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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: DOWN-HOME
After a young girl is inspired by the crafty design of a doll her mother buys at a local Tampa, Florida craft show, she envisions making her own doll and dresses. Her father a junkyard dealer, supports her in the endeavor, she eventually becoming a wealthy doll-maker and later fashion designer with operations across the world. However, in her glitzy world she misses the free lifestyle of her old home near Tampa, Florida, and returns.

Submitted: November 20, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 20, 2018




Painting & Story by: Virgil Dube’ - Copyright 2018

Shortly after Darby Applegate moved from central Alabama in 1971 to west central Florida, he started the ‘Applegate’s Junkyard and Scrapmetal’, business. A heavy smoker from age eighteen, Darby contracted lung cancer and passed away in 1992, leaving the business and property to his son Vincent, married and with family. 

* * *

The ten acres of property situated adjacent U.S. 41 just south of Apollo Beach, and facing distant Tampa Bay west, was sparsely wooded, pine and cypress. The property was divided purposely, living quarters one section, junkyard the other. A gray slat fence eight feet high marked the boundary. The actual section for storage, which encompassed eight acres of wrecked vehicles and miscellaneous scrap metal, supported a parking area storefront just back from the highway, and a back-lot trailer office. Across the fence on the opposing two-acre section, a wide wood frame house stood two-thirds back from the highway. The basic yet practical home had a spacious front yard, sandy soil covered with sparse grass and weed aplenty. The resident frontage offered Vincent an area to park his wrecker for hasty access, also an aging school bus he once rode as a kid to elementary school, purchased and stored to remind him of yesteryear. In addition, he stockpiled his father’s original scrap metal hauler, an ancient panel truck and family relic blanketed by weeds, that was rusting and becoming increasingly consumed by the elements. An aging brown shingle roof covered the five-bedroom plank board house constructed in the fifties. Low to the ground, one could step a mere four inches from the porch to settle his shoes on Florida soil. A thirty-inch high banister above a plank floor edged the wide porch. The only displeasure about her residence came from the housekeeper, Vincent’s wife, she unfavorable to ground-level position posing a nuisance and likelihood for critter infringement, she forever shooing from the front door chickens, the old hound Rufford, and grass snakes seeking mice and copious on the property. Aside from critter-scare, she complained often when she swept outside dirt tramped inside, stating at dusk each day that nobody gave a hoot about wiping his or her shoes on the craggy front door rug.

One vital outdoor relic stood to one side near the porch entrance, a rusty fifty-five gallon drum. Cut in half and fixed with an interior grill grate, it was welded by Vincent into a barbeque cooker/smoker attached atop a steel frame supported by corner rods as legs, the drum’s exterior rusty shell and interior amply grease-covered. The grill was used almost daily after work at roughly five-thirty. Once chicken poop from the yards cranky rooster was scraped off the lid, and it lit, the flames were fed chiefly chopped oak and rarely briquette.

Off from the porch Vincent occasionally chopped wood for his barbeques, blackjack oak his favored to achieve special aroma and enhanced the ribs’ flavor. Family and friends favorites were steaks, burgers, wieners and sausages, parched corn and potato, and venison during bow hunting season.

* * * 

On the late June day of typical hot and humid Florida weather, the three bare-foot men gathered to feast and chat. These happy-go-lucky individuals were wearing loose-fitting overalls, camouflage bib caps, and freshly cleaned or otherwise days-old white tee shirts, their cleanliness due to the degree of work that particular day. They communicated their delight by smacking, burping, and releasing gas freely and unabated, enjoying their dinner as dusk settled west over South Florida’s Gulf Coast. Their bellies filling, the three’s attention was diverted to admire the sunset of fleecy clouds with grayish pink undersides stretching across the horizon. They relished the cloud extremities lit in burning glory and radiating patterns of hot yellow in direct sunlight creating dazzling golds, reds, and oranges intricately intertwined. The sky afire spread far and wide, as the Sun proudly presented its wonderment and bid farewell to the sunshine state, and these totally contented men in awe as it sank into the Gulf of Mexico leaving the ensuing nighttime in its wake.

“Those were delicious pork ribs, boys,” Vincent Applegate bragged, praising he and his fellow barbequers. Smacking his lips and rubbing his stretched belly, he then tossed his last bone on the plate heaped with other bones resting on the flat board of his porch banister. “Thanks for bringing them, Freddy; I’ll do the honors next.”

“My pleasure, bro,” Freddy Murk, Vincent’s brother-in-law said, as he raised an arm and scratched his itchy armpit, then tossed his bone to Vincent’s hound and watchdog, Rufford. Beyond Freddy sat rotund Rodney Haymaker, Vince and Freddy’s longtime friend and school chum. A garbage truck driver, he indulged in an extra plateful of baked beans, coleslaw, collards, and tater tots, his third helping, grunting and smacking delightfully, and licking his lips with tongue the size it could stretch out to garnish flavored leftovers on his nose, cheek, and chin, wiping afterward unrecoverable grease with a pocket rag needing extra-strength Tide in a Maytag washer.

A petite woman pushed the screen door open behind the trio, using the toe of her brogan shoe. Balancing a galvanized pan of water, she moved to the far porch side and heaved the murky soap water onto the weedy yard and an immense fire ant bed … bulls-eye, she thought. Turning, she announced, “Vince, since I’m stretched thin, you gotta have the kitchen sink drain fixed; yucky stuff is floatin’ that I ain’t gonna touch. It's been two days and I’m tired of washin’ dishes in a pan and haulin’ water all the way out-cher. I know you work hard, here and yonder, but we’re well-off enough to afford a fit plumber, not have you do the task yourself puttin’ other chores off and on the back burner. The yellow pages are full of people needin’ work, and we got plenty around here to get repaired for ‘em.”

“Honey, the sink drain is a simple job. I’ll get around to it, myself, and the other tasks; bid me some time … please be patient.”

Cheryl Applegate sighed, grunted something low and disapproving. Eyes rolling, she walked over to the banister, where she picked up the heaped platter of discarded bones.

She turned, both hands on her hips, one holding the wash pan, a cranky grin on her face, her head cocked to one side. “Freddy, you seem finished; but I see Rodney’s still sluggin’ the slops down his funnel?”

The three cackled, Freddy finally responding once he avoided choking on a bone, and spat it over the banister rail, “Yeah, sis, but I’d like some of that home-made vanilla ice cream you churned yesterday, that is, if there’s any Vincent and Elvira left.” He winked, adding, “I don’t think Rodney’s got his fill just yet… give ‘em another half-hour afore he hollers for his ice cream.”

“Needn’t worry, there’s plenty left for Rodney to wolf-down. But you can get off your sprawled hinny and fetch each of you a clean bowl, Rodney one when he’s ready, if that occurs in the foreseeable future. I’m bone-tired and ready to crash in my easy chair with my true romance novel and ‘Inside Hollywood Magazine’. She ambled to and stopped short of the door, turned, then said a mite less assertive with some flattery tossed in, actually quite sweetly, “Vincent, honey, there’s a craft show in Tampa this weekend. Elvira and I would like to attend it Saturday morn. We’d like you to come along if you’ve a mind to go with us.”

“Except for the chores I’ve nothing pressing peaches. So I’ll work it in so we’ll all go to the craft show.”

Presently, little Elvira Applegate, Vincent’s eight-year-old daughter, the apple of his eye, beautiful and petite like her mother with blonde curly hair, dazzling sky-blue eyes, and wearing overalls with leg cuffs rolled lopsidedly up, and a wrinkled white tee-shirt, stepped barefoot from the house onto the porch. She moved next to and leaned against her father’s chair, watching, idolizing, and mimicking him to the disgruntlement of her mother not yet fully inside and gazing through the screen door at her like she was a queen hopelessly redneck.

Momentarily, Vincent burped. Elvira turned her head away, drew in air and did likewise. He placed a plug of tobacco in his mouth and chewed several minutes. Soon, he positioned two fingers to his pursed lips, leaned forward over the banister rail, and spat a stream of tobacco juice into the yard, landing a foot from Rufford panting and lying in his newest hole dug, several holes away and safe distance from the ants. Retrieving a used wad of bubble gum from her pocket, Elvira chewed a minute, collected a mouthful of spit, and then followed suite, exactly. Rufford hardly noticed his second close call; just dropped his head to the ground to take a nap after his steak bone supper. All the men chuckled. Cheryl unmoved and mesmerized, didn’t. She mumbled something unclear, likely a naughty word, then she disappeared inside to indulge in her book and magazine.

Early next morning Vincent called Cheryl to the trailer office in the adjacent junkyard. The accounting books needed updating, which was a job Cheryl voluntarily fulfilled.

Elvira in the kitchen rinsed a dish she had used to eat the last of the ice cream Rodney graciously left. Aggravation reaching intolerance with the sink retaining water, and crud; she went out on the back porch. From Vincent’s rusted disorganized toolbox on the plank floor she retrieved a barely usable crescent wrench and channel-lock pliers, oiled them, then retrieved a hammer and plumber snake from the outdoor shed. Returning to the kitchen, she pulled pots, pans, scrub brushes, boxed soap, container bowls stacked, and an array of other clutter from under the low cabinet for better access to the u-joint. Turning off the main water valve, she began to work, fussing and fuming emulating her daddy.

Around ten o’clock Elvira was sitting at the table munching from a bowl of muscadine grapes, when Vincent and Cheryl returned from the trailer office. Her mother said as she opened the refrigerator to guzzle from a water jug. “Child, do you ever get enough to eat?”

“Check out the sink, Mama,” Elvira replied, evading answering her question.

“Land sakes, sweet pea,” Cheryl exclaimed, when she turned on the faucet and water drained without obstruction, her eyes popping and hands to her wide-open mouth. “You beat all, a handyman just like your daddy … except sometimes when he’s a tad slack.”

* * * 

Saturday morning the family crowded into the Ford pickup to drive to the Tampa Fairgrounds, and craft show.

Paying and then entering the facility, Vincent spotted the kettle corn booth, and bought himself and Elvira a sizeable bag. Cheryl preferred regular popcorn, leaving the bag for father and daughter. Content and unpretentious, Vincent followed behind mother and daughter, visiting each booth as they purchased items piecemeal, until they came to and stopped at one booth in particular, Sharon’s ‘Sew Sweet Creations’.

“Mama, I love the pretty doll on display, especially the dress this lady is selling for twenty dollars.”

“I do too, hon.”

Craft lady Sharon alerted, commented to Cheryl, “I make all you see here, useful kitchen items, especially the doll dresses and assorted clothes for several doll sizes. They’re my own patterns. The dress little Ellie likes fits an eighteen inch doll, especially the American Girl displayed.”

Elvira listened intently; fascinated the woman designed and made her doll clothes: dresses, jumpers, pajamas, rompers, and coveralls. Close examination revealed to her they were skillfully sewn and professional looking, the fabric and styles stunning and beautiful. Suddenly, she was inspired by the woman’s craft to be crafty herself.

Vincent standing back, having munched midway through his bag of kettle corn, suspiciously watched his little tomboy groping at the booth’s items, sensing a sudden transformation in her, uneasy what that might soon manifest.

Cheryl also sensing her daughters keen interest bought a dress Elvira had clung to. Minutes later, she purchased an eighteen-inch doll at another craft booth, which the dress fit nicely.

That afternoon at home and after mail delivery, Vincent asked Elvira as she appeared on the porch wearing a lavender dress Aunt Polly had given her several weeks back, “Let’s mosey out and check the mailbox … okay, sweet-pea?”

Cheryl strolled out on the porch immediately, scaring two chickens in hasty coupling. Hot-Sauce the rooster entertaining the hen under the communal table squawked angrily. He and the hen dashed from the porch, where after a short distance he sprang atop the grill, and crowed loudly to express his displeasure.

Paying Hot-Sauce little attention, Cheryl watched Vincent holding their daughter’s hand, her other hand clutching her doll freshly dressed from the craft show, as they sauntered casually the distance across the extensive front yard. Cheryl grinned watching the pair chew weed stems and simultaneously spit in opposing directions. Despite dressed this moment much like girls her age, Cheryl realized that deep down Ellie was a tomboy, her dad her envy, always would be. Nevertheless, Ellie had transformed today in an indescribable way, which was more to her private liking, maybe not so much for Vincent.

* * * 

Elvira, partly tomboy, partly girly-girl, grew up fascinated with dolls, collecting them and sewing her own doll clothes from patterns, which she designed using newspaper she meticulously cut, pasted, and afterward formed and pinned to fabric. However cultured she might appear to a stranger, Elvira wearing overalls to play never deviated from spitting when she chose, or scratching when an itch grew intolerable … anytime and anywhere on her person. She reserved formal dress to special occasions, most times when necessity was suitable and away from home.

One day after turning sixteen, Elvira surprised Cheryl, “Mama, I’m enrolling in a night craft class, making porcelain dolls. I want to design and mold my own doll, make my own clothes for her like that craft lady, and name her after me, Elvira. Each doll will wear a Band-Aid on her left knee; not look happy with fake beauty, or sad, just naturally beautiful and smart-looking.”

“Honey, that is about as grand an idea as I’ve ever heard. You have mine and I know your daddy’s support.”

Before long, a few friends, relatives, and junkyard customers started to ask for and bought ‘Elvira the Tomboy Doll’, who when changed from a dress to overalls, still looked girly yet dignified. The initial sales were disappointing. Then by word of mouth, and a doll here and there spread outward from the junkyard by family and friend owning one, sales began to escalate daily. The demand surged for Elvira’s dolls after Vincent, the junkyard man, added the dolls in his local TV spots, and newspaper ads. The sales prospects thereafter inspired him to buy a kiln and build a shed he soon had to remodel into a larger doll factory. Ramping up his daughter’s business, Vincent acquired a commercial license and hired four workers to help Elvira in the doll manufacturing, clothes-making, and promotional process. Her doll sales mounted, expanding to nationwide markets via department and toy stores, ultimately orders became available over the Internet. Volume prodigious, more employees were hired. 

Weeks, months, and then years flashed by, forcing Elvira to replace the shed with a large manufacturing plant in Apollo Beach. Reaching age twenty-two and well to do, Elvira Applegate decided it was time for further change. She kept her doll plant functional using trusted affiliates so she could redirect her attention to fashion design, producing a girly-tomboy casual clothes line for the average down to earth woman of Americana affinity, putting on fashion shows then expanding her enterprise operations into New York, Chicago, and even Paris for European markets thirsting for her Americana products. Her travels carried her across the globe, away more than at home. At first she rented apartments to live. Then she acquired homes stretching from New York to the west coast, loving San Francisco especially.

As time passed her wealth soared. Her hyped-up charge from dawn to dusk keeping fashion and doll making operational, began to take its toll. The glitzy life and materialism eventually lost its allure. Becoming increasingly homesick after age thirty-two, she yearned for her roots, the simple life of her upbringing.

Whenever time permitted, Elvira found more and more an excuse to return to her former Florida home unchanged. During these intervals she cast aside formal wear, jumped into overalls, and barefoot tossed her shoes under her bed, enjoyed the company of her unchanged but now wealthy parents in the wood frame house, and strolled with them across the junkyards’ weedy yard. Together for short spans, the three reconnected with their redneck lifestyle, being comfortably carefree and liberated from formality.

For a period Elvira acclimated and indulged in two regimes, a rich and responsible entrepreneur of fashion and toy, and on occasion, a Florida homebody and tomboy. Out of necessity, she rubbed noses with the rich and famous in kingdoms far and wide. At home she escaped regulatory loving to chill out and be her true self with mom and dad at their junkyard residence, for which she was calling more and more her only true home and meaning in life.

One weekend while at home in the spring of 2010, Cheryl asked, “Ellie, would you like to attend the Tampa craft show with me? The Tampa facility being refurbished, the show has been transferred to Plant City this year?”

Eyes big and bright, Elvira replied, “I would be delighted, Mama.”

Elvira was surprised finding the craft booth exactly as it was when her parents purchased her first doll dress and she became fascinated with dolls. Because of the loud public address announcing the hourly drawing award, and surrounding noisy crowd, she leaned close to Cheryl, and said, “Mama, I’d like to talk to that lady, but she’s so doggone busy.”

“Ellie, Vincent and I come to the craft show often. When here, or at Bradenton or Brandon, Sharon is always busy since she began selling microwave potato pouches and making a killing selling nine thousand, evident when you see the people clustered around her booth. I’m sure she would like to speak with you. There’s lots to see in the show, so why don’t we come back to her booth after the crowd disburses?”

An hour later Elvira and Cheryl returned. The crowd had dwindled, only three people browsing the neatly placed items, none ready to buy yet.

Elvira approached the booth. She smiled at the slender lady, and said, “Miss Sharon, I’m Elvira Applegate. My mother bought a doll dress from you for me when I was eight years old.”

“Yes, Elvira, it might surprise you, but I do remember. I’ve followed your career through your parents and have come to know your success from other quarters. I’m pleased you’ve done so well.”

“Thank you. I just wanted you to know the workmanship of your doll dresses is unrivaled among all I’ve seen in my travels, including my own.”

Sharon suddenly teary-eyed thanked her. The three women visited several minutes, as customers began to gather again, most of them seeking the amazing microwave potato pouch to buy. Elvira quickly picked out a pouch of colorful fabric. It featured images of a barbeque grill, large mitten, hotdog, hamburger, ketchup and mustard, and flipping tools. She and her mother informed Sharon they must go, Vincent was at home grilling, expecting them around noon, said they would see her at the next show. Leaving and walking backward, Elvira said, “I’ll let you know how my potato pouch works out when I’m on the road and need a quick and wholesome meal. Your passionate customers have assured me potatoes and assorted vegetables were great cooked in a paper towel in your pouch; can’t wait to try it.”

Elvira returned home just before lunch to a barbeque feast Vincent had prepared: rib slabs with potato salad, snap beans, collards, coleslaw, and beer on ice in the portable cooler. She changed quickly into her customary laidback clothes, popped two chunks of bubble gum in her mouth to generate extra saliva, and took her spot in the front porch rocker next to Vincent. He was spinning yarns with Freddy and Rodney just appearing, chewing tobacco, rubbing their bellies, every so often spitting over or under the banister rail. After lunch the yarns continued, plus burping and an occasional gas-release, Elvira joining in on all accounts. Laughing until tears flowed, she along with her dad and friends were as vivacious and content as ever.

As Elvira sat there listening, interjecting her own yarns, burps, poops, eating to her heart's content, she began seriously to consider returning home permanently. She missed this fellowship dearly, plus walking barefoot any doggone time she felt the urge.

Presently, a rusty old Chevrolet pickup pulled into the front yard and the most handsome yet homeliest young man she had ever laid eyes on got out. Wearing overalls, a brown felt hat, and heavy work boots, he stooped to pet and be greeted by General Patton, Vincent’s pit-bull-bloodhound mix, and Rufford’s replacement when he died three years back of old age. Seeing Elvira, the young man removed his hat to reveal medium length wavy jet black hair. Shyly, he strolled beside General Patton toward the porch, nervously bending now and then to pet and chat with the friendly dog.

“What a hunk; who is this guy, Dad?” Elvira whispered.

“My dear, that wiry young fella is Rusty Bolt.”

Chuckling, she replied, “Well, Daddy, his name fits what he drives, his clothes … hell, every rusty thing about him suits me just fine.”

“Rusty Bolt doesn’t just drive a rusty old truck, Ellie. He co-owns with family a well-to-do Plant City junkyard. Rusty moved here with a passel of West Floridians from Chipley several years ago, drops by to socialize now and then, and talk junk … literally and otherwise. I’ll introduce you. He’s seen photos of you on our walls. Openly complimentary, he's spoken favorably of meeting you.”

The afternoon sped by, with an array of friends and relatives dropping by, sampling the goodies, and ultimately leaving for whatever reason. Elvira hadn’t had so much fun and shared in genuine camaraderie with a group of basic homespun people in a long-long time.

She visited extensively with Rusty, talking about any and everything that came to mind, strolling about the junkyard with him, General Patton always at their heels. The magnetism between them strengthened over the hours. Before the day ended, Elvira and Rusty, tummies full and having a redneck good time, knew they were meant for each other, had fallen in love, knew on the sly between them they would marry someday … it was just a matter of time.

However, first, Elvira had to get her immense business in functional order for a major transformation. She made calls setting in motion her decision to relocate and headquarter in Florida. In two days she would leave by jet from Tampa to multiple destinations. Her initial stop would be New York, then Chicago, afterward Paris for consultation and preparing her doll affiliates for her relocation. She would withdraw actively from the fashion business selling her home-based plant in Apollo Beach. She would conclude the deal by visiting London for an important meeting in the London Hyatt with fellow Ellie Elegant Apparel international top executives and affiliates to discuss her departure as CEO but remain a major stockholder. Afterward, she would fly home to reunite with her redneck happy-go-lucky clan. There, she would settle down forever to covet peace and happiness, and wallow in a meaningful life more suited her as her daddy and mama’s returned redneck daughter, and Rusty Bolt’s redneck wife reincarnated.


© Copyright 2020 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

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