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COMMENTARY BY WILLIAM CARTER: Felt cut-outs and sweaters A young mans fancy gets real at Dairy Queen

I’m concerned about the weather.

Well, not the weather, actually, but weather reporting and where it’ll all end. We have Storm Teams and Doppler radar and meteorologists standing beside the interstate at four in the morning, counting snowfl akes. With today’s technology, these people can now predict a raindrop’s arrival at your front door down to the second, and that’s intimidating as hell. And there’s always some new computer thing that has all the TV weather people constantly on the verge of taking a wee-wee live on camera and aggravating the hell out of me by preempting “Judge Judy.”

Thank you, technology gods, thank you.

My Granddaddy had one of the greatest weather predicting devices I’ve ever seen. It was called the Weather Rock and was just that; a thumb – sized rock glued to a little block of varnished pine. It came with a card that directed the user to set the rock outside. The instructions were very clear: If the rock is wet, it’s raining. If the rock is white, it’s snowing. If the rock isn’t there anymore, the wind is blowing really hard. Ingenious.

Granddaddy thought it was hilarious but never used it as intended. Instead, it took a place of honor on the shelf in the hallway, right beside a couple of his other prized possessions: a stuffed, 18-inch tall, cigarette-smoking baby alligator and one of those creepy, 3-D pictures of Jesus. The alligator stood upright and wore a straw hat on its head and between its legs was an aluminum ashtray. 3-D Jesus’ eyes followed you whenever you walked down the hall to the bathroom. Granddaddy bought both of them somewhere on the Florida Turnpike on a trip to visit my Uncle Sonny. I don’t know where either of them is now except that 3-D Jesus still haunts my dreams on occasion.

When I was a kid, we knew it was going to be damp and cold in the winter and sticky and hot in the summer. We never heard anything about the “heat index” because once it gets above 99 degrees – which was normally by 8:30 every summer morning – it just didn’t matter. We kept cool with lots and lots of sweet, iced tea and by using cardboard church fans with a picture of noncreepy Jesus on one side and an advertisement for the local funeral home on the other. These fans were also great for moving around the huge swarms of gnats; tiny insects with no respect for privacy and possessing a phenomenal knack for orifice invasion.

When I was seven or eight, our weather was beamed to us every evening at 6 o’clock from Columbus, Ga., a city 50 miles away. It lasted all of three minutes and was presented by the Weather Girl.

Her name was Penny Lee and I loved her.

Penny Lee wore short skirts with Peter Pan collars and sometimes appeared in a tight, hormone-awakening sweater if it was cold enough. Her flawless face was framed by a helmet of blond hair with sharp, pointed curls seemingly pasted to each cheek. Thinking about it now, those curls could probably have been used to slice ham but, back then, it was all the rage. Her report consisted of placing felt cutouts of the sun – or maybe an umbrella if rain was expected – on the board behind her and then point to as if she were presenting a prize. She’d give the highs and lows for the day and a forecast for the next day or two and then her report was over. They’d cut back to the desk to show the Anchor Man and the Sports Guy leering at her and that made me mad because I’d already decided Penny Lee was going to marry me.

My first encounter with celebrity occurred when my family loaded up in the station wagon one Saturday evening to take the nine mile trip to the closest Dairy Queen. Standing beside the walk-up window when we arrived was a vision I’ll never forget: Penny Lee eating a soft-serve ice cone and swatting at gnats.

Tank, one of my many sisters, rolled down the window.

“Penny Lee! Penny Lee! Oh my God! It’s Penny Lee!” she screamed hysterically as if Elvis had just ridden by on a unicycle with Bear Bryant sitting in his lap.

The 20 or 30 people in the parking lot exited their cars and we all stood – slackjawed and agog with wonder – staring at the Weather Girl from Columbus.

Penny Lee didn’t stick around to accept our adoration, but instead dove into her Cherry Red Volkswagen Beetle and roared away; spitting gravel and throwing dust and leaving all us yokels breathless from our brief brush with fame.

And my heart broken.

Where are you Penny Lee?

William Carter is a longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at

Posted on: 4/12/2013


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