Who are these strangers from another land? I knew these visitors were from New York but they proudly added a prefix before stating their state—apparently it was more important to them than the I-95 corridor. And what is this all-important word? Upstate. Being from Upstate New York rather than New York City makes one’s journey more acceptable to pass below the Mason-Dixon Line.
Here Comes the Airstream
The only thing I knew was that once a year, right after Christmas, Mom and Dad VanFleet would hook-up their Airstream camper and pull it all the way from Trumansburg, New York to Jenkins Farm Road and park in our yard. Seeing their silver Airstream wind down our dirt road was like Christmas morning all over again. The VanFleets would stay for months on end, then continue their journey until they arrived at the Tangerine Cove somewhere in Florida; I guess the “Cove” was an earlier version of the Villages.
Daddy became acquainted with the VanFleet’s son, Bud since he was hired to drive eighteen-wheelers filled with tomatoes from John Island, up North and back down South during the Lowcountry harvest. Daddy was fascinated with folks from all walks of life and made it perfectly clear that the VanFleets were not really Yankees because they were Dutch.
Bryan and Pricilla VanFleet were a curious couple to a young child. First of all, Pricilla is not a Southern name unless there is a hyphen or middle name like Pricilla-Sue or Pricilla-Anne.
Tea Kettle Hair
Unlike my mother who had her hair religiously fixed every Wednesday at 9 AM at Belks Department store, Pricilla used another technique. Her hair-do was done by our metal tea kettle. Pricilla would heat the water to the boiling point, then hover her head over the steam to curl her hair.
Pricilla also wore white ankle socks and Ked’s tennis shoes. My mother’s shoes of choice were stilettos that were practically registered weapons. I don’t believe I ever saw my mother wearing a pair of Keds much less white socks. Until the day my mother passed away she fondly referred to white ankle socks as Pricillas.
My sister and I called our Yankee-Dutch Airstream queen, the Southern version of Pricilla—Mrs. VanFleet. We watched her work cross-word puzzles in Reader’s Digest while my mother smoked Kent cigarettes and listened to her favorite singers on our LP record player. Pricilla loved painting little pictures while Momma sat at our kitchen table painting her nails Fire-Engine Red. Pricilla played Solitaire while my mother perfected a mean hand of Poker. To say they were different is a massive understatement.
Bless Tootsie’s heart; she had no idea what “dem peoples” were saying since she spoke fluent Gullah and they spoke Yankee. I became the translator on many occasions. Tootsie never could understand why the VanFleets thought Cream of Wheat was grits.
Daddy came up with a description of Pricilla’s accent. He said, that Yankees (but remember, they were more Dutch than Yankee) sound just like a meowing over-heated cat. Also, Pricilla’s name became Daddy’s new vocabulary word. When Bryan and Pricilla had a spat and who wouldn’t after being stuck in a silver-shaped bullet for months, her name became one of Daddy’s favorite adjectives. “Eleanor,” Daddy would exclaim, “don’t go Pricilla on me…” I never knew what Daddy meant by saying that but one thing I did know was that Eleanor nixed the Keds and never would have tea-kettle hair.
Southerners in Upstate New York
So the summer of ’67, Daddy made some money from his tomato crop; my sister, brother, parents and I stuffed ourselves into Daddy’s brand new two-toned Pontiac with the white hard top and we travelled non-stop to Trumansburg, New York to visit our Yankee/Dutch friends. Did you read the word, non-stop? It was one of the most miserable weeks of my life. The famed tourist attraction, Taughannock Falls was an epic fail since there was no water at the waterfall. Watkins Glenn was nothing more than a pile of rocks and the only exciting event was when momma got a new set of dishes from the Corning Glass Factory. The highlight of the trip should have been Niagara Falls but my sister ate to much chocolate and threw up in Daddy’s new car which started a throw-up chain reaction. Interstate South was calling my name.
So the years passed and the VanFleets were not able to haul their Airstream down the I-95 corridor to Johns Island. One day, we received the sad news that Pricilla had passed away. Sweet Mr. Van Fleet kept up with my family and wrote us on a regular bias. His letters were about his small farm and the weather; sadly his correspondence became less and his handwriting barely legible. Until one day when I was a contestant in the Miss America Pageant and he wrote me the sweetest note telling me how proud he was and how dear his memories are of his visits to our little country home down that long dirt road.
How fortunate I am to have known Bryan and Pricilla VanFleet. One of my sweetest of sweet tea memories is learning how to love strangers from another land who talk funny, don’t eat grits, wear Keds, white ankle socks and curl their hair with steam from an old tea kettle.
Jane Jenkins Herlong is a Sirius XM Humorist, international best-selling/award-winning author, professional singer, recording artist and award-winning professional speaker.
Jane is a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame and one of the 232 men and women to be awarded this honor including former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the late General Colin L. Powell. Jane has also achieved the distinction of becoming a Certified Speaking Professional by the National Speakers Association.