SAVING THE HARLEM REINDEER DREAM
(Read below or click audio above.)
My first visit to Harlem to visit Oliver Hardy was just a few years back, but I can’t forget it.
Let me back-track.
I’m driving the long and barren interstate between Augusta and Atlanta in the dead of winter. The sky is gray, the asphalt is gray, the grass and trees are gray, and the mood is grayish. My wife, Liz, and my granddaughter, Jessica, are with me. Suddenly I see a roadside sign directing me to Harlem, Georgia.
Interesting. There is a Harlem Down South?
Then, the next sign tells me that Harlem is the birthplace of the late film comedian Oliver Hardy, of Laurel and Hardy fame.
This is my chance to break the gray day into something smileful. Without asking anybody’s permission, I swerve onto the road to Harlem.
“Where are we going?” Liz asks.
“Why are we turning?” Jessica asks. She’s in a hurry to get to Columbia, South Carolina, to visit family.
“Oh, I’m just going to check something out,” I say. “Maybe we’ll have fun!”
Both passengers grumble and try to go back to their naps.
Suddenly, I’m yelling, “Look look look!” rapid-fire, to make sure Liz and Jessica wake up and look ahead of us on the two-lane blue road.
There, half a block away, five deer are crossing the road, and Jessica claps her hands in delight,
“Are they reindeer?”
I make my usual retort, “Maybe this is where Santa keeps his reindeer off-season.” Jessica is still young and hopeful and a Believer, so she accepts this explanation without a hint of cynicism.
We drive on in to Harlem, the gray day broken by smiles and daydreams.
Harlem is a tiny town, but, sure enough, it’s the hometown of Oliver Hardy. Nothing is open today, since it’s Sunday, and this is long before the Laurel and Hardy museum is fully functioning.
We visit for a while, find that some locals don’t know who Hardy was, find that others are proud of who he was. Liz and I enjoy the visit, but Jessica doesn’t know who these comedians were, so she’s just along for the ride, still thinking about those five reindeer.
Years later, when Harlem has its act together, I take grandsons Ryan and Reed to Harlem, and they get to see a Laurel and Hardy movie, which makes them instant fans.
But today, driving out of Harlem and heading back to the interstate, Jessica starts to settle down in the back seat and Liz closes her eyes while I drive.
Once on the interstate, I’m driving along at my usual at-the-speed-limit rate when I see in the rearview mirror a truck bearing down on us and getting ready to pass. The large open bed of the truck has something gray piled onto it, so I glance again, as it starts to pass us, to determine what it is hauling.
Two hunting-capped men are in front and in the bed are five fresh deer carcasses, their antlers waving with the truck’s motion.
Since they’re passing on the left, I quickly yell, “Look over there! (pointing to the right-hand fields) What’s that? Do you see that?”
Liz and Jessica rise up and peer to the right, their attention focused intensely, just as the truckload of deer passes on by. I keep making up stuff to keep them searching the fields, until the truck is out of sight. Then, I have to fabricate something so they won’t think I’m completely crazy.
“I thought I saw a grizzly!”
They look at me funny and settle back down, never having seen the truck.
And I continue the drive toward Augusta, slightly proud of myself for having saved one little girl’s dream of Santa for at least another season
–Jim Reed © 2009 A.D.