Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
“Friends cherish the good and pretend not to notice the harmless rest.”
Hi, I’m Cecelia Rose Honeycutt, but everyone calls me CeeCee. I can’t tell you how surprised I was to discover the sweet Deep South is alive and well in East Texas! Another chapter of my Life Book was opened when I was greeted with a ‘How-de-do’ from the likes of Susie Johnson dressed up as my favorite Aunt Tootie! To beat all, she was planted next to a group of magnolia branches adorning a well-worn card table with Aunt Lu’s and Rosa’s brown-bag sack lunches ready for the parking lot picnic to begin. An authentic parking meter registering “expired” anchored the scene, resting alongside a grouping of hatboxes. Savannah in Malakoff! (Special thanks to Antiques on Royall for loaning us the parking meter!)
A group of nice ladies, 15 in all, were meeting at the home of Sandy Molander, a self-professed “northern, liberal, city girl” to talk about my story and to gain certain pearls of wisdom to live by, such as…“age is inevitable, but if you nurture a childlike heart, you will never get old….what we believe about ourselves is what determines how others see us…there is a blessing in everything if we open our eyes….find your fire – the one thing that brings out your passion…and most importantly, find yourself a “purple-velvet-sofa kind of girlfriend.”
The surprises just kept on coming when I opened the door to find Cherry Fugitt dressed as my Momma with her signature “Vidalia Onion Queen” sash and sparkling tiara. You might remember my Momma’s name was Camille, a true testimony to those beautiful camellias inability to survive north of the Mason-Dixon line!! The reviewer, Lois Welch, in the character of my dear friend, Oletta Jones, adeptly walked the group through Ms. Hoffman’s portrayal of my life with sensitivity, humor, and thoroughness. In her words:
Twelve year old Cecelia Honeycutt, or CeeCee as she is known, has a psychotic momma. Her momma, Camille, is a still-beautiful 33 year old woman with a heart-shaped face, brown hair and blue eyes. She loves CeeCee, but she has been losing her grip on reality for several years and has become the laughingstock of an entire town. Though it’s 1967 and they live in Ohio, Camille believes it is 1951 and she’s just been crowned the Vidalia Onion Queen of Georgia. The day CeeCee discovers her momma in the front yard wearing a tattered prom dress and tiara as she blows kisses to passing motorists; she knows her momma has completely flipped.
CeeCee’s father, Carl, has been able to ignore the problems at home by spending more and more time away on business, leaving CeeCee to manage alone. Because she has a weird mother, none of the school children will sit with CeeCee in the lunchroom. With no school friends, she spends most of her spare time reading Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie mysteries.
Gertrude Odell, the white-haired next door neighbor, is CeeCee’s one friend. At 8 o’clock Mrs. Odell turns on her porch light, signifying she is ready for CeeCee’s visit. They share a love for gardening and build a cheerful and loving relationship. Mrs. Odell tells CeeCee “When we’re born, the Good Lord gives each of us a Life Book. Chapter by chapter, we live and learn. It’s not a book you can see or touch. It is a book that’s held deep within your heart. It’s guarded by your spirit. When a chapter of your Life Book is complete, your spirit knows it’s time to turn the page so a new chapter can begin. Even when you’re scared or think you’re not ready, your spirit knows you are”.
Tragedy strikes when Camille is accidently run over and killed by the Happy Cow Ice Cream truck. Tootie Caldwell, a previously unknown great-aunt comes to CeeCee’s rescue and whisks her away to Savannah. Within hours of her arrival, CeeCee is catapulted into a perfumed world of prosperity and Southern charm—a world that appears to be run entirely by women.
Aunt Tootie’s home is stucco, built in 1858, and painted the color of lemonade. It has three stories, lots of arched windows and is surrounded by lush gardens and an iron fence. Aunt Tootie, whose given name is Tallulah, is a widow and spends much of her time socializing with the Savannah Garden Club, wearing the club’s traditional straw hat with yellow ribbon. But Aunt Tootie’s ‘fire’ is helping the Historic Savannah Foundation save historic old homes from the wrecking ball.
Aunt Tootie, and her cook, Oletta Jones, welcome CeeCee into their lives with open arms, warmth and wisdom. Oletta is tall, thickly built with skin as smooth and brown as a chestnut. A scarf surrounds her head and she wears a white apron over a gray dress. She was married to Henry for six years, until he was mule-kicked. Their daughter, Jewel, died of Meningitis at the age of 13.
Oletta has spunk! Many years ago, Oletta won her job as cook for the Caldwell household by using the direct approach. When she read in the paper that Mrs. Caldwell needed a cook, she rang their door bell holding a platter of her delicious fried chicken. Taylor, Aunt Tootie’s husband, stood in the foyer and tasted it, then hollered “Tootie, your new cook is here!” Oletta has become a much-loved addition to the household.
The very day that CeeCee arrives in Savannah, CeeCee meets two of the neighbors, Thelma Goodpepper and Violene Hobbs. Miz Goodpepper has perfectly manicured hands, remnants of a mysterious beauty, porcelain white skin, red hair pinned high and is wearing a silk caftan when CeeCee meets her. In the evening, Miz Goodpepper’s secret pleasure is to bathe in a claw-footed tub set in her back yard.
Miz Hobbs on the other hand, is a big-busted, loud-mouthed widow who is short and pudgy, has teased up blond hair and wears tight clothes. Miz Goodpepper does not like Miz Hobbs because she has cut down the magnolia tree standing between their two homes. Miz Goodpepper tells CeeCee that Miz Hobbs has created “bad karma” for murdering that tree in cold blood. One evening, when Miz Goodpepper is showing CeeCee how to use a rubber pancake turner to fling slugs onto Miz Hobbs’ back porch and patio, they spot Miz Hobbs on the porch giving a strip tease for her special friend, a local policeman. Whoops! Miz Hobbs slips on a slug, cracks her head open and must be taken to the hospital. CeeCee says, “When Miz Hobbs slipped on the slug and hit her head, was that kinda like the black boomerang of karma?”
CeeCee finds Miz Hobbs’ bra under the back porch and decides it should become a “traveling bra”. She goes to historic and staid locations around Savannah, posing the bra for pictures on statues, benches and shrubs. When Oletta finds these pictures, she gleefully mails them to Miz Hobbs.
The spat between these two neighbors continues until one day when Aunt Tootie has a garden party for her Savannah Garden Club and friends. Miz Goodpepper and Miz Hobbs get into a wild wrestling match which is the high-light of the afternoon. The battle ends in a draw but seems to relieve their pent-up anger, thus ending their war.
When Miz Odell sells her house in Ohio, she comes to Savannah for a visit. This visit turns into an invitation to stay and live with them in Savannah, thus bringing together under one roof the three women that CeeCee loves the best.
On a trip into the country with Aunt Tootie, CeeCee notices a mother with young child which causes her to remember the good times she had with her momma when she was very young. Until this moment, CeeCee has been unable to grieve for her momma because she was angry, hurt and confused by all that had happened. But now, the dam breaks, letting out a flood of grief. CeeCee faints and is placed under a doctor’s care for several days before she can recover.
Aunt Tootie tells her “The human mind is an amazing thing. It protects us when we can’t protect ourselves. Sometimes when we’re holding pain and it gets to be too heavy or goes too deep, we have to give in to it, let it knock us over and pull us all the way down. Once we hit bottom, we rest in a quiet place for a while. Then, when the pain eases and we’re ready to face the world again, we come right back up.”
CeeCee realizes, “I’d been ashamed of Momma for so long that any good memories had been distorted and smudged by her illness. I’d forgotten how much fun she was when I was real little”.
Oletta gives counsel to CeeCee: “Take the gift Miz Tootie is givin’ you and hold it tight. Don’t go wastin’ all them bright tomorrows you ain’t even seen by hangin’ on to what happened yesterday. Let go, child. Just breathe out and let go.”
“You’re so wise, Oletta”, says CeeCee.
Oletta continues, “People is wise 'cause they get out in the world and live. Wisdom comes from experience - from knowin’ each day is a gift and accepting it with gladness. You read a whole lot of books, and readin’ sure has made you smart, but ain’t no book in the world gonna make you wise.”
By the end of the summer, CeeCee’s heart has been mended, making room for her first school friend, Dixie Lee McAllister. It is Aunt Tootie’s warmth and generosity and Oletta’s strength and tenderness that allow CeeCee to regain her balance and charge off into her new life with joy and self confidence.
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but always heartfelt. The characters are memorable, and the descriptions of CeeCee’s surroundings are vivid. It is a story of a magical world of friendships among wise and strong women. To me, it was a bit like reading a play, with each scene separate and complete unto itself; an enjoyable read.
Lois aka Oletta did a great job don’t you think! I must say I was confused as to why these ladies needed “warming up” before they talked about me…it was a perfectly lovely day… but their “teacher” asked each one to tell us where they were born, where they grew up, and whether or not these factors affected their lives. I was amazed at the “confessionals” from the small town girls to the city girls, from places in the north to the south, and from the east to the west. Their backgrounds were all different, but they agreed – who they are today was shaped by their childhood surroundings. It was nice…it was like they were all living each other’s stories…like one big happy family, which reminds me, I gotta get back home…I can smell Oletta’s cinnamon rolls from here. I’ll come back for a visit when I grow up…who knows I might be a famous author by then!
The author, Beth Hoffman, was asked to complete the following sentence: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is about………………… Her answer was kindness because she believes that “when we make a conscious decision to be kind we open ourselves up to remarkable experiences… and discover the greatest strength of our character."
On the business side:
On the business side:
The owner of Books For Less (113 North Gun Barrel Lane, Gun Barrel, Texas, 903-887-1028) approached MN with a proposal. She would like Bookers to hold a meeting at her “coffee shop-book store” and offered to purchase our book selections for us. The group in attendance felt it would jeopardize the intimacy of our group if we met somewhere more public, but they wanted us to check it out further. MN and I will report what we find out, but it might be something we could do for one of our meetings in the future. We’ll keep you posted.
Beverly Dossett is reading Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese and highly recommends it as a Bookers’ book. We are checking it out also, but from Beverly’s glowing report, it sounds like it might be a winner! Details soon.
In the spirit of Leila Meacham’s Roses, please refer to the following color codes to describe our book selections:
WHITE: Light read
PINK: Moderately challenging
November 9th Broken For You, by Stephanie Kallos
Recommended by Patsy Dehn, MN, JoDee
Home: Melanie Prebis
Reviewer: Patsy Dehn & Patty Evans
December 14th: Holiday Party
Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky
Recommended by Leslie Mullins, Linda Hoff & MN
Home: Daryl Daniels
Reviewer: Bernie Crudden
January 11th, 2011 The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
Recommended by Pat Faherty, Patty Evans, MN
Home: Bonnie Magee
February 8th: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Recommended by MN, Cherry Fugitt, Jane Freer
Home: Jane Freer
“The afternoon sun sent fireworks of light sparkling off the hood ornament (named Delilah leading the way for a 20 year old Packard Victoria), a miniature silver angel with open wings and her arms stretched out in front of her, palms forward, as if she were ready to push aside anything that dared get in her way.” Sometimes it only takes one paragraph to sum up a story.
See ya’ll and be sure to duck if you see the “black boomerang of karma” headed your way.