Today I’m delighted to be the fourth stop on the Carrying Albert Home blog tour. Carrying Albert Home is described as, “the somewhat true story of a woman, a husband and her alligator.” It’s a wonderfully quirky read that made me smile and melted my heart and you can win fantastic signed copies and other treats by following Albert’s journey this week and tweeting @W6BookCafe with the answer each day. Read on for more details and an extract of the book then get those tweets in #WheresAlbert?
In 1930s America, the Great Depression made everyone’s horizons smaller, and Elsie Lavender found herself back where she began, in the coalfields of West Virginia. She had just one memento of her halcyon days – a baby alligator named Albert.
Then one day, her husband’s stoical patience snapped and Elsie had to choose between Homer and Albert. She decided that there was only one thing to do: they would carry Albert home to Florida.
And so began their odyssey – a journey like no other, where Elsie, Homer and Albert encountered everything from movie stars and revolutionaries to Ernest Hemingway and hurricanes in their struggle to find love, redemption, and a place to call home.
Book Extract: Chapter 36
Elsie thought the sign on the Georgia border was the biggest, gaudiest sign she had yet seen announcing a state. It had a gigantic peach-colored peach on it, a smiling blond woman holding a basket filled with what appeared to be more peach-colored peaches, and curving atop the sign the words:
WELCOME TO GEORGIA
OUR MOTTO: WISDOM, JUSTICE, AND MODERATION
Elsie read the motto, tried to make sense of it, failed, then closed her eyes and tried to sleep. But sleep didn’t come. Instead, she thought about what was going to happen next and concluded she just didn’t know. She’d threatened to kill a man and risked her own life on the sea to save Homer (and also Albert, of course) but she still didn’t know how she felt about her husband. She kept hunting through her heart to find a shim- mer of love, but it just wasn’t there. But maybe, she thought, that was because she didn’t know what love was. Homer was a good man, despite his overly logical inclinations and tendency to criticize her, and other women would probably be grateful to have him as a spouse. So why didn’t she? Maybe, she thought sadly, it was all because of Buddy.
Buddyhad spoiled her for Homer, perhaps for all other men. Buddy was so handsome and fun and, every time she’d been with him, he’d made her feel good about herself. But Buddy was gone, gone to New York and maybe Hollywood, gone to fame and fortune, and gone to women with big blue eyes and platinum hair. She allowed a long sigh. So sad, so sad. What is to come of me?
On the other side of the bench seat, Homer occasionally sneaked looks at his wife and smiled inwardly. She loved him, he knew that now for cer- tain, because why else would she have forced Captain Bob to look for him and then got aboard the Dorothy herself to make certain the job was done right? This thought caused his heart to soar and made him want to drive through Georgia as fast as the Buick would go, across the border into Florida, thence to Orlando. He had some money in his pocket—pay from Captain Bob—and there was food and drink from the boarding- house in the trunk. If he could just keep going, he figured they’d be across the Florida line in a day and a night, maybe less, and then only another day to Orlando to drop Albert off in a suitable swamp. After that he’d make as straight a shot as he possibly could to Coalwood, where he would beg the Captain for his job back. Because, after all, when a husband and wife were in love, what did it matter where they lived?
As the hours passed, the countryside became flatter and Homer saw cotton bushes in fields, row upon row. Wood frame houses, their tin roofs glittering in the hot sun, could be seen set far back from the road. No towns, big or small, appeared, nor did many traffic signs except occasional ones that identified the number of the road. Without a map, the numbers didn’t mean anything, so Homer kept driving by instinct, choosing the best road that appeared to be heading south.
When he got hungry, he turned off the paved road and took a narrow dirt road that led beneath some shade trees. On the other side of the trees, he was pleased to find a lovely expanse of green grass and, upon it, a fine-looking, well-proportioned horse grazing on the grass. He drove up under a tree and touched Elsie’s shoulder to wake her. “I’ve found us a fine spot for a picnic.”
Elsie looked around. “Where are we?” “Still in Georgia.”
“Oh, yes, the state that intends to provide us with wisdom, justice, and moderation.”
“A fine purpose,” Homer said, “and so far, it appears to be a lovely state. I think you also know that Georgia shares a border with Florida, so we only have to get across it and then, before you know it, we’ll be in Orlando, where we can let Albert go and drive back to Coalwood!”
Elsie reached over the seat and patted Albert’s snout, then presented a forced smile. “Well, isn’t that wonderful,” she said.
By her forced smile, Homer suspected his wife didn’t think his com- ment was wonderful at all. “What’s wrong?” he asked, instantly regret- ting the question.
“Nothing,” she replied.
“Are you sure?” Homer asked, also regretting that question. “Well, actually, there’s something we need to talk about.”
At this declaration, Homer recalled some instruction from Captain Laird. “When a woman tells a man there’s something they need to talk about,” the great man had advised, “my advice is to avail yourself of the nearest door.”
The nearest door in this case was the car door and Homer fingered the handle, then let it drop. He would hear her out. “What would those things be?” he asked.
“When we get to Orlando, I’d like to stay awhile,” she said.
Homer relaxed and breathed out. “Well, sure. You’ll want to visit your Uncle Aubrey.”
“More than that,” she said, “I’d like to stay for . . . as I said, a while. A good while.”
“What do you mean a good while?” Homer asked, then felt some- thing nudge his elbow. Startled, he looked up to see the horse had come over and was nuzzling his arm with its big nose. “Shoo, horse,” he said.
Elsie opened the door and got out. “It’s got a saddle and a bridle. It must have escaped from somewhere.”
“It’s not our responsibility, Elsie,” Homer said. “What do you mean a good while?”
“I’ve always wanted to be a cowgirl,” Elsie said, and before Homer could say anything else, she swung up in the horse’s saddle with prac- ticed ease, although, as far as Homer knew, she’d never been in a saddle before. She clicked her tongue, and the horse walked ahead and then broke into a trot with Elsie looking like she knew exactly what she was doing.
She must have learned in Orlando, Homer said to himself and then al- lowed his imagination to go into overdrive as his wife urged the horse into a gallop and he imagined the glamorous bachelorette Elsie Lavender and the oh-so-smooth Buddy Ebsen as they rode together along some romantic and tropical path in deep and decadent Florida. He found him- self clenching his fists and was on the verge of chasing after Elsie, pulling her out of the saddle, and demanding how she knew how to ride, and whether “a good while” meant she had no intention of ever returning toCoalwood. Angry and sad at the same time, he told himself that now
was the time to finally get the truth out of his wife on why they were re- ally on this journey.
But he didn’t get the truth because there came from the sunlit sky a gigantic bird swooping low over the Buick, the rush of air from its wings knocking Homer to the ground, and then continuing on to dive at Elsie and the horse. The horse responded to this unexpected attack by bucking.
Homer, looking up from the grass, realized it wasn’t a bird at all but an airplane and actually a vintage biplane. He climbed to his feet and watched the double-winged aircraft as it pulled up in preparation for an- other run. Then he saw that Elsie had been bucked off and, afraid that she was hurt, ran to her. “Are you all right?” he anxiously asked, going down on one knee and taking up her hand.
Elsie pushed herself up on one elbow. “Of course I am,” she said, al- though she looked a bit dazed, her eyes slightly unfocused.
Homer ran his hands along her arms and down her legs. “What are you doing?” she demanded.
“Feeling for broken bones.”
“I don’t have any broken bones,” she said, and climbed to her feet to prove it just as the aircraft came whooshing over again, this time inclin- ing its path and slowing enough to land in the field.
The plane’s engine sputtered, coughed, and died. Then a man wear- ing a brown leather cap, black goggles, brown leather jacket, forest green jodhpurs, and brown boots climbed out of the aircraft and walked over to Homer and Elsie. He put his hands on his hips. “Were you stealing my horse?”
“No, sir, I was just riding her,” Elsie answered, taking the occasion to brush off her skirt. “We supposed she’d gotten loose from somewhere
and I thought if I rode her, she might take me to where that was.”
The man pushed up his goggles and, though his face was dusty and spattered with oil spots, Homer saw it was a brown face, about the same color as the man’s boots. He gave that a quick ponder, a Negro man fly- ing an aircraft, and then inwardly shrugged for he believed the same thing Captain Laird believed, that a man should be judged by his skills and productivity, not by the color of his skin or who his parents were, either.
“Well, I believe you,” the man said. “I call the mare Trixie. She’s full of tricks and one of them is untying her rope.” He stuck out his hand to Elsie and then Homer. “My name’s Robinson R. Robinson but most folks call me Robby.”
“Homer Hickam,” Homer said. “This is my wife, Elsie, who appar- ently is also something of a trickster because, until today, I didn’t know she knew how to ride a horse like an expert.”
“I learned in Florida,” Elsie said.
“This does not surprise me,” Homer answered with a jealous frown. Elsie changed the subject. “How did you become a pilot?”
“The late great war, Miss Elsie,” Robby answered. “I was but a me- chanic at an aerodrome in France but we ran short of pilots one day and since I’d practiced a bit with one of the instructors, they gave me a plane just like this one and a couple of bombs and off I went. When I hit my targets, they kept sending me up until the war ended. When I got back, I bought old Betsy here and we barnstormed all over the country. When I settled down, I started a crop-dusting company. Been bombing bugs for about ten years.”
At this revelation, Elsie looked thoughtful. “You’re wondering what the locals think about a black fellow in an airplane?” Robby asked. These old boys around here are cotton farmers and if I take care of their crops,
I could be sky blue pink for all they care.”
Elsie walked to the airplane and ran her hands across the fabric of the
fuselage and along the wing. Robby and Homer walked up just as she said, “I’ve always wanted to be a pilot.”
“Elsie, no!” Homer blurted. “You can’t keep wanting to be everything there is!”
“Well, I guess I can want to be anything I want to be,” she answered, then asked, “How much for a lesson, Robby?”
Robby grinned. “For you, Miss Elsie? Well, I guess I’d do it for a smile and a quarter.”
Elsie smiled. “I have a quarter, too,” she said.
Homer said it again, although this time with a lower and quite de- feated tone. “Elsie, no.”
Elsie walked past Homer and he hurried to catch up with her. “I want to be more than you want me to be,” she said, taking big strides toward the Buick.
“That’s not true, “Homer replied when he caught up with her. “I just don’t believe you have any idea what you want. Are you going to tell me
what ‘a good while’ means?”
Have you found out where Albert is by reading the extract? Tweet @W6BookCafe your answer with the hashtag #WheresAlbert to win a signed copy of Carrying Albert Home and a beautiful passport holder and luggage tag, plus more Albert goodies! Good luck!