Do You Believe In Magic?


Before Hardee’s enlisted Paris Hilton to hawk its hamburgers and fries, the chain, which first appeared on my radar in the early 1970s, employed the talents of the winsome Gilbert Giddyup, the company’s chaps wearing answer to Ronald McDonald. Gilbert failed to stir my imagination since I was a mature thirteen year old, but Jenny, my baby sister, adored him. Mesmerized any time she saw him on television, she chattered about him incessantly. When she found out that Gilbert would be making a special appearance at  Hardee’s in Savannah, she launched a relentless campaign to meet her new idol. I didn’t care whether she got her way or not until I learned that the whole family would be traveling in our lovely station wagon with the faux wood grain panels to usher Jenny into the sacred presence.

Once we arrived and ordered our dinner, Mama invited Jenny to embark upon her long-awaited rendezvous with Gilbert, but Jenny wouldn’t budge. She was plastered to the corner of the booth with a panicked look in her eye. You would have thought Gilbert was going to murder her right there on the polished tile floor. I laughed to myself about the cosmic irony of the whole scenario until I saw Mama’s facial expression change, She had an idea. With a smooth, dulcet tone, Mama inveigled, “Angie, go speak to Gilbert Giddyup so that Jenny won’t be so afraid.” What? I couldn’t wade into the rout of kindergarteners engulfing Gilbert in front of everybody. I was sporting my white patent leather knee boots and a genuine puka shell necklace from Hawaii. I was wearing lip gloss, for Pete’s sake. “But Mama, I…pleeeeease don’t make me!” Daddy shot me a sympathetic but firm look, and off I went. Poor Gilbert, whose fake mustache was beginning to slip, was sweating profusely. He extended a warm paw, which I started to shake, but that wasn’t good enough. “Sit in his lap for a picture so Jenny will do it,” Mama called at top volume. I complied and then scooted back to our booth with my head down.

Mama looked sweetly at Jenny and intoned, “Now it’s your turn! Go make a picture with Gilbert. He’s so nice!” Jenny remained unconvinced. She violently shook her head and began pulling at the ribbon around one of her pig tails while pretending not to hear. Great. I had sacrificed my dignity for nothing. The stand off went on for minutes until Mama decided she had had enough. Jenny had dragged us all to Savannah for one purpose, and Mama wasn’t about to let her miss this opportunity only to listen to her cry all the way home because she hadn’t talked to her favorite cowhand. A bit of immersion therapy was in order.Mama bent over so that she and Jenny were eye to eye , put her index finger under Jenny’s chin, and firmly stated, ” Jenny, you are GOING to speak to Gilbert Giddyup!” Those words were like an incantation. They cast a spell over my unwilling baby sister, impelling her to Gilbert’s side for a brief conversation, and that was that.

Several months later, the family, again in our station wagon, drove through Cherokee, North Carolina on the way home from New York. I was glad that Daddy didn’t stop because Mama had made noise about going to see “Unto These Hills,” an outdoor pageant designed for tourists, which no one else cared to see.  On every corner in town,  young Native American men and women dressed in traditional clothing held signs that read “Have Your Picture Made With an Indian–$1.00.”  “Look, Tab! We could have our picture made with an Indian,” Mama exclaimed while Daddy accelerated and pretended not to hear. It was a close call. About five miles past Cherokee, Jenny began to whine in Mama’s ear, ” I wanted to have my picture made with an Indian.” Mama tapped Daddy’s shoulder and said, “Tab, Jenny wants to take a picture with an Indian.” Without a word, Daddy squealed the tires as he made a quick u-turn, and we drove back to town. Stopping abruptly at the first corner in sight, Daddy got out and paid a handsome Native American teen the required fee. Mama smiled brightly and opened the back door for Jenny. When would my mother ever learn? Jenny was again plastered to her seat with no intention of budging. I just knew that within minutes I would be drafted into demonstrating the young man’s benign intentions, but  this time Mama wasn’t inclined to be patient. She looked into Jenny’s eyes and worked her magic: “Jenny, you are GOING to talk to the Indian.” She then plucked Jenny from the car and marched her to the corner. Minutes later, Mama smiled with triumph as we retraced our path out of town, and that was that.

Almost fifteen years later, my oldest son, T.J., found out that his idol, He Man, was going to drop by Belk at Oglethorpe Mall, along with the hero’s pal Shera and trusty mount, Battle Cat. I heard nothing but He Man until the sultry July morning of the exhibit. I dropped Tab off  with Joe’s mother and made the pilgrimage to Belk with T.J., who was so  excited that he threatened to spin out of control. When we arrived, I saw that the line for the event stretched halfway around the mall, but I had promised. My son burbled happily about seeing He Man while I got so hot that I began to see spots. When we finally got inside, I saw the expression on T.J.’s face change. To his dismay, he learned that He Man’s nemesis, the evil Skeletor, had also decided to hang out at Belk that morning.

T.J. began to bridle while I looked at him in disbelief. Clutching at my skirt, he tried to pull me out of line. I gaped at him and spoke in an exasperated staccato: “What on earth is the matter with you?  Are you kidding me?  We have stood in the sun for hours because YOU wanted to see He Man. This is all you’ve talked about for a week! Those are people in costumes. They are not going to hurt you. I wouldn’t put you in danger. See? All of those other kids walked over, and nobody bothered them. I am going to be holding your hand the whole time!” No matter what I said or how I said it, T.J. would not be persuaded. On the verge of despair, I suddenly remembered Mama’s incantation of old. Did it retain its enchanting properties? Would it work as well on my boy as it had on Jenny? Could I mimic Mama’s tone, which had  undoubtedly influenced the spell?  I had to try. I bent over, looked deeply into my son’s eyes, put my finger under his chin, and whispered, ” T.J., you are GOING to talk to He Man.”  Voila! My little guy glided past the stage, nodded politely at his idol, and then exclaimed, ” Mom, I did it! Can I have a toy?” And that was that.

6 responses »

  1. HAHAHA! Loved it…Let me add, however, that, while technically said Indian was wearing “traditional” garb, he was not wearing Cherokee attire. Feathered head dresses are, if I am not mistaken, plains indian tradition, not the garb of Eastern natives. Cherokee just got wise that white folk were suckers for that look, so they went with it. Just a tid-bit for you.

    • That is interesting. The whole scenario seems odd and disconcerting today, but at the time, everyone, including Native Americans, used the term “Indians,” and the tourist trade in Cherokee was the chief source of support for the area’s inhabitants. I am so happy that you have formed such a strong bond with the Navajo people you serve.

  2. Where are all those photos? I expected to see them here especially the one with you sitting on Gilberts lap!!

  3. Omg, just found your blog, you have always had a way to tell stories that make it so surreal. I have enjoyed reading your stories, keep them coming. Charlotte( PCA C/O’95)

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