Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of A Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator
A coal miner from West Virginia, his wife, an alligator, a rooster and a ragtop convertible. Who ever would have put that group together for a road trip in 1935? Even Homer Hickam, author of this wonderful new book, might not have imagined this combination --- all on his own, anyway. But over the course of his life, both as a boy and as an adult, this amazing story was unfolded to him, little by little --- anecdotes from the trip shared by his parents.
Elsie Lavender, a West Virginia girl from a small coal town, couldn’t think of anything else but getting out of that life. After high school graduation, she left for Orlando, where she lived as the guest of her uncle and worked in various jobs. How she loved the beauty and sunshine of Florida --- and the utter lack of grim miners, worried wives and black coal dust on everything.
And then Elsie met aspiring actor Buddy Ebsen. He was tall, handsome, polite and an incredible dancer. Oh, Elsie’s heart was enraptured. But while he seemed to like her just fine, Buddy’s heart was set elsewhere: on stardom. He was ready to head to New York City or California to dance and perhaps get into the movie business. Off he went one day, leaving Elsie behind.
"This unexpected gem of a story captivated my heart. It is so full of fun, brimming with life and absolutely packed full of the most unpredictable experiences..."
What was Elsie to do with herself? She remembered a young man, a miner back home, with piercing blue eyes, who had actually proposed to her after speaking to her only twice, before they both graduated from high school. At that moment, she was headed for Florida, so no answer was given to him. But now, bereft of Buddy (who had never made any secret of his plans for the future), Elsie heads home. Caught in the web of “kismet,” as explained by Homer’s boss, Captain Laird, she marries the young man.
Of all things, Buddy sends the couple a wedding gift of something to remind her of Florida: a baby alligator! Not at all sure she should have married Homer, Elsie pours out all her love and affection on Albert, who is actually a pretty great pet. He smiles and says “yeah yeah yeah” when he’s happy, and clearly voices his displeasure when he’s not. Also, he’s a fairly effective watchdog. But one night, he and Homer have a run-in in a dark room, and Homer has had enough. “It’s me or the alligator,” he says. Elsie is honestly not quite sure which one she should pick. However, it’s becoming clear that a growing alligator in West Virginia might not be the best fit. Eventually, Homer piles Albert in a washtub in the back seat of the Buick, and the couple heads down to Florida, to carry the alligator home. Then the adventure begins.
The first time I traveled in the Deep South, I heard the verb “carry” in an entirely new fashion --- as in “Can I carry you to that meeting?” or “Who’s going to carry you to dinner?” Where I had grown up, “carry” was generally used only to describe the moving of objects or small children, not adults. But I must say that CARRYING ALBERT HOME is aptly named. It indeed will sweep you up and carry you through the early life and adventures of Homer and Elsie, and deeply into their unusual love story.
This unexpected gem of a story captivated my heart. It is so full of fun, brimming with life and absolutely packed full of the most unpredictable experiences, as Homer, Elsie and the alligator (not to mention the rooster who joins them along the way) travel through the South and navigate their marriage, and the astonishing events and individuals they encounter. Elsie and Homer find, perhaps, the meaning of kismet in their own journey, as well as discovering the man and woman they truly are. In the hands of Homer Hickam (Junior), their story is crafted into a charming, affectionate tale of two very different people who develop a devoted love for each other, despite the many challenges they face.
Don’t miss CARRYING ALBERT HOME. It will surprise, delight and enchant you.
Reviewed by Melanie Reynolds on October 16, 2015