Old Home Café: The Next Generation

By Edward Floden, based on characters and situations created by William D. Fries, Jr.

Episode XVIII: The Myth Gets Muddier

(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2003 June 2.)

“Your father?” asked Jon, surprised. “I thought that C.W. McCall was an ad-man’s creation.”

Avis leaned back in the booth, and pushed her now-drained Diet Coke away. “Most people think that, unless they’re from this area; then they know the truth. That display case over there,” she said, pointing to the glass-fronted case that was mounted on the wall near the pay phone, “Those are actual stories of the filming of most of the television commercials which were about Dad. But he didn’t play himself in the commercials; the producers got a real actor, from Texas, to do that. And another Texan played my mom, Mavis.”

“The commercials were an ad-man’s creation, though,” she continued. “My Uncle Bill was working at an agency in Omaha when he got the idea. Dad wasn’t anything more than a trucker, and a good one, but when those commercials hit the air, he became a star, of sorts.”

Jon eased out of the booth and went to the display case. The news clippings were yellowed and faded and almost thirty years old. He read the captions below the photographs, and examined the people in them. He recognized a few faces: they were customers that he’d seen in the Café just this morning. They were a lot younger back then.

The dates on the pages were from 1973 to 1976. He found one story, from 1975, which told of the sudden fame of the actors who portrayed the fictional C.W. McCall and Mavis, and how they were handling the situation. In one photo, Jim Finlayson and Jeannie Capps, the actors, were posed with a man that was identified as “the real C.W. McCall”.

Jon pointed to the picture, and asked Avis, “This is him?”

Avis joined Jon at the display. She looked at the picture of the man, dark-haired and smiling. “Yes, that’s him,” she said. “I don’t remember much about the commercials, though. I was only a couple of years old at the time. But Dad said that they were a lot of fun. They definitely boosted bread sales along his route.”

She pointed to another story, about C.W. McCall buying an engagement ring for Mavis, a waitress at the Old Home Café. “This one is true, too. Mom worked here, in this Café, and Dad bought the ring from a store across the street.” She nodded her head toward the west window of the Café. “Miller’s store was over there, where the resale shop is now.”

Pisgah had changed a lot, thought Jon. The busy town that was described in these stories of thirty years ago, where had it gone? Fewer farmers, more corporate farms, and older people remaining in the town that their children had abandoned for The Big City. A few years more, and perhaps this town wouldn’t even exist except as a memory of the past.

The display case was locked. “Excuse me for a moment,” pleaded Jon. He went back to the office behind the kitchen, and from a desk drawer retrieved a ring of keys. When he’d taken possession of the Old Home Café, the real estate agent that had given the keys to him. On that ring were far too many keys for the locks around the Café; the unknown keys were probably for cabinets and such that had been long removed before Jon moved in.

He returned to the Café’s main room, holding up the jangling pieces of metal. “Keys,” he said to Avis, as an explanation. “One of these ought to fit.”

A few minutes of experimentation later, Jon discovered that the small gold-colored key with the letter “J” scratched into its surface was the correct key for the display case’s lock. He opened the case.

“What are you going to do?” asked Avis.

“I’ve got a flatbed scanner in back. I’m going to scan these articles and preserve them, before they fade into unreadability. I hate to lose history,” he said, as he began to carefully remove the brittle newsprint that was pinned to the cork backing inside the case. “Besides, if you want people to visit your town, you’ve got to give them a reason. This,” he nodded toward the case, “would seem to be a good reason.”

While Jon carefully laid the clippings on the counter top, Avis picked up the remains of her Diet Coke, which was not much more than an ice-filled glass of light brown water. She sucked out the last of the liquid through her straw, causing the inevitable racous rattling. Jon noticed the noise, but it didn’t seem to bother him.

“Gotta go,” said Avis, putting down the glass. “I got off from work early, and I’m taking my Mom over to Mondamin for groceries. What do I owe you?”

Jon paused in his work with the display, and completed the ticket that he’d written for Avis when she had made her order. “One dollar even, including tax,” he said, placing the ticket on her table.

Avis pulled a one-dollar bill and a quarter from her purse and laid them on the table, then rose and headed for the door. “Keep the change,” she said, as the door bells tinkled and Jon watched her walk away.

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