Zeb Alley "fixed" many things in Haywood and beyond
Much has been written about Zeb Alley, Waynesville attorney and Raleigh power broker, since he died a couple of weeks ago. My take on this extraordinary man is personal. I'm going to spill a few beans.
Zeb and I met through our mutual friend, television actor Skip Young of the Ozzie and Harriet Show. It was the mid-1960's and I was living at home in Hazelwood with strict parents and a cat.
When Skip came to Waynesville to visit Zeb, the convivial actor cajoled the Waynesville Police Department into telling him how to get in touch with the blonde who drove the red Mustang convertible,then called her at the rubber plant. Would she meet him and Zeb at the Copper Kettle for dinner? Well, yes, she would. Life was good--until she told her daddy.
"No Hollywood actors," Mayor Dutch said emphatically. Stifling tears, she called Zeb's house Friday afternoon and told Skip her daddy wouldn't let her go.
Saturday morning Mrs. Fisher answered their phone, brought it into her daughter's bedroom and said breathlessly "I think it's that Hollywood actor!"
So it was. "Zeb and I have cooked breakfast and we're not going to eat until you get here," said the trademark squeaky voice.
She sighed. "I don't think I can, but I'll ask my mother."
"Get ready and go," her mother whispered, frantically pulling mini-dresses and go-go boots from the closet. "I'll handle your daddy."
That morning was the first of many meals with Zeb and Skip, both before I met my mountain man and after Jack died.
Space won't permit my telling about my visit to Hollywood and hearing Skip regale folks at a charity benefit in Burbank with stories of Zeno Ponder and Madison County politics as told to him by Zeb. Or of my trip back from LAX through the Atlanta airport into Asheville carrying a pan of frozen lasagna on my lap--for Zeb from his friend who owned an Italian restaurant in Hollywood.
Instead, I'll talk about how Zeb changed my life forever by introducing me to Jack Enloe.
In 1967, Zeb and I gave a Christmas party for unattached folks like him and me. At the last minute the woman he was dating decided she could be in Waynesville for the party after all. Zeb called me in a dither: "I have a date. You have to have a date. I'll find somebody to come get you."
Zeb called Friday morning. "Jack Enloe's going to pick you up. He'll call you tonight to make arrangements."
Friday night came and went. No call. Saturday morning Mother again answered the phone and brought it to me.
It was Jack Enloe. "I was supposed to call you last night but I got to playing poker and plumb forgot all about it. You still want me to come get you?" His voice sounded really nice. I said yes. I wouldn't discover until that night that he looked like Dean Martin, only better.
Zeb took great glee in telling how the blind date almost didn't happen. Seems Jack had seen me at Clyde's Restaurant. Mincing no words, Jack told Zeb that I looked 'stuck up' and he didn't have any intention of taking me anywhere. Not to be outdone, Zeb reached into his desk and pulled out a fifth of bourbon: "This is yours if you'll go get her." I don't drink, but for me that was one lucky batch of sour mash.
My life's course was set because of Zeb Alley. I thought about that on the rainy Sunday afternoon when Zeb was laid to rest among his beloved band of brothers in the veterans' section of Green Hill Cemetery. Volleys shattered the mist and a trumpeter sounded Taps for Zeb. I cried--for Zeb and for memories of a snowy January afternoon in 1977 at the Boyd family cemetery on Iron Duff when those same sounds echoed from the mountains. My six-year-old daughter shivered on my lap as we watched the U.S. flag being folded, then handed to us. Her half-brothers had helped me try to explain to her that their daddy wouldn't be coming back.
The night before my husband's funeral, Zeb asked, "Don't you want military rites for Jack?" Jack had earned them as a 12-year veteran U.S. Navy jet engine mechanic who served part of that time on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Korea. I was a student at Hazelwood Elementary School during those days.
"Yes, I do. But it's too late and I don't know how to do it, anyway," I replied, still smarting from the early loss of my mountain man.
"I'll take care of it," Zeb said quietly.
Zeb took care of a lot of things. Because of Zeb Alley, life for me has been more interesting than I could ever have imagined.
Thanks for everything, Zeb. R.I.P.