Monday, September 26, 2016

Mississippi Moves Me

Annamaria on Monday

My post-Bouchercon trip the length of Mississippi was dream-like.

That lead sentence requires a digression.  A lot of what I am about to say will come across as implausible.  I am worried that you won’t take it as the unvarnished truth.  You see, I have a tendency to wax enthusiastic.   More than one person has taken the passion with which I speak as over-dramatization.  Not to say exaggeration.  I feel the need, before I go ahead with my story to let you know that, though I am reporting facts, you may find all this a bit over the top.   You will make up your own mind, but in my own defense, I can offer this possible extenuating circumstance:  It is quite likely that I was born exuberant, evidence of which is visible in this photograph taken when I was just shy of fourteen months old—too young to put on airs.

That said, here is what happened to the grown-up version of that kid in the days following Bouchercon 2016.

I left NOLA on the legendary City of New Orleans.  Contrary to Arlo Gurthrie, I traveled north, and after six hours descended at Greenwood, Mississippi on the banks of the Yazoo

It was not my first trip there.  One of the most astonishing chapters is my implausible life deals with my unlikely relationship with the Viking Range Corporation, which is headquartered in Greenwood.  It started in 1985, when David and I were renovating the kitchen in our house on Waverly Place.  Enthusiastic cook that I am, I wanted a serious stove for my new kitchen.  It took three months of researching and cajoling before an architect friend came up with the Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox of a flyer about a product called the Viking range.  The page showed a fuzzy drawing and listed specifications that matched my wants.  At the bottom was an address in Greenwood.  I called the 800 number and spoke to Fred Carl.  I thought he was a salesman.  In the course of placing my order, I advised Mr. Carl that his company needed to make itself better known.

Little did I know that Fred Carl was the founder of Viking and the designer of the first-ever professional range for the home.  At the moment I called, discouraged after two years of trying to get his idea off the ground, Fred Carl was contemplating giving up to the whole effort as a pipe dream.  No one believed him that there would be a market for such a thing.  My call provided him with a story to tell: a woman from New York had placed an order and was sending him a deposit check.

In the course of the next thirty-plus years, during which Fred’s invention revolutionized the kitchen appliance industry, I have from time to time, described myself as the “patron saint” of the Viking Range Corporation.   I performed no miracles.  But Fred and Margaret Carl have always treated me as if I played a pivotal role in the birth of their business.

On my second trip to Greenwood, that treatment continued.

One of my Viking friends—Dale Persons—arranged for me and my friend Marie Moore to do a signing at the lovely local store—Turnrow Books.  Marie is the author of a wonderful series of travel mysteries, more about which here.   With both of us writing about exotic locations and sharing a warm friendship, we made a good team.  The event on Monday evening was a huge success.  An SRO crowd and many books signed.

Monday afternoon was what put me into Alice-in-Wonderland territory.  Viking’s president, Kevin Brown, invited me to tour the plant.   Some of Viking’s employees who had been there from the beginning turned out to greet me.  Kevin took us around and pointed out several improvements in production and product testing instituted since my last visit ten years ago.

Marie and I found fodder for mystery writers in some of the equipment—like the laser beam that can cut steel as if it were butter, right out of the final scene of a James Bond flick.  We particularly like the oven that bonds porcelain to steel.  What a way to turn a dead body to ashes.  There are even hooks on which to hang a corpse!

It was fascinating.

Then Kevin invited me to the center of the factory floor where he showed me the latest, top-of-the-line 48-inch range with a big blue bow on it.  “This is your stove,” he said.  I said, “No, my stove is not exactly like this.” And I proceeded to describe the differences between the one in my kitchen and the one before us.  It took Kevin three tries, and Marie and Dale chiming in, before he got it through to me.  He was giving me that gorgeous thing as a gift!

I remain astonished.

The next morning, Marie and I traveled north.  She gave me a tour of her alma mater, Ole Miss in Oxford, and I enjoyed a wonderful stay at her home in Holly Springs, where she introduced me to her husband and some of her friends.  Believe me.  Truly.  Southern hospitality is not just a myth. 


  1. Love the first picture... that's our AmA, reaching for the stars from the very beginning. Was the new stove checked or carry-on?

    1. EvKa, it's my favorite picture of me. I discovered in an old box of family memorabilia a few months ago. There are ways in which I am still that baby.

      Sadly, the seat next to me was taken on the plane. I'll have to wait till the new range makes its way here by train and van. I am feeling sorry for my old stove. I used to love it so much. Now I look at it and picture its replacement. Fickle me!

  2. Tell me, were you truly rendered speechless when the truth dawned about the stove?
    My stove ( very similar to yours ) broke in 2004 - we are down to one ring and the small grill. It's been on the to do list for a very long time!

    1. Speechless and stunned, Caro. I have warned Marie that she may be called on to testify that I can actually be put in such a state. I look at my face in that picture and laugh out loud. I look like a silent film actor miming a double-take. I did not know a person would actually look like that when surprised in real life. What a hoot!

  3. What a wonderful story, Annamaria. Lovely that some companies still appreciate their early adopters!

    1. Michael, the local paper printed the astonished picture last Tuesday and on Wednesday published an editorial on just your subject here. Viking is now a huge company and part of a conglomerate, but the folks closest to the company are still as loyal to me as I am to them.

      Fred Carl was the one who established that corporate culture. When Viking finally got going, he was strongly advised to manufacture elsewhere. But his hometown of Greenwood was capitol of the poorest county in the US. He insisted on keeping the jobs there. He changed more than just kitchen fittings. He brought a huge measure of prosperity to the people of Greenwood and Mississippi. I have the deepest admiration for him.

  4. The love the Viking family has for you literally brought tears to my eyes.

    No punch line, just the truth.

    1. Thank you for understanding how deeply this affects me too, my brother.

  5. What a wonderful story, Annamaria. As the owner of a sparkly new kitchen, still mostly bearing its protective plastic and as yet unsullied and uncooked in, I understand your feelings towards your new Viking stove!