape across their
wagging mouths. One time, Louie swore he was gonna do just exactly that, and I wouldn't
put it past him.
But I'm getting off the subject. My brain always did run faster than my
mouth. The day this whole mess began, Louie was out taking me for one of our driving
lessons. Old Sam Burkhart who is as blind as a bat these days, and has no use for
driving, loaned Louie his Ford Fairlane, and Louie had been teaching me to drive
it for the last few weeks. He just couldn't believe it when he found out I'd never
driven a car in my life. See, he was driving tractors on his daddy's farm outside
of Bell Buckle when he was ten, and he went on from there to drive big semi-trucks
from Natchez, Mississippi up to Minneapolis, Minnesota twice a week, and in his
spare time, he raced stock cars on weekends all over the South. I don't know if
there's a lick of truth in this or not, because Louie loves to tell a rooster tale,
but he claims he even drove one of them ice machines for a spell up there in Minnesota.
You know what I'm talking about. Them big old machines that smooth the ice rinks
for the figure skaters. Anyhow, what I'm getting at is that Louie had been driving
something or other since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. And when he found out
Skank had never taught me to drive, well, he just decided then and there that something
had to be done about that. It was a damn shame, he said, that a woman seventy-three
years old had never once in her life driven a car. And Louie, who was a Chevy man,
said even if it was a Ford Fairlane, and that was only a step up from a
one-foot scooter, it would just have to do.
So, here I was, driving Sam Burkhart's Ford Fairlane, and doing a mighty fine job
of it, I might add. 'Course them pedals was a little confusing, I have to admit.
Trying to remember to push one thing down while letting another thing up, and then
trying to shift them gears at the same time...why, it's a wonder a body could remember
a thing with all that going on...especially with Louie yelling in my ear, things
like, " Second, Velma! You can't go from first to third!" I liked it better
when he just shut up and sat there with his hands over his eyes. 'Course that weird
sound he was making down in his throat was a mite distracting.
Anyhow, we finished our lesson that day and pulled back into the parking lot at
Happy Valley, and that's when I saw Farvis' car parked there in the visitor's lot.
I saw it first, 'cause Louie hadn't peeled his hands away from his eyes yet, and
I just knew something bad was wrong. This quare feeling just went through me. Some
folks call it "the sight," and until that moment, I never knew I had it.
But Farvis never came to the home on week days, so something had to be up. And that
"something" wasn't gonna be good. I didn't need the "second sight"
to tell me that.
"We got trouble," I said to Louie. "Farvis is here."
It was trouble, all right, but we didn't know how much trouble until Louie
saw two other cars in the parking lot. One was a flashy-looking bright red '86 Trans
Am with Tennessee vanity plates glaring VA VOOM. It could belong to nobody else
but Genovadene Madison. And the other car was the ugliest-looking '83 Volvo station
wagon you ever did see that had South Carolina tags on its bumper. Belonging to
none other than Jeneeva Madison.
Louie looked over at me, and I saw Trouble waiting for a ride in his blue eyes.
And he said two words that sent a shiver straight through my old bones. "The
The twins is Louie's girls, Jeneeva and Genovadene. Now, I'm not one to talk bad
about somebody, but I just have to say that Louie's wife must've had her cork unscrewed
just a mite too loose when she named them baby girls. I swan! Did you ever hear
such odd names in your life?
Well, I guess she knew that old saying about 'if the shoe fits," because them
two girls are just as quare as Dick's hatband. They's identical twins, but you wouldn't
know it to look at 'em. How can I put this so you get the picture? Okay. I think
I got an...what's the word...an allegy for you. You got a city, see? Let's say...St.
Louie. Kind of ordinary...nothing real memorable about it, lessen you count that
big old arch looking out over the river. Then you got Las Vegas...all bright lights
and flashy going-ons and the like. Well, Jeneeva is St. Louis and Genovadene is
You see, Genovadene would look just like Jeneeva, excepting for three things.
Clairol's Born Blonde, Maybelline's entire line
of cosmetics and Dr. Wiley J. Mortmeier of Nashville whose medical specialty is
breast implantation. Got the picture?
See, Genovadene is trying to make it in show business. She "sings" in
a honky tonk in Nashville four nights a week. Well, she calls it singing. I call
it caterwauling. That woman can't carry a tune in a tin cup, if you ask me, but
since nobody did, that's what she does. Sings in a honky tonk. (More likely, it's
not her voice that draws in the crowds, it's her bosom which she shows off in skin-tight
dresses cut down to her knee-caps.) A forty-eight year old woman should know better!
Jeneeva is in the entertainment business, too, but I guess you could say she ain't
so visible. She works in a sex toy factory down there in South Carolina, pouring
plastic into little molds shaped like a man's do-hickey. Yep. Jeneeva makes her
living making plastic peckers! It's funny, too, if you know Jeneeva. Why, that girl
would blush if you looked at her cross-eyed. She's just as backward as a treed 'possum.
Genovadene, on the other hand, if a body would pay her enough to do it, she'd walk
down Elvis Presley Boulevard in nothing but spike heels and a G-string, singing
Tammy Wynette songs. There ain't nothing she'd shy away from. Lordy me, and when
she opens up her mouth, you just wouldn't believe the things that come out. Mean
as a snake, that one is. If I didn't know better, I'd think Skank did some sniffing
around Murphreesboro and had a go at Louie's wife. But ever so often, I see a little
bit of Louie in the twins, so I reckon he must've daddied them two.
Anyways, we saw all them cars in the parking lot, and knew something fishy was up.
So, we headed into the building and got into the elevator. I don't know about Louie,
but I felt how one of them Frenchies must've felt on their way to getting their
heads chopped off. Something was in the air and believe you me, it was reeking like
day-old chicken livers.
I stepped into the 7th Floor lounge, and the first thing I saw was that old biddy,
Carlene Pottard, just a-talking a mile a minute with Loretta. Knowing that Meddlesome
Matty, she was probably getting Loretta up to date on the latest goings-on with
me and Louie. She was the one that first let the cat out of the bag about me and
Louie playing horse with a billy-goat. As if what we did in the privacy of our apartments
was any of her blame business! But that's the way it was around there. Everybody
knew everybody's business. Thanks to Carlene, I might add.
I'll set the record straight right now, seeing as how you're probably wondering
about the sex-thing. I didn't waste no time in spooning with Louie. At seventy-three
years, you don't have that much time to waste. And I'll put another thing to rest
right now while I'm at it. Sex is just as good at seventy-three as it is at twenty-three.
No, there ain't no swinging off the chandeliers and dixie-doodling the bedsprings
until Sealy-Posturepedic has sent you a Hotline number for emergency service, but
it's still pretty damn good.
See, Louie is just as cute as a bug's ear with his twinkling blue eyes and apple-red
cheeks and that thatch of silver white hair that stands up like a horsehair brush
no matter what you do with it. But looks ain't why I love him, and it ain't the
sex neither. He makes me feel young again. And he makes me laugh. There, now. I
said it. Louie and me are in love, and if he ain't sleeping in my apartment, I'm
sleeping in his. And we ain't a bit ashamed of it.
Well, when Carlene told Loretta and Farvis what we was doing, I thought Loretta
was gonna burst a blood vessel. Remember when your mama claimed she was gonna have
a conniption fit if you didn't do such and such? You always wondered what a conniption
fit was, didn't you? Well, if you'd been there the day that Carlene told Loretta
about me and Louie watching the submarine races together, you would've found out.
She started raving about sin and how Jesus would be so disappointed in us and if
we didn't repent and stop living tally, well, we was just trotting down to hell
on a fast horse in a porcupine saddle. One thing I'll say about Farvis. When Loretta
starts spouting the religion, he gets mad as hops. He's like me that way. I don't
like nobody preaching to me. I talk to God on a regular basis, and I don't need
nobody else getting in on that conversation. Ain't no party line when you're talking
to God, I always say. Anyways, Farvis told Loretta to shut her trap, and then said
to me, "Well, I reckon there's no harm in you and Louie spending time together,
Mama. It's not like we have to worry about you getting in the family way or anything."
To my recollection, that's the first thing Farvis ever said that made a lick of
sense. So, it all blew over. I just had to put up with Loretta's sour face and sanctimonious
sighs whenever they came to visit. It was all I could do to stop myself from throwing
Louie on the floor and having my way with him right in front of the old bat so she'd
have a stroke and be out of my hair for good.
Anyways, like I was saying, Carlene was just talking away with Loretta when we walked
in. Farvis, Genovadene and Jeneeva was in there, too. Loretta was mopping at her
face and neck with one of her prissy hankies, embroidered with a cross-eyed looking
Jesus; I'd noticed lately she'd been getting the hot flashes, and as awful as it
sounds, I was glad she was reaching the change of life. That meant Skank's awnry
bloodline would run out with Farvis. I took a grim satisfaction in that, 'cause
if Skank had had any dreams, it was that the Huddleston line would go on, even if
he didn't. I guess if a body waits long enough, justice will win out.
Farvis was pacing the floor, back and forth, back and forth, like one of them tigers
you see at the zoo. Excepting this tiger's eye was a-twitching like crazy.
That's when I knew for sure trouble was on the horizon. Farvis' right eye always
twitches when he's nervous. I noticed, too, he had a new hairpiece on his balding
head, and it was just as awful looking as his old one. Looked like something the
cat kilt, ate, threw up and then drug through the barnyard.
Jeneeva was sitting on one of the sofas, just as quiet and meek as a little mouse.
In her lap, she held the ugliest dog you ever did see, a long-haired chihuahua.
Looked like a rat wrapped in a fur coat. This dog, Snuggles, is Jeneeva's baby.
Never having been married, and living all alone in a tiny little house down there
in South Carolina, Jeneeva must've been lonelier than a Catholic at a Southern Baptist
revival, so she got herself this little dog to keep her company. And ever since,
she's treated it like it's her own child. It's a sight to see. The minute we walked
in, the dog jumped up on Jeneeva's lap and started yipping and snarling like we
was a couple of creatures from Outer Space, and he had to protect her from becoming
the main course on our supper table.
At the noise, Genovadene, sitting across the room, looked up from plastering more
red lipstick on lips that was already so red, she looked like a big old fire engine
coming atcha. Everybody else looked up too, and as soon as they saw us, Loretta
and Carlene stopped talking. And it was so dadblamed quiet in the room, you could
hear a mosquito fart.
I looked around at them, anchoring my hands firmly on my hips. "What the Sam
Hill are you all doing here today?"
No one said a word. Farvis' eye twitched, and he looked away from me. A guilty look
if I ever saw one. That old sick feeling I had inside my stomach twisted and burned
and chewed at my innards. I hoped I'd put my pills in my purse. I had a feeling
I'd be needing 'em soon.
"Well, don't ya'all just sit there looking jimmy-jawed at us," Louie said.
"What's going on?"
Jeneeva and Genovadene looked at each other.
"Well, now, Daddy..." Jeneeva said in her shy little girl voice. "Why
don't you and Velma have a seat, and let's have us a little talk."
I shook my head, and my eyes happened to fall on Carlene, sitting there in her wheelchair,
looking at everybody like a cat who'd just caught herself a nice juicy canary.
"Carlene, ain't you missing 'Days of Our Nights'
or 'The Bold and the Ignorant...or one
of them other silly shows you watch?"
"It ain't on 'til two," she said, her eyes bright as a weasel who'd just
spied a plump, juicy-looking chicken who'd showed up as a supper offering.
I took a step toward her and glared. "Well, something is on, so why
don't you just high-tail it out of here so I can have some privacy with my blame
"Well, I never!" With a pissy toss of her ragged gray head, she
rolled her wheelchair toward the door.
"Yeah, but you wish you had," I muttered as she rolled past.
Farvis, who'd stopped pacing, looked at me, gave a big sigh and said, "You
might as well sit down, Mama. We need to have us a little talk."
Louie and me looked at each other, and I could tell right off the bat that he was
feeling just as uneasy as me about what was going on here. He grabbed my hand and
we sat down on the sofa. I looked from Farvis to Loretta to Jeneeva to Genovadene,
and not a one of them said a word. Like they was waiting for somebody else to start.
"Somebody died," I said, not believing it for a second. I couldn't think
of one person who could've died that would've affected both Louie and me.
It was something else. Something worse than somebody dying. And I could
think of only one thing worse. "Well, answer me, dagnabbit!
Did somebody die or not?"
Farvis shook his head. "No, Mama. That's not it." His eye was a-twitching
like a wind-up toy gone berserk.
"Oh, for God's sake!" Genovadene stood up and placed her hands on her
padded hips, splaying her legs apart like Xena getting ready to mop up the floor
with the bad guys. Every eye in the room went directly to Genovadene's bosoms. She
was wearing black stretch pants and a polka-dot lace-up blouse, which of course,
wasn't laced up as far as it was supposed to be. I guess she figgered if she went
to all the trouble of getting Dr. Mortmeier's $3500 special (two for the price of
one), she might as well show 'em off. "I don't have all day for ya'all to get
to the point! Daddy, Happy Valley is going bankrupt. It's closing down. So, the
bottom line is Velma is gonna move in with Farvis and Loretta, and you are gonna
go live down in South Carolina with Jeneeva."
That was it. The one thing worse than death. They was gonna separate me and Louie.