Mama and the Limousine
Joy-riding with millionaires
By Cynthia Adams
We strolled to our neighborhood haunt, an Italian restaurant attached to a downtown hotel near our Mendenhall money pit. It was far easier to walk than deal with the hassle of parking — a perpetual problem for our historic Westerwood neighborhood.
The joint offered decent fare and prices that fit our always-tight budget. Given it was furniture market time, too, better known places were packed.
Out front, a white stretch limo awaited. A curious thing — until I remembered market. “Some big deal furniture people,” I guessed.
After spaghetti and generous pours of the house red, we left contentedly full, noting the limo and driver still outside.
“Hey, I’m going to ask who the heck they’re waiting on,” I announced, emboldened by the Chianti. I tapped on the window glass.
Then something (perhaps the wine again?) made me open the rear door behind him. The driver responded with a decidedly friendly Southern accent: “Hey!”
“Hey! I’ve always wanted to see the interior of one of these,” I lied, and slid inside as my husband stood, arms dangling, looking appalled. He frowned at me, shaking his head.
“It’s just some furniture people’s rent-a-limo,” I shushed him. Limos were commonplace during two times: prom night and the biannual furniture markets.
The driver explained that his name was Richard and that, actually, I was wrong. He drove full time for the limousine’s owners, who were having dinner.
At the neighborhood joint?
He asked if I’d noticed the tag on the front: “Driving Miss Hazel,” a nod to the film Driving Miss Daisy. No, I mumbled.
As I silently explored the posh interior and full bar, Richard suddenly coughed and pointed at two figures leaving the restaurant. “See? There they are now! I’ll introduce you.”
My widening eyes followed his pointing finger; then my torso more or less froze along with the rest of my body.
As Richard leaped out to open the passenger side rear door, I hurled myself across the seat, jumping out the opposite side. Busted! As the smiling owners settled in, I stood outside with the door still ajar, blathering praise about the limo and apologizing.
“Let us give you a ride,” insisted the owners, Dolen and Hazel Bowers. In for a dime, in for a dollar, what could I say? I stepped back inside, but I could feel the reluctant energy teeming off my husband as he slid in beside me. I knew without turning my head to glance at him that his face was red with embarrassment.
Two blocks later, Richard dropped us outside our house. Given the scale of the limo, it seemed very small.
“We’re having a neighborhood party next weekend,” I blurted out, desperately embarrassed. “Saturday at 7. Please come.”
“We’d like that,” the Bowers replied.
Friends of ours, we learned, lived on the same golf course near their befittingly unusual stucco home. Built in a semi-circular design, it was rumored to have an equally unusual interior — notable given its place alongside traditional Southern mansions.
It turned out the couple had made a serious fortune in real estate holdings and development. They were known as personable and extravagant, if eccentric.
The limo and driver, with its own custom garage, underscored the rumors.
I promptly forgot the exchange until Saturday evening, with the party in full swing. My mother was in town to celebrate reaching a cancer-free landmark and things were hopping.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang, which was odd, as everyone else came right in, following the music and party chatter. I answered the door and a uniformed man appeared into view.
Richard sort of goose-stepped into the living room, stopping abruptly. Then, five words: “Announcing Mr. and Mrs. Bowers.”
Doffing his cap, he retreated with a flourish.
“Heddo,” said Hazel, adorably, her accent slightly unusual despite her being a local. She wore high heels and tottered into the room. Dolen followed.
The raucous party grew absolutely silent.
Richard insisted that he’d wait in the drive with the limo. When we explained we shared a driveway with our (intractable) neighbors, he decided to simply circle around the block. There was nowhere in a neighborhood that was planned during a time of horse and buggies for a stretch limo, as I imagined what a scene endlessly circling presented.
Mom, guest of honor (dressed in a suede midi-skirt and looking like a westernized Joan Collins), was enraptured and breathed she’d never been in a limo. Clapping, Hazel insisted she deserved a cruise in the limo. Delighted, Mama left in the limo to go God-knows-where. Richard took guests on limo rides as the night wore on, with the Bowers happily mingling. Everybody was happy.
I’d concocted a menu that was a nod to an English high tea. We served little sandwiches, savories, cheeses and sweets — including biscuits and an English trifle. And, naturally, tea.
The spirits were more popular by far.
Dolen enthusiastically sampled everything, including some moonshine a guest brought.
Praising the moonshine, he soon put the high in our high tea.
Weeks passed, and my husband was working in a building mostly occupied by lawyers when he discovered that Dolen was there closing on a major business deal. You might guess the titan would have been wearing some Succession-worthy brand like Zegna. But no. Dolen had worn his favorite bib overalls.
“I guess the man had nothing to prove to anyone,” my husband speculated. Serious wealth conferred a unique social passport; the Bowers traveled through life exactly as they wished with Richard at the wheel.
Not long after that, Dolen died.
Party particulars fade away in time, apart from how you felt. We felt especially fine that night, our guests chattering throughout the house, many settled on the staircase, laughing, sipping drinks.
Hazel, who remained in the Triad, survived until last year.
Mama, too, slipped away three years ago, yet she often remembered the Bowers, Richard and her thrilling ride to nowhere beneath a starry, clear sky. OH
Cynthia Adam is a contributing editor to O.Henry magazine.