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Frankly, my dear, it was a great trip

October 16, 2011
By ESTHER MCCOY - Staff writer , The Herald-Star

"How ya' all doin' this mornin'?" I wanted to try out a phrase members of the Clark Gable Foundation bus tour heard many times on our seven-day trip down South last week. And "Frankly, my dear," it was a wonderful vacation with Gable officials Nan Mattern and Jackie Rocchi as the guides.

Lamont and I were seated behind Irene Kroskey and Shirley Ohalek, friends we made on the Chicago trip, and were dining partners each time the bus made a stop.

I lost my pen within five hours of the trip, and Irene gave me a spare but Shirley decided she had a better one to give me. I saw what a wonderful friendship these two had but learned they could be quite competitive in their nightly Scrabble games in Wintersville.

Article Photos

Joyce Klingler, Clark Gable Foundation board member; Nan Mattern, executive director; and Dollly Smith, volunteer.

Irene liked to tease Shirley but she got one over on Irene when she stepped into an artificial plant, almost knocking it over. Then Shirley got the raspberries when her locked suitcase had to be opened with a fingernail file, as she left the key at home.

Janet Krulock, who once worked in the offices of judges David Henderson and Frank Bruzzese, was browsing the Internet on her cell phone and noticed Charlie Pride would be in Nashville on our hotel stop coming back. She and Andy Pelegreen went through all sorts of problems trying to get tickets for the Grand Ole Opry. They finally ordered tickets for the 23 bus members who wanted to go with the McCoys included.

Jim, our Diamond Tours bus driver, was agreeable to drive to the Opry complex to pick up tickets. While driving the darkened streets we were stopped by the security people, who agreed to drive Andy and Jan in their cruiser to the ticket area. But it became complicated with needing a contract for a group rate, reducing the rate by $14, and e-mailing documents back and forth.

Jerry and Eileen Krupinski and Erin and Ron Delatore, their daughter and son-in-law, ran into trouble when we stopped at a restaurant unannounced. All Jerry wanted was a bowl of soup, and they ran out before he was served. Eileen said it was like the Soup Nazi on "Seinfeld." "No zoup for you."

I had packed my last three homemade raisin- filled cookies, so I asked Jerry if he liked raisins, and it happened to be one of his favorites. That ended up being his lunch.

At our Tunica, Miss., destination, a hotel employee got on the bus and said he knew we were from Ohio just by the Browns and Buckeye hats. Of course, it was Lamont in the Browns hat and Tom Mizer in the Buckeyes cap.

Getting off the bus, I told him I was a Steelers fan, and Lamont was in the Browns camp. "I don't know how you two can even live together," he said.

We had so many sumptuous buffets that everyone just wanted a simple lunch on the way home. I enjoyed the collard greens, turnip greens, fried cat fish, cornbread, sweet potatoes, okra and brandied peaches that were on the buffets - foods I don't eat at home.

One stop was at Leonard's Barbecue, the oldest barbecue in Memphis. It was done in the 1950s motiff and, lo and behold, Clark Gable was one of the celebrities done in caricature on the wall.

We made a stop on Beale Street and later saw the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Until then, it had been named the safest and quietest city in the United States five times.

A visit was made to the St. Jude Hospital gift shop, and it was touching when Lamont and I walked along the sidewalk and saw small tiles in memory of the young children who did not respond to the excellent treatment given free of charge to each child with cancer. One acknowledged a child's death on Christmas day.

With another there was a saying, "Always look up, never look down. Believe in yourself. Never give up. One day a cure will be found. Hold onto that hope. Never let it go." That child died March 23.

Entertainer Danny Thomas made a promise if he became successful he would build a hospital for children. When first opened, there was only a 3 percent cure rate. Now it can go anywhere from 76 to 96 percent. What a blessing! Even Steven Segal's 12-year-old daughter was a patient there.

We joined Andy, Irene, Shirley, Jackie, Nan, Joyce Klingler and Tom on the Riverview trolley that looped through the city. The trollies were the authentic, old-time ones, with wooden windows that dropped down to let in the breeze.

The Peabody Hotel ducks were having an off day, at least one was. In the morning, they leave their rooftop home, get into an elevator to the first floor and march to the lobby fountain/pool where they cavort about until 5 p.m.

We saw the evening endeavor, and one duck decided it was not leaving.

The trainer coaxed it from the stone enclosure into the water but it went swimming about at a high speed.

While the other four waited on the red carpet, the fifth duck could not be persuaded to leave, even when three hotel employees joined in the roundup. One of the ducks came back up the incline and quacked off a few expletives to his friend but this didn't help. It continued to swim about in a dither. This is when the other four ducks got bored and started wandering off. Finally, the out-of-control duck climbed down the incline and they all waddled off, down the red carpet and into the sunset.

While we were waiting for the duck departure, I struck up a conversation with Darrel Miller from Westerville. We learned that he was from Batesville, down in Lamont's neck of the woods when he was growing up. They started throwing out names and found that they knew many of the same people.

John and Arlene Wehr were traveling with Darrel and Joyce and he was from Calais, where Lamont got his first nine years of schooling. John knew even more of the people that were in Lamont's life back then. The guys both had relatives buried in Calais Cemetery, where Lamont's grandparents and aunts and uncles are buried.

We had an extra passenger on the bus right up to Graceland, where he was sent back to Lauren Newcomb, a second- grade pupil in Charlotte. Flat Stanley was his name and his traveling partner was Mary Nameth, who took the little guy to many places to be photographed for her granddaughter.

Graceland was a stop that many on the bus were looking forward to seeing, including Becky Sliva and her mom, Donna. Elvis' many gold recordings were on display, and I was impressed with the 15-foot, cream color sofa in the piano room, where he sat down to play on the last day of his life.

Probably the most touching place was the Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his mom, dad, grandmother and his stillborn twin brother, Jessie, are all buried. His parents were moved from the Forest Hills Cemetery to be placed by their sons.

At the Tunica Museum, we met Richard Taylor, tour instructor, who was from Toronto, Ohio, and had a picture of a 1897 barn raising in Toronto in his office.

He gave the history of harvesting cotton, from being hand-picked from dawn to dusk to a demonstration of the cotton gin. Ron and Nancy Malin and Ray and Karen Paolucci were setting up front and getting dusted with the debris coming from the machine.

Clark Gable's movie "Gone With the Wind" came up, as Taylor explained that Scarlett O'Hara was given this name due to the cotton blooms turning a bright scarlett after the second day of their opening.

Taylor pointed out that there was a Mississippi crop duster, Ralph Sharpe, would dress up like Clark Gable, wearing the goggles and tight leather hat, too.

The next stop was the Casey Jones Village in Jackson, Tenn. The railroad man wasn't christened Casey. His actual name was Jonathan Luther Jones but being from Caycee, Ky., he was given this nickname, and it stuck.

He was the only person killed on the 638 engine that was run hard to make up the 1 1/2 lost hours. He almost made up the time when the wreck occurred.

When we got to our Nashville hotel, we hurried to get ready for the Grand Ole Opry show. Our tickets were in the 34th section but you could see everything on a large screen.

Little Jimmy Dickens amazed everyone with his singing and twirling his guitar at age 90. Crystal Bowersox was on the agenda, as well as Ricky Skaggs, Connie Smith and the singer we all came to see, Charlie Pride, who sang my favorite of his songs, "Crystal Chandelier."

I have to thank Judy Kelly and her sidekick, Sandy Nameth, for getting me a program from the show.

Ann Dunlap and I talked about missing the 40th wedding anniversary of Joel and Joyce Steffick that was held on Oct. 8. Joan Chesla was her traveling partner.

Going home, at a rest stop with picnic tables, one of the comfort stops turned into a birthday bash as Eileen ordered cupcakes for Erin who had an Oct. 8 birthday. Frank Nameth would have a birthday the next day and was part of the celebration, too. It was a wonderful time with great memories. Thanks, Nan and Jackie.

(McCoy, a resident of Smithfield, is food editor and a staff columnist for the Herald-Star and the Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at

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