Jimmy Dean died on Sunday, very randomly and also very suddenly according to his wife. He and Donna have lived in Varina, the area where I grew up, for a long time, and they were the biggest local celebrities our little side of Richmond had ever seen. It wouldn't be strange to see them out at (the now defunct) Ukrop's for groceries or other places around town. While I was in school, they had a "Dean's List" program where students were given savings bonds for keeping the GPA high or raising it from one semester to the next. They also helped out the school by buying new band uniforms, and he honored the top 30 seniors in a class by taking them on his yacht for a day (or, in my case, having them over for an afternoon party)and drawing a name from his cowboy hat to give one of us a car (sadly, I did not win).
I have many Jimmy Dean stories that I love to tell. In fact, all of my Jimmy Dean stories are in my repertoire that I whip out at parties or other times when the mood strikes. Each one is a little bit different (though they all end with a quippy punchline), but each of them is pretty hilarious. There's a great one where, while visiting his house during the Top 30 Seniors Party, I won lots of quarters from his in-house slot machine, and he came up behind me, draped an arm on my shoulders, and said, "I hope you don't think I'm gonna let you take that home with you!" There's another fun one from my freshman year, when my brother's friend asked him during an assembly how much his belt buckle cost, and Jimmy called him a smartass in front of the entire student body, faculty, and visting parents. There's my second favorite from when our Madrigal chorus sang as carollers for his holiday party, and he told our director (AND I quote) that she couldn't find her fanny if all 10 of her fingers were flashlights.
However, my favorite Jimmy Dean moment happened after I'd left high school, after I hadn't won the car, after I'd been gone from Varina for a while. It was my cousin's 21st birthday, and she was working at the local CVS pharmacy. I had decided that I was going to surprise her at work by ambushing her and singing Happy Birthday. The pharmacy is located in the back of the store and my mole told me she was at the register, so I chose my inconspicuous aisle, leapt out from around a blind corner, and started belting it out.
Turns out, she was currently ringing up Mr. Jimmy Dean, clad in jeans and a Varina sweatshirt.
She was so, so embarrassed, judging by the horrified look on her face, and I probably should have been too. I do admit, I got a little flustered by my celebrity audience, but I didn't miss a beat. I kept singing, did a little birthday softshoe, and the line of people gave me nice smiles and applause. Cousin told Jimmy that it was indeed her birthday, and that I (her cousin) just wanted to tease her. Jimmy asked her how she was, and when she replied, he laughed heartily and quipped, "Oh honey, I've got underpants older than you!"
Happy birthday indeed.
That being said, he was a lovely man who did many wonderfully nice things for our fledgling community while being very genuine and respectful, and I know we're all a bit sadder now that he's gone. Thank you, Sausage King.