So this weekend at Duck Duck Goose I met a woman who reminded me of an old source I had while working in a Beaumont, Texas, newsroom.
So — I’m reposting a 2007 entry from my old blog because Julia — well, she deserves to be remembered.
Miss Julia was, by far, the most faithful source I’ve ever had in this profession. Well, except for this one Junior Leaguer, who single-handedly brought down a huge nonprofit agency after it failed to pay the band for the Junior League’s biggest fund raiser of the year.
(Warning to any unscrupulous people living in the South: Never. Piss. Off. The. Junior. League.)
Anyway, while Julia was not Junior League material by any stretch, she was … well …. memorable.
I met Julia while reporting for the Beaumont Enterprise in southeast Texas. Her husband, Al, had once worked at the paper, covering City Hall.
Julia called me every day at 4 p.m. That would be at the height of deadline for a small-town newspaper reporter. Still, I couldn’t ignore her, even though she talked FOREVER, because every so often, Julia offered absolutely priceless news tips.
One afternoon, after I had seriously contemplated not picking up the phone, Julia informed me that she had been listening to her police scanner — which she loved just about as much as the dozens of stray pets she took in — when she heard that a county commissioner had been blasted off his bulldozer by water from a firehose after he had tried to run over some firefighters.
The firefighters were there to put out a fire that the commissioner started while clearing brush on the job — despite a county burn ban being place.
Which, it turns out, had been secretly lifted by the county judge, who happened to be a good friend of the bull-dozing commissioner.
And now flames were shooting up past the towering pines and the firemen were livid.
Of course, I raced out there. (Firefighters! Yum!)
And it was all just as Miss Julia had said. Trees were scorched, neighbors were agog and the commissioner had been taken to the hospital to make sure he wasn’t injured.
So you see why it didn’t pay to blow off Julia.
Twice a year, for Christmas and her birthday, I dropped by Julia’s house with a card or gift. She wouldn’t let people in her house, so we’d sit at the foot of her driveway in lawn chairs. Julia always offered a leafy branch of … some plant or another … which we would use to swat away the mosquitoes.
The one thing Julia didn’t talk about was her marriage to Al, which of course, was what I was dying to hear about.
Newsroom legend had it that Al once caused a security guard to just about pee his pants after finding Al sleeping in a darkened area on the deserted third floor of the newspaper. Supposedly, it was Al’s vampirish sleeping position — hands crossed over his chest — that spooked the guard. From then on, the guard refused to go up there after hours. He said the prospect of stumbling across Al was just too unnerving.
By the time I met Julia, Al was long dead. Supposedly, the pair had split up before his passing, but when Al fell ill, Julia cared for him, a bit testily, but still…
I remember asking Marie — the editor’s assistant who hailed from Cajun Country and longtime friend of Julia — about Al and Julia’s relationship, but Marie just smiled mysteriously.
“Has Julia ever told you what she did with Al’s ashes?” Marie asked.
Again, that cryptic smile.
I begged. I fell at Marie’s teensy feet and groveled. I promised to never again make fun of her for that time she took home the leftover margaritas from the newsroom party and arrived at work the next morning with her soft, gray hair dyed a glossy ebony.
But Marie wouldn’t budge.
My imagination ran wild. Knowing Julia, she could have done just about anything with her ex-husband’s remains. And who knew what Mr. Vampire might have specified in his will?
It became a quest, to find out where those ashes were. By then, my fellow reporters were equally intrigued.
What if Al’s ashes were stashed somewhere in the newsroom?
One night, after Marie stood on a chair and tipsily sang along to that well-known David Allan Coe song at a local bar, I took advantage of her condition and asked about the ashes.
She told me. And for the next hour, I was the only person to know what became of Al.
Then I got snockered and by next morning…
… the long-sought revelation had been wiped clean from my brain by alcohol.
No amount of pleading could wrest the information from Marie again.
I have this nagging hint of a memory involving Al and a bag of dog food. But then I tell myself that surely, even given all her eccentricities, Miss Julia wouldn’t have gone that far…
I don’t think.