Summary: In this comedy from the Jack Richards/Malibu Sunset archives, Jack returns to his hometown to honor a last request. But not everyone got the memo…. (Posted this week in honor of Pernell Roberts’ birthday)
Rating: K Word Count: 2605
If you don’t know Jack, or just want to refresh your memory, this will explain everything:
Right is the Third Left
Return to Grace
Vi (Jack’s secretary): Jack, there’s a call for you from a Mr. Baxter Bailey in Atlanta. Are you in?
Jack: I don’t know anyone by that name. Did he happen to mention the subject?
Vi: He said it was in regard to someone named Orville Livingston.
Jack: I’ll take it in my office. (Exits)
Vi (to Jack’s daughter Sara): Who is Orville Livingston?
Sara: He’s a distant cousin. He and Dad grew up together back in Georgia, but I don’t think they’ve seen each other in quite a while. I hope nothing’s wrong.
Vi: Me too. Where in Georgia?
Sara: Near the Okefenokee Swamp, a little town called Grace—it’s barely on the map, just a few hundred people, mostly related. That’s where Mavis is from, too. She and Dad are cousins on his mother’s side.
Vi: Well, that explains a few things.
(Jack re-enters the room, looking solemn)
Sara: Bad news?
Jack: Hatch is dead.
Vi: Oh, for a minute we thought it was your cousin Orville.
Jack: It is, I mean, he is, or was anyway. His middle name was Hatcher; folks called him Hatch for short.
Sara: How did it happen?
Jack: He had a heart attack on the golf course – out of the blue, no warning. Birdied the 18th hole and just dropped dead.
Sara: I’m sorry, Dad.
Jack: Yeah, me too. That’s not all. Mr. Bailey is Hatch’s lawyer. Apparently he had a few last requests, and one of them was for me to speak at his memorial service.
(Vi exits to answer the phone)
Sara: Are you going? You haven’t been there in years.
Jack: Yes, I’m going; I don’t think I have a choice. And I’d like for you and Mark to go with me.
Sara: Dad, I’m supposed to meet with my editor tomorrow.
Jack: Can’t you change the date?
Sara looks skeptical: It’s been changed twice already.
Jack, visibly disappointed: Oh.
Sara: This is really important to you, isn’t it?
Jack: It’s okay. I understand. Short notice.
Sara, sighing: No, it’s not okay. I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course we’ll go with you.
Jack: Are you sure?
Sara: I’m sure. It’s just a silly little book anyway. It doesn’t matter.
Jack: Don’t say that. It matters. We both know it does.
Sara: Yes, but you’re more important. Don’t worry, I’ll work it out. Besides, it might be nice just to get away for a few days.
Jack, smiling: Thanks kiddo. I owe you one.
Sara: I’ll remember that the next time I need a really big favor. Oh, tell Vi to get a ticket for Mavis too.
Sara: She wouldn’t miss this trip for the world, and besides, I have a feeling she might come in handy.
That night at dinner, a review of some family history
Housekeeper/Cousin Mavis: That’s a shame about Hatch. Boy, people are droppin’ like flies all over Grace. This will be the fourth funeral I’ve been to in five years. The last time I was home, Lula Belle Watson keeled over from sunstroke right after the photographer snapped her picture for Yard of the Month. They used it for her obituary. It was a real nice one too, shame she didn’t get to see it because her azaleas sure looked pretty. Of course, she was in her nineties.
Jack: Lula Belle…that name sounds familiar. Do I know her?
Mavis: You ought to. She’s your cousin too, one of that McGee bunch that lived over near Waycross.
Jack: That’s right. There were eight or ten of them at least.
Mavis: I’m pretty sure there were ten. Let’s see…there was Lula Belle, Molly Bee, Harvey Lee, Roy Vee…and Cora May…and a set of twins, Nola Fay and Lola Kay…and there was another girl…
Sara, smiling: Doris Day?
Mavis: Ha ha, no…it was Brenda Gay. Now how many is that? (counting on her fingers) That’s eight. And there was also another boy…
Jack: Carl Ray. But everybody called him Gator.
Mavis: No wonder I couldn’t think of his name. Gator McGee, I remember now. He was about your age, wasn’t he, Jack? Didn’t you used to run around with him?
Jack: Hatch was actually closer to him than I was, but three of us had some wild times when we were too young to know better. Gosh, I haven’t thought about him in a long time.
Mark, Jack’s grandson: Is he still around?
Jack: No, he died in Korea in ‘51.
Mark: Oh. Sorry to hear that.
Jack: So was I.
Sara, changing the subject: Mavis, I thought you said there were ten McGees, but you only named nine.
Mavis: Oh, the youngest was Myrtle.
Mark, grinning: What was her middle name, Turtle?
Mavis, shaking her head: She didn’t have one.
Mark: How come?
Mavis: Her folks couldn’t think of one, said they just ran out of names.
Jack: I guess that wasn’t the only thing they ran out of.
The next day as Jack and company are winging their way to Grace, a distraught Abigail (Jack’s fan club president) shows up at the beach house where Vi is holding down the fort.
Vi: Hello Abigail. I wasn’t expecting you. I’m sorry, but Jack’s gone.
Abigail, sniffling: Yes, I know. I came as soon as I heard. I couldn’t get Sara on the phone. Is she here?
Vi: No, she and Mark and Mavis went with Jack to Georgia for the funeral. They left this morning.
Vi: Well, the service is tomorrow.
Abigail: I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. I mean, it was so sudden! How did it happen?
Vi: He had a heart attack on the golf course, right after the 18th hole. It was like a real life, sudden death playoff.
Abigail: Vi! How could you possibly make a joke at a time like this?
Vi: Well, I’m sorry, I didn’t expect you’d take it so hard. Why don’t you let me get you some water, or maybe you’d rather have an iced tea? Now you just sit down. I’ll be right back.
Abigail stares after Vi in disbelief. The doorbell rings.
Vi (from the kitchen): Would you mind getting that?
Abigail: It’s probably Marty. I called him and he said he’d meet me here. (Answers the door.)
Marty, Jack’s agent: Please tell me it’s not true.
Abigail: I’m afraid it is. Vi is the only one home, and I think she’s in shock. She’s making jokes about it! I don’t think we should leave her alone. She’s liable to break down any minute.
Vi, returning with Abigail’s iced tea: Hi Marty. If you’re here to see Jack, you’re too late. Would you like something to drink?
Marty: No thanks, Vi. Why don’t you just come right over here and sit down and tell us what happened, if you can. Take your time.
Vi, looking confused: All right, but there’s really not much to tell. I took the call, and like I told Abigail, they said he had a heart attack on the golf course, and then I made the plane reservations and they all left this morning.
Marty: I didn’t even know he played golf. And I can’t believe no one called me!
Vi: Well no offense, Marty, but I really don’t think Jack needs an agent for this. By the way, how did you two find out?
Abigail: A friend of mine works for Sara’s publisher, and she told me Sara called to cancel a meeting with her editor because of Jack’s “unexpected departure.”
Vi: Well, it did come up all of a sudden, and Sara wasn’t sure she could go at first because she had this big meeting which had already been postponed a couple of times, but she said she really hated for Jack to go alone. Of course, I think he would have been fine if you ask me.
Marty and Abigail look at each other, stunned, and then at Vi, who smiles back cheerfully.
Marty: Vi, listen to me. I know this has been a terrible shock, and everyone deals with bad news in their own way, but you’re acting like you don’t even realize Jack is dead.
Vi: OH MY GOSH! Jack is dead? How?
Abigail: Honey, remember? It was a heart attack. On the golf course, right?
Vi: Poor Jack! Just like his cousin Orville! And he thought he was only going to speak at a funeral, not be in one.
Abigail: What? You mean Jack is speaking at a funeral tomorrow?
Vi: How can he if he’s dead?
Marty: Whoa, back up…let me get this straight. Jack’s cousin Orville had a heart attack on the golf course, and Jack and Sara and Mark and Mavis have all gone to Georgia for the funeral. Is that right?
Vi: Well, that’s what I thought until you guys showed up!
Marty, glaring at Abigail: You just had to have a friend at the publishing company. You know this is exactly how rumors get started.
That evening in Grace, there is a potluck supper at the community center where friends and family have gathered following the visitation at the funeral home.
Mark: What is this?
Sara: Some kind of casserole.
Mark: Yeah, but what kind?
Jack: One never really knows. That’s why they call it potluck. This is Friday, so it could be anything. I’d be careful if I were you.
Sara: Dad, really.
Mark: Are they all the same? I mean they all look alike.
Mavis: Here, let me help you. You see those with the poppy seeds on top? Everybody in town has this recipe, and matter what they call it, it’s basically chicken, cream of chicken soup and sour cream. Now these on this end are vegetable casseroles. Here’s a green bean casserole, corn casserole, spinach casserole, eggplant casserole, sweet potato casserole, this one is hashed brown potato casserole, here’s a squash casserole, and this one looks like veg-all.
Sara: See, I told you she’d come in handy.
Mark: Don’t they have any plain vegetables?
Mavis: Sure, there’s a big pot of turnip greens.
Mark: You mean that slimy stuff that looks like seaweed? Pass. Maybe I’ll just have a salad.
Mavis: All right, here’s a black-eyed-pea salad, English pea salad, buttermilk salad, cornbread salad, tuna mold and a couple of Jello surprises.
(Mark appeals to Jack for help, who shakes his head): Your guess is as good as mine, pal.
Mark: I think I’ll just stick with the fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
Jack: Good choice.
Mark: Man, this place is cholesterol city. What I’d like to know is if this food is really bad for you, how come there are so many old people?
Sara: Mark, keep your voice down.
Mark: Well, look around, besides me, there’s no one here under fifty.
Sara: Excuse me?
Mark: Sorry, mom. I didn’t mean you personally.
Mavis: Jack, you remember Cousin Cora May?
Cora May: Here hon, how about some more chicken pie?
Jack: No thank you, I’ve had sufficient.
Cora May: You say you been fishin’?
Mavis: She’s hard of hearing. You’ll have to speak up.
Jack (a little louder): I’ve had plenty.
Cora May: Twenty? My, my, that’s a mess of fish.
Mavis: Poor soul.
Cora May: Listen darlin’, I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you, goin’ out to Hollywood and bein’ on television and all.
Jack: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Cora May: That don’t make shows like that any more. I loved watchin’ you play Matt Dillon. But you looked taller on TV, without the beard.
Jack: That wasn’t me. That was James Arness.
Cora May: Come again?
Mavis: Cora May, Jack wasn’t on Gunsmoke, he was on Badlands.
Cora May: What?
Mavis: BADLANDS. He played Alex Carver.
Cora May: Who?
Mavis: ALEX CARVER.
Cora May: (shaking her head) Never cared much for him. Your show was a lot better.
Jack stares after her as she drifts away.
Sara: Well, you know what the good book says, “A prophet is without honor in his own country.”
Jack: Apparently so.
Later, we find Jack helplessly cornered by a very talkative woman sporting a flaming red beehive and lips to match, as his family watches from afar.
Sara: Who on earth is that?
Mavis: That’s Penelope Winkerton, but everybody calls her Pinkie.
Mark: Somebody ought to call 911. It looks like her hair is on fire.
Sara: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wearing that much makeup, even in LA.
Mark: Me neither, outside of the circus. Maybe she’s a graduate of that clown college in Florida.
Mavis: No, she sells Avon. She’s gotten pretty heavy handed with the eyeliner. She looks like a raccoon on steroids.
After several minutes of ignoring Jack’s SOS:
Sara: Do you think he’s had enough?
Mavis: You make the call.
Sara: I guess we’d better move in.
Mavis: Excuse us, Pinkie, but it’s been a long day for Jack and we’d better get him back to the hotel.
Sara: Yes, it’s time for his medication. (She takes his arm, leading him away) Come on, Dad.
Pinkie: Oh, well you just run along Jack, and get a good night’s rest. I’ll see you at the funeral tomorrow.
Jack (under his breath): Not if I see you first. (Over his shoulder) Good night. (To the others) Well, I certainly hope you all enjoyed that.
Mavis: Oh, don’t worry, we did.
Jack: I just thought of something else the good book says.
Mark: What’s that?
Jack: “Take a little wine for your stomach’s sake.” Though after tonight I think I need something stronger.
Sara, laughing: Well, I guess you’ve earned it. Come on, Marshal. I’m buying.
On the flight home after the funeral, Jack pulls a dog eared photograph from the middle of a book. Three grinning adolescent boys with their arms flung across each other’s shoulders stand frozen in time. Sara leans in for a closer look.
Sara: That picture is priceless. It was nice of Hatch’s wife to give it to you. I’m sure it brings back a lot of memories.
Jack: Yes, it does. Most of the time I can hardly remember being that young, but this seems like yesterday. It’s an odd feeling, being the only one left.
Sara: Well, someone has to be, and selfishly, I’m glad it’s you. And I loved what you said in the eulogy, that no one ever really dies as long there is someone who remembers them. I have a feeling there are a lot more stories you could tell, and I’d like to hear them.
Jack: I suppose you’d be taking notes.
Jack: You know, I’m awfully glad you came with me on this trip.
Sara: So am I. You won’t have to ask me twice next time, I promise. I’ll go anywhere you want me to go. Clearing her throat: I think maybe I should stop now before I get all misty.
Jack pats her hand and slips the photo between the pages of the book before leaning his seat back and closing his eyes. You’re a lucky man, he reminds himself with a smile.
Across the aisle Mavis is idly thumbing through a tabloid paper she found in the seat pocket, and gasps: Oh, my stars!
Sara: What is it?
Mavis hands her the paper with a warning look. A not too recent picture of Jack appears next to a blurb that reads: Reclusive actor Jack Richards rumored near death after heart attack on golf course
Sara: Now how do you suppose…??
Happy Birthday, Pernell. You are missed.
Tags: Jack Richards
Other Stories by this Author
- Right is the Third Left (by JC)
- When Your True Lover Comes Your Way (by JC)
- Reprise (by JC)
- There Is A Season (by JC)
- The Best Little Bed and Breakfast in Nevada (by JC)