For some time now, I’ve stepped back in time to write a book about the custom of taking a Sunday drive. A surprise often made driving an obscure road memorable. An interstate doesn’t serve up surprises unless it’s an accident so I take lesser roads whenever I can. The back roads provide a vacation from monotony.
One place satisfies my longing for the days of Sunday Drive surprises. In Kershaw County, South Carolina, if you drive 13 miles north of Camden on Old U.S. 1 you’ll pass through Cassatt, a spot in the road. Look for the old fellow standing by the highway. His name is Albert and he’s a mannequin, but he’s no dummy. He’s a marketing genius. Thanks to Albert, Cathy’s Original Dolls and Produce is now in “The Last Sunday Drive,” out late November.
You see I have a daughter in Apex, North Carolina, and I used to take I-95 to see her. Then a careful study of a map revealed a better path. On my trips up U.S. 1 to see her and her family, I always passed Albert. One day I couldn’t stand it any longer. I just had to know why this old codger, stiff as a board, stood in a hand truck by old U.S. 1. On a hot afternoon, I stopped and went inside a store that is a throwback to earlier times. A roving reporter, I went in with questions and a camera.
Cathy and Dean Anderson roll Albert out by U.S. 1 each morning. Cathy makes dolls and she made Albert to resemble a mountain man. For a while, she had made smaller dolls and placed them outside the store. “The sun was rough on them,” said Cathy, so she decided to make a bigger doll she could seat on an old wagon. Well, after Halloween one night, she arrived at the store to find the doll’s hands missing.
“Someone had tried to steal it ... probably teenagers,” Cathy said. She and Dean decided that a life-size doll would be next. Welcome to the world, Albert, you with your mop for hair and beard. You with your Old World Santa’s face and bronze wire-rim glasses. Welcome to a life hitchhiking old U.S. 1. Well, no one ever gives him a ride. They run over him. Despite the fact that Albert’s been hit and run over many times, they keep rolling him out.
“We’ve replaced his clothes, hat, and all many times,” said Cathy’s husband, Dean, who’s a dead ringer for Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer. Albert’s a survivor and so are the Andersons. They are pure Americana, throwbacks to the days when a Sunday drive down a two-lane highway never disappointed travelers. My stops in Cassatt on Old No. 1 take me back in time and as long as I travel this route, I’ll stop by to chat, buy some tomatoes, and see what doll Cathy is making.
Cathy and Dean are Cassatt originals and they’ve run their store almost 30 years now. “I sell more now than I used to,” said Cathy. Maybe the credit goes to Albert. That old codger has a way of pulling in customers, and he had the magic touch when it came to luring a Sunday driver-writer to stop by. Curiosity finally killed this cat.