Penelope Nicole Turtleblow was just like any other little girl growing up in rural Georgia. She minded her manners, listened to her Pa and always kept her large pink hair bow in perfect condition and neatly perched atop her headful of flaxen curls. Yes, Penelope was the pride and joy of her parents, that is until the family took the old pick-up truck over two counties for the Georgia State Fair. Penelope was so excited she hadn’t slept a wink the night before. This would be her first visit to the fair and her mother had even allowed two of her bestest friends, Francine and Debbie, to tag along (which almost made up for her having to share the trip with her younger, bratty sister).
After parking and piling out of the truck, Penelope and her friends giggle in excitement as the skip through the entrance under the giant sign featuring a clown with a flashing yellow nose. Penelope tried a little of everything, the cotton candy, the tilt-a-whirl, the flying saucer, the corndogs, a piece of Francine’s funnel cake and trying her luck throwing the rings over milk bottles. It was a wonderful, magical day. As the girls waited their turn for candied apples, a man with a wide gate and a toothy grin sauntered up to the three and offered a sample of his world-famous hot boil’d p-nuts. “You won’t find a tastier delicacy in all of Georgia!” the man bellowed. Francine and Debbie eagerly plucked a few of the slimy nuts from the cast iron pot and quickly gobbled them up. When the man noticed Penelope had not joined her friends he cajoled her by singing the nuts’ praises all over again. Finally, Penelope mustered up the courage to decline a sample saying sweetly, “I don’t care for peanuts, thank you; boiled or otherwise,”.
You could have heard a pin drop as everyone looked in horror at the girl who didn’t ‘care’ for peanuts. The man then leaned in close to Penelope, as if to make sure he had heard right and then, with a growl quickly walked away to offer his delicious peanuts to someone who would appropriately appreciated them, mumbling something about that girl being in the wrong state.
Trying to laugh off the entire incident, Penelope looked over at her friends who looked as if they might spit on her. “You don’t like peanuts? Like, any kind of peanuts?” Francine looked dumbfounded. “Penelope, you’re a nut!” Debbie giggled a little meanly. “In fact, Penelope, you’re flat out loop-e, LOOPY PENELOPE!” Debbie began to chant. Not liking her new nickname one bit, Penelope hid a tear and ran to find her parents. Locating them near the makeshift dance floor where men in denim were twirling their women in a kaleidoscope of colorful cotton, Penelope threw herself into her mother’s arms and began to bawl.
“What is it, P-nut?” her mother asked with concern. Hearing her familiar nickname in a wholly new way, Penelope cried harder. Once she was able to settle down a bit, she told her mother and father what had happened as they stared in surprise at the tale. “You mean,” her father was having trouble finding his words, “you don’t like peanuts?” he finally managed to ask. As a proud fourth generation peanut farmer, Penelope’s father seemed to be close to tears himself at his daughter’s confession. “But P-nut, how is it you’ve gone all this time, more than eight years, without us knowing you didn’t like peanuts?” Penelope’s mother was having an equally difficult time processing this upsetting piece of information.
Things got worse from there. Penelope had the misfortune of living in a very small town; a very small town made up primarily of peanut farmers like her father. Living in Georgia didn’t help much either, peanuts were a basic part of Georgian culture and industry, not liking peanuts was up there with being allergic to azaleas or not knowing the words to “Georgia on My Mind”. Add to that the fact that Penelope’s own initials were PNT, an abbreviation of peanut, and it wasn’t long before the poor girl was cast as a social pariah. For years, Penelope endured the scorn and blatant hostility of her neighbors and schoolmates, if they could have found a rail that wasn’t nailed down, they would have rode her out on town on it.
The day of her high school graduation, Penelope loaded up her beat up VW Bug and after hugging her mother, father and sister goodbye left town, vowing to never return to the now hated place. Driving across the country, Penelope finally came to a stop in a picturesque beach town on the coast of Southern California. Making a fresh start, Penelope was looking forward to her new life… far from the peanut farms (and peanut brains) of Georgia.
“Molly! It’s so good to hear from you! I’m sorry it’s been so long since we’ve talked, I’m on this crazy schedule out here, and with the time change… oh whatever, how’s the baby!?!” Penelope pushed the draft of her latest script away to make room for her feet on her home office desk while she listened to her sister talk about her progressing pregnancy. “Actually, that’s why I’m calling. It’s been ten years, sis and I’d really like it if you could be with me when this baby comes. Don’t you think it’s about time you came home for a visit?” her sister asked as meekly as she could manage.
Penelope choked back her go-to reply of “I really can’t get away, I’m so busy” and thought about the possibility of going home. It just so happened that her schedule was unusually slow for the next month, she could easily take the script she had been working on with her (the flexibility of being a highly-sought writer for television dramas never got old) so if she were going to take the trip, now would be the time. “OK, sis. Just because I love you so much, I’ll do it,” Penelope smiled as her sister screeched in delight almost a continent away.
Walking back into her childhood home brought a rush of memories in such intensity, Penelope felt a little lightheaded. Settling into her old room (that hadn’t changed a bit since she left) Penelope gathered her composure- she would be going into town with her mother to meet Molly for lunch. Penelope groaned aloud as she lay on her bed and stared at the glow-in-the-dark stars she had placed on the ceiling almost two decades ago. “P-nut… I mean, Penelope, you ready?” her mother yelled from downstairs. Her mother never could get used to not using the nickname from her childhood. “Coming!” she called back and with a sigh thought, “here goes nothing”.
Sitting in the spotless little café off of Broad St. Penelope was a little surprised that no one had recognized her; surprised but relieved. Relaxing for the first time since her flight had touched down in the red Georgia clay, Penelope enjoyed catching up with her mother and sister as they waited for their meals to arrive. As they chatted, their waitress brought over three small plates and a larger plate with something heaped on top. “Our homemade peanut brittle while you wait, ladies,” she smiled with obvious pride as she set the plate down. The three women smile in response, and two take a piece from the plate. Looking at Penelope, the waitress smiles and said, “Oh you must try it. Believe me, it’s worth the calories. We make it fresh every day in house and I made today’s batch”. Penelope’s mother and sister freeze and brace themselves for Penelope’s reaction.
Maintaining her smile, Penelope looked up at their waitress and politely replied, “You know I would love to try some, but unfortunately, I’m allergic to peanuts. It smells absolutely scrumptious though”.
“Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t realize! Should I take the plate away?” The waitress asked with immediate concern.
“Oh no, it’s fine, but thank you.” Penelope smiled and turned back to her sister, pleased that her plan had worked so well…
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: On our drive back home we happened to stop at the Tallulah Falls overlook to grab a few cold drinks before continuing on our way. As we waited in line to pay for our beverages, the man selling hot boiled p-nuts came in behind us and offered us a sample of his freshest batch. I’m not a big fan of peanuts. I’m especially not a fan of slimy, hot shriveled things that resemble something that someone already regurgitated… but that’s just me. Well my reaction didn’t go over too well, with the boiled p-nuts guy or the lady at the counter. Not only was I called a ‘chicken’ but was told I ‘was in the wrong state if I didn’t like peanuts’. Apparently, Georgians are very fond of their peanuts and the simple act of declining these food gems is practically a slap in their collective faces. Lesson learned (next time, I’ll just claim to be allergic).
TWO: The fact that Georgians have an (somewhat strange) affinity to the peanut was further illustrated as we passed through Tifton County and came upon a giant peanut on the side of I-75 with the words-
Georgia- 1st in Peanuts
Now you know.
Love & Squirrels.