Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her three daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left to contend with now is her mother, the formidable and imposing Lenore Simmons Krackenberry—never an easy task. Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter. Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a shocking secret about her mother’s past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family, and her future.
Feeling like a stranger in her own life, and fearful of confronting her mother with questions, Sookie begins a search for answers that takes her to California, the Midwest, and back in time, to the 1940s, when an irrepressible woman named Fritzi takes on the job of running her family’s filling station. With so many men off to war, it’s up to Fritzi and her enterprising younger sisters to keep it going. Soon truck drivers are changing their routes to fill up at the All-Girl Filling Station. But before long, Fritzi sees an opportunity for an even more groundbreaking adventure when she receives a life-changing invitation from the U.S. military to assist in the war effort. As Sookie learns more and more about Fritzi’s story, she finds herself with new answers to the questions she’s been asking her whole life.
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is a perfect combination of comedy, mystery, wisdom, and charm. Fabulous, fun-loving, spanning decades, generations, and centered on a little-known aspect of America’s twentieth-century story, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is Fannie Flagg, the bestselling “born storyteller” (The New York Times Book Review), at her irresistible best.
From the Hardcover edition.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Date of Birth:September 21, 1944
Place of Birth:Birmingham, Alabama
Education:The University of Alabama
Read an Excerpt
A MOST UNUSUAL WEEK
POINT CLEAR, ALABAMA
MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2005
76° AND SUNNY
MRS. EARLE POOLE, JR., BETTER KNOWN TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY AS Sookie, was driving home from the Birds-R-Us store out on Highway 98 with one ten-pound bag of sunflower seeds and one ten-pound bag of wild bird seed and not her usual weekly purchase for the past fifteen years of one twenty-pound bag of the Pretty Boy Wild Bird Seed and Sunflower Mix. As she had explained to Mr. Nadleshaft, she was worried that the smaller birds were still not getting enough to eat. Every morning lately, the minute she filled her feeders, the larger, more aggressive blue jays would swoop in and scare the little birds all away.
She noticed that the blue jays always ate the sunflower seeds first, and so tomorrow, she was going to try putting just plain sunflower seeds in her backyard feeders, and while the blue jays were busy eating them, she would run around the house as fast as she could and put the wild bird seed in the feeders in the front yard. That way, her poor finches and titmice might be able to get a little something, at least.
AS SHE DROVE OVER the Mobile Bay Bridge, she looked out at the big white puffy clouds and saw a long row of pelicans flying low over the water. The bay was sparkling in the bright sun and already dotted with red, white, and blue sailboats headed out for the day. A few people fishing alongside the bridge waved as she passed by, and she smiled and waved back. She was almost to the other side when she suddenly began to experience some sort of a vague and unusual sense of well-being. And with good reason.
Against all odds, she had just survived the last wedding of their three daughters, Dee Dee, Ce Ce, and Le Le. Their only unmarried child now was their twenty-five-year-old son, Carter, who lived in Atlanta. And some other poor (God help her), beleaguered mother of the bride would be in charge of planning that happy occasion. All she and Earle would have to do for Carter’s wedding was show up and smile. And today, other than one short stop at the bank and picking up a couple of pork chops for dinner, she didn’t have another single thing she had to do. She was almost giddy with relief.
Of course, Sookie absolutely worshipped and adored her girls, but having to plan three large weddings in fewer than two years had been a grueling, never-ending, twenty-four-hours-a-day job, with all the bridal showers, picking out patterns, shopping, fittings, writing invitations, meeting with caterers, figuring out seating arrangements, ordering flowers, etc. And between dealing with out-of-town guests and new in-laws, figuring out where to put everyone, plus last-minute bridal hysteria, at this point, she was simply weddinged out.
And no wonder. If you counted Dee Dee’s last one, technically there had really been four large weddings, which meant shopping and being fitted for four different mother-of-the-bride dresses (you can’t wear the same one twice) in less than two years.
Dee Dee had married, then promptly divorced. And after they had spent weeks returning all the wedding gifts, she had turned around and remarried the exact same husband. Her second wedding hadn’t been quite as expensive as the first, but every bit as stressful.
When she and Earle had married in 1968, it had been just a typical church affair: white wedding gown, bridesmaids in matching pastel dresses and shoes, ring bearer, best man, reception, over and out. But now everybody had to have some kind of a theme.
Dee Dee had insisted on having an authentic Old South Gone with the Wind wedding, complete with a Scarlett O’Hara dress, large hoop skirt and all, and at the last minute, she had to be driven to the church standing up in the back of a small moving van.
Le Le and her groom wanted an entirely red and white wedding, including the invitations, food, drinks, and all the decorations, in honor of the University of Alabama football team.
And Ce Ce, Le Le’s twin sister, the last girl to marry, had carried her ten-pound Persian cat, Peek-a-Boo, down the aisle instead of a wedding bouquet, and the groom’s German shepherd, dressed in a tux, had served as best man. And if that wasn’t bad enough, someone’s turtle was the ring bearer. The entire thing had just been excruciating. You can’t hurry a turtle.
LOOKING BACK ON IT now, Sookie realized she really should have put her foot down when Ce Ce and James invited all their friends to bring their pets to the reception, but she had made a sacred vow to never bully her children. Nevertheless, having to replace an entire banquet room’s wall-to-wall carpeting at the Grand Hotel was going to cost them a fortune. Oh, well. Too late now. Hopefully, all that was behind her, and evidently not a minute too soon.
Two days ago, when Ce Ce left for her honeymoon, Sookie had broken down and sobbed uncontrollably. She didn’t know if she was experiencing empty-nest syndrome or just plain exhaustion. She knew she must be tired. At the reception, she had introduced a man to his own wife. Twice.
The truth was, as sad as she was to see Ce Ce and James drive off, she had been secretly looking forward to going home, taking off all her clothes, and crawling into bed for about five years, but even that had been put on hold. At the last minute, James’s parents, his sister, and her husband had decided to stay over an extra night, so she had to quickly try and whip up a little “going away” brunch for them.
Granted, it wasn’t much: Earle’s coconut margaritas, an assortment of crackers, cream cheese and pepper jelly, shrimp and grits, crab cakes with coleslaw, and tomato aspic on the side. But still, it had taken some effort.
WHEN SOOKIE DROVE INTO the little town of Point Clear and passed the Page and Palette bookstore, it occurred to her that maybe tomorrow, she would stop in and pick up a good book. She hadn’t had time to read anything other than her daily horoscope, the Kappa newsletter, and an occasional Birds and Blooms magazine. We could be at war for all she knew. But now, she was actually going to be able to read an entire book again.
She suddenly felt like doing the twist right there in the front seat, which only reminded her how long it had been since she and Earle had learned a new dance step. She had probably even forgotten how to do the hokey pokey.
All she really had left to deal with was her eighty-eight-year-old mother, the formidable Mrs. Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, who absolutely refused to move to the perfectly lovely assisted-living facility right across town. And it would be so much easier on everybody if she would. The maintenance on her mother’s yard alone was extremely expensive, not to mention the yearly insurance. Since the hurricane, the insurance on everybody’s house on the Mobile Bay had gone sky-high. But Lenore was adamant about never leaving her home and had announced with a dramatic gesture, “Until they carry me out feetfirst.”
Sookie couldn’t imagine her mother leaving anywhere feetfirst. As long as she and her brother, Buck, could remember, Lenore, a large imposing woman who wore lots of scatter pins and long, flowing scarves, and had her silver hair teased and sprayed into a perfect winged-back flip, had always rushed into a room headfirst. Buck said she looked like something that should be on the hood of a car, and they had secretly referred to her as “Winged Victory” ever since. And Winged Victory never just left a room; she whisked out with a flourish, leaving a cloud of expensive perfume in her wake. Never a quiet woman in any sense of the word, much like a show horse in the Rose Parade, she could be heard coming a mile away, due to the loud jingling of the numerous bracelets, bangles, and beads she always wore. And she was usually speaking long before she came in sight. Lenore had a loud booming voice and had studied “Expression” while attending Judson College for women, and to the family’s everlasting regret, the teacher had encouraged her.
Now, due to certain recent events, including her setting her own kitchen on fire, they had been forced to hire a twenty-four-hour live-in nurse for Lenore. Earle was a successful dentist with a nice practice, but they were by no means rich, and certainly not now, with all the money they had spent sending the children to college, the weddings, Lenore’s mortgage, and now the nurse. Poor Earle might not be able to retire until he was ninety, but the nurse was a definite necessity.
“Lenore, who was not only loud but also extremely opinionated and voiced her opinion to everyone within earshot, had suddenly started calling total strangers long-distance. Last year, she had called the pope in Rome, and that call alone had cost them more than three hundred dollars. When confronted with the bill, Lenore had been incensed and said that she shouldn’t have to pay a dime because she had been on hold the entire time. Try telling that to the phone company. And there was no reasoning with her. When Sookie asked why she had called the pope, considering that she was a sixth-generation dyed-in-the-wool Methodist, Lenore had thought for a moment and said, “Oh … just to chat.”
Reading Group Guide
Writing The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion
As originally published on SouthernLiving.com
Even after writing eight novels, I am still mystified at the process of writing. Where do the ideas for books really come from? Do writers come up with the ideas on their own? Or are they sent to us from somewhere, or someone, else?
I do know that the idea for Fried Green Tomatoes was literally handed to me in a shoebox. My grandmother’s youngest sister, Bess, ran a little railroad cafe in Irondale, Alabama, a small town on the outskirts of Birmingham. I was raised in the city, and when I was a child I used to love to go out and visit the cafe. At the time, the cafe seemed to be one of the happiest places in the world. Not only was Aunt Bess hilariously funny, but the fried green tomatoes were delicious!
When I was eleven, we moved away from Birmingham, and I only saw Aunt Bess a few more times, but I had grown up hearing stories about her that I would never forget—stories of how her humor and generous spirit had helped everyone in the town get through the Great Depression.
After high school and one year of acting school, I headed to New York and got caught up in my own life, as we do. Years later, somewhere along the way, I remember hearing from my mother that Aunt Bess had sold the cafe. Then one day came the sad news that she had passed away.
Over a decade later, on a nostalgic trip back home to Alabama, I decided to drive out and see the old cafe and say hello to the McMichael family, who had bought the little cafe from Aunt Bess. After I visited the cafe, I thought I might drive by the old family home across the railroad tracks, where Bess had lived.
When I knocked on the door, a lady answered. I introduced myself as Bess’s niece. She knew who I was and said, “Oh, Fannie, I’m so glad you stopped by. Before she died, your Aunt Bess left you something and she asked me to make sure it got into your hands. I’ve been keeping it for you for all these years.” I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t imagine what it could be.
As it turned out, what Aunt Bess had left me was a shoebox full of memorabilia from her life—old photos, her birth certificate, recipes, a child lock of hair, and programs from the funerals of her cooks who had worked for her for over forty years. At the time, I was struck that a small box of papers was all that was left of a life that had been so full and had meant so much to so many people. I thanked the lady and left, but I was still baffled why Aunt Bess wanted me to have these things. She had so many other nieces and nephews that she was much closer to. Why had she left those things to me? I can’t say for sure, but from that shoebox came the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Cut to 1999. I was living in California, and one day quite out of the blue, I called Mrs. McMichael in Alabama, the new owner of the cafe, to ask her a question. By then, because of the success of the movie, the cafe had become somewhat of a tourist attraction. When we were talking, Mrs. McMichael said, “Oh, by the way, we have quite an interesting group coming in for lunch today. They are the last living members of the WASPs, who are in town for a reunion.”
Intrigued, I asked, “Who are the WASPs?”
It’s a bunch of gals that used to fly military planes during the Second World War.”
I had never heard of the WASPs before, but being a white-knuckle flyer, I was very impressed and decided to buy the gals lunch. They earned it!
I had completely forgotten all about it until a year later when I was sent a book about the WASPs written by Nancy Batson Crews. Nancy had been at the reunion lunch at the cafe that previous year. At this time, I was in the middle of writing a book and didn’t have time to sit down and read it, but I did look at the photographs and was fascinated about the idea of maybe writing about the WASPs one day.
Almost twelve years later, I had finished I Still Dream About You and, as usual, I was wandering around the house, trying to come up with an idea for a new book. I suddenly found myself staring at my bookcase, and I spotted the book about the women service pilots. I opened it and saw a handwritten message to me that was written by Nancy Batson Crews’s co-writer.
Nancy Batson Crews’s final instructions to me when I left her for the last time were to put an autographed copy of The Originals in your hands. She so appreciated the reunion luncheon at the cafe! I will sign both our names on the title page, as she would have done had she lived long enough.
Thank you from the surviving WASPs.
Sarah Byrn Rickman and Nancy Batson Crews
Needless to say, when I read that note, my hair stood up. Why had I not seen this before? Was it a coincidence that I happened to call the cafe on that particular day in 1999? Was it a coincidence that years later, I happened to pick up that particular book? And if Aunt Bess had not left me that shoebox, would the WASPs have been at that cafe for lunch? Would I ever have known about these brave women if they hadn’t been there the day I called? What is fate and what is simply luck?
Of course, I can’t know anything for sure, but sometimes I wonder if some stories just want to be written and they go out looking for someone to write them. I believe this one did, and I hope you think so too.
1. A lot of Southern identity is wrapped up in one’s family history. “Now, just who are your people?” is an oft-quoted phrase around the region. Sookie’s biggest crisis comes when she realizes that her “people” aren’t actually who she thought they were. How does Sookie’s discovery of her true family affect her identity? How does your own heritage affect your identity?
2. Though Sookie tells us that Lenore’s nickname, “Winged Victory,” came from the way she entered a room—as if she were the statuesque piece on the hood of a car rushing in—how might “Winged Victory” reflect Lenore’s personality in other ways? Does her representation as a classical goddess serve to heighten the air of history and tradition that surrounds her? How might the image of a winged woman tie Lenore in with the ladies of the WASPs?
3. Though Sookie tells us that Lenore’s nickname, “Winged Victory,” came from the way she entered a room—as if she were the statuesque piece on the hood of a car rushing in—how might “Winged Victory” reflect Lenore’s personality in other ways? Does her representation as a classical goddess serve to heighten the air of history and tradition that surrounds her? How might the image of a winged woman tie Lenore in with the ladies of the WASPs?
4. Sookie’s best friend, Marvaleen, is constantly trying different suggestions from her life coach, Edna Yorba Zorbra. From journaling to yoga to the Goddess Within group, which meets in a yurt, Marvaleen tries every method possible to get over her divorce. How does Sookie’s approach to dealing with her problems differ from Marvaleen’s? Do you think her friendship with Marvaleen might have helped push her to confront the question of her mother?
5. In The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, we learn about a mostly unknown part of American history—the WASPs of World War II. These women went for thirty-five years without recognition because their records of service were sealed and classified. Were you surprised to learn about this? What parts of the WASPs’ story spoke to you?
6. As Sookie comes to terms with her new identity, so must the rest of her family. Sookie’s realization that “Dee Dee may not be a Simmons by birth, but she was certainly Lenore’s granddaughter, all right” becomes a comforting thought. Have there been times in your life when you have felt so connected to people that you considered them family? What types of circumstances can create such a bond?
7. Sookie tells her friend one day, “I’m telling you, Dena, when you live long enough to see your children begin to look at you with different eyes, and you can look at them not as your children, but as people, it’s worth getting older with all the creaks and wrinkles.” Have you experienced this change yet with your own parents or children? If so, what were the circumstances in which you began to see them in a different light? How did this make your relationship even more special?
8. “Blue Jay Away,” Sookie’s brand-new invention, keeps Sookie’s house finches and chickadees fed, while also making Sookie famous. Who do you think have been the blue jays in Sookie’s own life? Has she learned to manage them successfully?
9. As Pat Conroy says, Fannie Flagg can make even the Polish seem Southern. A large part of Southern and Polish identity is found in their culture—the food, the music, the values. What are some of the things that are unique to your culture? How do they help bring people together?
10. Throughout the book, Dee Dee and Lenore often represent many characteristics that Sookie finds frustrating about being a Simmons, such as the time Dee Dee had to be driven to the church in the back of a moving van so that her Gone with the Wind wedding dress wouldn’t be messed up. Once Sookie gains perspective on her family, however, she comes to love and accept Dee Dee’s obsession with their history. Have there been times when your own friends or family have frustrated you with their opinions? How were you able to gain perspective and accept their differences?
11. A major theme in this book is accepting your home. Sookie experiences a homecoming many times—after she first meets Fritzi and returns to Point Clear, when she goes to Lenore’s bedside at Westminster Village, and when she flies to Pulaski for the All-Girl Filling Station’s last reunion. What is your favorite part about going home? Who are the people who make home a home for you?