Fannie Flagg: "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:54
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Fannie Flagg, the best-selling author of "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" returns with a new novel that spans several decades and three generations. It tells the story of two women forced to reimagine who they are and what they might accomplish. It's title "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion." Fannie Flagg joins me in the studio.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:24
You are most welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org, find us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Welcome back to you, Fannie.

MS. FANNIE FLAGG

11:07:44
Oh, I'm thrilled to be back.

REHM

11:07:47
I'm so glad to see you again.

FLAGG

11:07:49
Thank you.

REHM

11:07:50
Well, and you know that "Fried Green Tomatoes" is one of my favorite books, one of my favorite movies, but I'm telling you, this story is just incredible. Tell us the idea behind the novel.

FLAGG

11:08:09
Well, you're so sweet to say that. It's so funny. When I continued writing books, I always wanted to write a sequel to "Fried Green Tomatoes," but everybody in the book, I killed off. I didn't -- and so I thought, I always wanted to do the sequel and I -- but this book somehow in the universe came to be because of "Fried Green Tomatoes," and I'll tell you the story. When the movie came out, I wrote the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes" about my great aunt who actually had a little railroad cafe.

FLAGG

11:08:49
So the little cafe in Birmingham, after the movie came out, became a huge restaurant and sort of a tourist thing for people to come to Birmingham.

REHM

11:09:00
Of course. Of course.

FLAGG

11:09:02
Because they say this is where the "Fried Green Tomatoes." And my great aunt had passed away, but she sold it to a lovely family and they were friends of mine. And one day I just happened to -- and I was in California, and I called the café, and spoke to Mrs. McMichael who owned it, and she said, oh, Fannie, I'm so glad you called. She said there's great gals here today for lunch. I said, oh, who? She said, well, they're the WASPS. I said, what?

REHM

11:09:32
Who?

FLAGG

11:09:32
She's -- yeah. And she said, you know, they flew military planes during the second world war.

REHM

11:09:38
Wow.

FLAGG

11:09:39
It was 1999, and they were there for their last reunion...

REHM

11:09:43
Oh, I see.

FLAGG

11:09:43
...because at that time -- Diane, they were in their eighties, you know? And there were just a few left. And I said, oh, my gosh, I didn't know that they had that. I said give them my best, let me buy them lunch. Tell them hello and good -- you know? So I didn't think much about it. They sent -- the next year, I received a book in the mail and it was written about the WASP that I actually -- one of the ones that was there, and another book, and I said, gosh, that'd be great to write about.

FLAGG

11:10:17
So I put it aside because I was in the middle of another book, and sort of -- I sort of went through it and I thought, what -- how brave they were to fly those huge military planes. I'm a white-knuckle flyer, you know. I'm scared to even, you know, go on any plane and they're flying them.

REHM

11:10:35
And these young women...

FLAGG

11:10:36
Women.

REHM

11:10:37
And they volunteer.

FLAGG

11:10:39
Yes.

REHM

11:10:40
And do we know how much they were paid?

FLAGG

11:10:45
Oh, they were just paid almost nothing.

REHM

11:10:48
Almost nothing.

FLAGG

11:10:49
Nothing.

REHM

11:10:49
And they got this training to fly these huge military planes.

FLAGG

11:10:55
Well, when the war started, a lot of these gals had already had their pilots license. Some of them were very wealthy girls from Smith and Wellesley, and some, like one of my characters, just learned to fly because they happened to know a pilot like a crop duster or something like that.

REHM

11:11:12
And some of them were too short but they stood on their tiptoes.

FLAGG

11:11:18
They stood on boxes, they did everything. They were just unbelievably brave, but like, as you know, when that war started, everybody wanted to do something and these gals felt so strongly that they wanted to help the country, and what they did is they wanted to free up military pilots to go overseas so they could fly planes within the United States, so they would ferry planes back and forth.

REHM

11:11:45
I see.

FLAGG

11:11:46
But it was still dangerous. It was very dangerous.

REHM

11:11:48
You bet. So now give us an outline of this new novel.

FLAGG

11:11:53
Well, it starts with a gal named Sookie, and she lives in Point Clear, Alabama, and she is one of those sweet southern gals, and she has a domineering mother.

REHM

11:12:06
Very. To say the least.

FLAGG

11:12:09
Everybody will recognize that.

REHM

11:12:11
Yeah.

FLAGG

11:12:11
And this poor gal has just married off her last daughter. She has four daughters and she had married her off. And one she's had to marry twice because she divorced, and she thinks she's going to settle down...

REHM

11:12:25
Finally.

FLAGG

11:12:25
...and relax...

REHM

11:12:27
Right.

FLAGG

11:12:27
...and have some time with her husband, Mr. Earl Poole, Jr., and she's so thrilled because her mother is driving her crazy, but she has a nurse for her mother now. And the mother gets in all kinds of trouble because she writes political editorials and she's always getting sued. So she gets all of her mail just to make sure there's nothing bad that comes through, and she gets a phone call from this man that she doesn't know. She picks up the phone and this man tells her, he said, Mrs. Poole, I have a letter for your mother, and….

REHM

11:13:08
Do you want to read?

FLAGG

11:13:09
I will do that.

REHM

11:13:11
Read that portion for us.

FLAGG

11:13:12
She's going, oh, no, you know, what is it about? "What does has my mother done now? I can't go through another lawsuit, and so she's talking to the man, and she said, is from the Gym Shopping Network? Are they in Texas? Has she ordered more scatter pins? Oh, I hope now. She has over a hundred now. No, ma'am. Oh, well, is it from Barbara Bush? My mother thinks they have a lot in common and she's always writing the poor woman asking her to come down for a visit.

FLAGG

11:13:41
"I said, mother, Barbara Bush is far too busy to come all the way down here just to go to lunch with you. No, ma'am, it's not from Mrs. Bush. Oh, well, is it a telephone bill? Has she called somebody and reversed the charges again? If so, I apologize in advance. We have a wonderful nurse watching her, but she must have turned her back for five minutes. Anyway, I'm so sorry, and tell whoever she's called that we'll be happy to pay for it. There was a pause, and then the man said, Mrs. Poole, we have a registered letter we are sending out overnight, and I just need to confirm that someone will be home tomorrow who is authorized to sign for it.

FLAGG

11:14:24
"Sookie's heart stopped. A registered letter. Oh, no. That always meant something legal. Sookie winced as she asked the dreaded question, sir, when you use the term 'we,' are you by chance a law firm? I'm sorry, Mrs. Poole, but I'm not at liberty to discuss it over the phone. Oh, God. It must be something serious if the man can't even discuss it over the phone. Listen, I'm so sorry. What is your name?

FLAGG

11:14:57
"Harold, ma'am. Listen, Harold, is it about some editorial she's written? She's watches the news and gets herself all riled up and she's always spouting off about something, but believe me, if my mother has made any threats against the government or said anything stupid, I can assure that she's perfectly harmless. She's just an old lady. Well, harmless as far as not being armed or anything. She's just not quite right if you know what I mean. It's a family trait. You just have to know the Simmons. They are all a little off.

FLAGG

11:15:31
"She has a brother and sister that are really off. You have no idea how much trouble the woman has caused. She's almost 89 years old and she won't go to assisted living, and she refuses to let us put in a walk-in tub for her, and I worry to death about her falling and breaking a hip. She sighed, I'm sorry to be so upset. It's just that my poor husband and I have just gone through four weddings, and my little birds won't go around to the front yard. I'm just being overrun by Blue Jays, and another lawsuit is just not what I need right now.

FLAGG

11:16:06
"My nerves are all a jangle as it is. Can't you tell me what it's about? I'm sorry, ma'am. I'm not authorized to give out any information over the phone. Oh, please, Harold. Don't drag this out. You don't know me but I really could go off the deep end at any moment. It's the Simmons family curse. It hit Uncle Baby overnight. One day president of a bank and the next off weaving baskets over at Pleasant Hill. And Aunt Lily was perfectly fine, and then for no reason she shot at the paper boy. Thank God she didn't hit him, or we could all be sitting in jail right now.

FLAGG

11:16:46
"As I said, Mrs. Poole, you will be receiving the letter in the morning. Oh, Harold, can't you just open it up and read it to me now? I don't need to know all the details, just how much she's being sued for. We just went through our entire retirement account for a down payment for a house for our daughter Le Le and her husband. He's perfectly nice, but he plays the zither for a living. Oh. Yes. That's what we said, but she loves him, so what can you do? Anyway, we are mortgaged up to the hilt. Can't you at least tell me how much my mother is being sued for so I can be prepared?

FLAGG

11:17:27
"I won't tell anyone, I promise. I'm so sorry, ma'am, but I don't have the authority to do that. I was instructed to locate the current mailing address and send it on. That's all. This is not even my department. I'm just filling on. Oh, I see. Well, couldn't you just take one quick little peek and tell me if it's over a hundred thousand dollars. Then she heard his muffled voice obviously whispering behind his hand. Mrs. Poole, the wife and I just married off our daughter, so I know what you've been through. Don't worry, she's not being sued.

FLAGG

11:18:06
"No? Oh, thank God. Oh, bless you, Harold. I don't know why, but with mother, I always assume it's going to be bad news. But then again, it could be good news, right? Harold didn't say anything, so Sookie's mood suddenly brightened. Hey, wait a minute, did she win a contest or something? Are you from the Publisher's Clearinghouse? Should I have her over here at the house in the morning dressed and made up or anything? I need to know, because she'll want to have her hair done.

FLAGG

11:18:38
"Will there be photographs or news people? No, ma'am. Oh, well, can you give me just a little hint of what to expect?"

REHM

11:18:48
Short break, right back.

REHM

11:20:02
And welcome back. Fannie Flagg is my guest this morning, one of my favorite authors with a brand new book. It's titled, "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion." And you're going to hear what it's all about as we continue our discussion. We will be taking your calls, your email, postings on Facebook or tweets. Fannie Flagg, there was one tiny last paragraph to that telephone call.

FLAGG

11:20:43
Yes. Will there be news people? No, ma'am. Oh, well, can you give me a little hint of what to expect? There was a long silence on the other end. Then Harold said, Mrs. Poole, all I can say is, you are not who you think you are. And then he abruptly hung up.

REHM

11:21:11
And therein lies the tale.

FLAGG

11:21:13
...lies the tale.

REHM

11:21:15
Isn't that fun?

FLAGG

11:21:18
Oh, it's -- I hope so.

REHM

11:21:20
Well, it is because what it does is set up a track for finding out without letting her mother know that she's looking. That's very important to her.

FLAGG

11:21:38
Yes. And, you know, I had -- it's the funniest thing, Diane. Somebody sent me a DNA test from National Geographic, you know, where they trace your...

REHM

11:21:47
Yeah.

FLAGG

11:21:48
And I found out something that I never knew because my thing came back and they said your background is Finnish. I was so stunned because it never -- I never knew that.

REHM

11:22:00
But you know your skin is so fair, your eyes are so blue, there you are.

FLAGG

11:22:08
But I didn't -- it was so funny I always thought that I was Irish or English, you know. And just that little twist threw me a little bit. It made me think about myself in a different way and I started looking at myself. I said, well, you don't look Scandinavian. So I thought, what would it be like for someone my age, you know, grown, you've got your life behind you...

REHM

11:22:29
Exactly.

FLAGG

11:22:29
...and you find out you lived your entire life and you had something really you didn't know about yourself.

REHM

11:22:36
But this is far more important because it starts her off on a search. And finding herself not only who she is, what she is, what her historical background is, and then the people with whom she connects in the process. And that's where the wasps do begin to come in.

FLAGG

11:23:08
Yeah. Yes, because she traces herself. The only clue she has is she finds out that she is in fact Polish, Catholic and is -- her family are from Pulaski, WI.

REHM

11:23:31
And here she is in the Deep South with a mother who...

FLAGG

11:23:39
Totally Protestant, all South and the mother just has told her all of her life that the Simmons were this old southern aristocracy family. You know, and they -- she has grown up hearing that. And all of a sudden, she's not who she thinks she is. And the fun is her trying to find out who she is.

REHM

11:24:01
What about the similarities between your grandmother and Sookie?

FLAGG

11:24:11
Well, actually, my grandmother, it was so funny, Diane. Coming to see you, I was driving through the embassy places and my grandmother had, I guess, would call it kindly illusions of grandeur. And she came here and she drove by the British embassy and she said, well now, that's where I belong, having tea. And so, Sookie's mother is very much like my grandmother.

REHM

11:24:40
Exactly.

FLAGG

11:24:40
And Sookie's relationship to her mother was very much like the relationship that my mother had with her mother.

REHM

11:24:47
Oh, really?

FLAGG

11:24:48
And I can remember my mother saying, and I bet every woman has heard this, when I would say how much I love my grandmother, my mother would be very kind. She would say, well, just be glad she's your grandmother and not your mother. Have we heard that before?

REHM

11:25:03
We've heard that before.

FLAGG

11:25:04
So it's -- it's about -- it's hard growing up with a domineering mother, you know. And I think that has what has caused Sookie to be so rather shy and not have much self-confidence. And so I think that's basically where I got it. I observed that women that have domineering mothers tend to have to fight a little harder to find who they are.

REHM

11:25:34
Did you have domineering mother?

FLAGG

11:25:37
No, I had -- I didn't. I was lucky. My mother was very, very sweet. And if anything, I wish she had done more. You know, my grandmother used to say, you know, to her, oh, you need to get out and do more. And my mother was much more of a housewife type than my grandmother. My grandmother was very out in the world. And of that generation that just did a lot.

REHM

11:26:07
Fannie, you had certainly ambitions to be an actress.

FLAGG

11:26:13
Yes.

REHM

11:26:13
And you followed that dream. You went to New York. You did what you wanted to do not only on television, but in stage productions. What was it that was inside you that finally made you say to yourself, I'm done with this, I really, really want to write?

FLAGG

11:26:40
Diane, I always, my whole life, wanted to write -- it was so funny. I don't know where it came from, but I, as you know, was very dyslexic. So I thought I couldn't be a writer. I thought all writers had to be English majors. And so I went in to show business because it was all I could do. I tried to be a waitress and I got fired because I couldn't spell what I was supposed to write down. And they fired me, because I'd get nervous.

FLAGG

11:27:14
And they couldn't read my writing. So I just -- I don't know where it came from, but I just always felt more comfortable observing people. I just love to look at people. My favorite thing in the world is to sit and watch people, you know.

REHM

11:27:30
I do the same thing...

FLAGG

11:27:31
Yes, you do.

REHM

11:27:32
...in the morning looking up this beautiful window.

FLAGG

11:27:35
Oh, and I just at the point that you're speaking of, I was on Broadway doing "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and I came to work one day and I just was not happy. And I thought to myself, it was so strange. I thought, I'm taking a job away from someone who would just love to be here. And I just stopped and quit show business and pursued writing. And I'm so glad I did because it was like all of a sudden I realized that's where I should have been all my life.

REHM

11:28:10
How did you feel when you finished "Fried Green Tomatoes," the screenplay?

FLAGG

11:28:19
I was -- I personally was thrilled with it. And I was so lucky because, Diane, as you know, so many of my friends are writers and their films are nothing like their book.

REHM

11:28:33
Exactly, exactly.

FLAGG

11:28:33
So I was blessed in that I got the great actresses to play those roles and I thought that the director did a believe job.

REHM

11:28:42
He does.

FLAGG

11:28:43
And what meant the most to me was that it brought a lot of people together, a lot of people took their mothers to that film, their best friends to that film. And women's friendship is so important, you know. My mother had wonderful women friends. And they help you get through life.

REHM

11:29:05
As do I.

FLAGG

11:29:07
Yeah.

REHM

11:29:07
It's so, so important.

FLAGG

11:29:10
And it just means the world to me. And it meant the world to me that I could write about these particular women in this book because they just didn't get enough credit and I just feel like somehow I want so much for people to realize how brave these girls were.

REHM

11:29:30
Now, people have loved hearing you read. Why don't we turn to page 116 where Sookie goes to the Chamber of Commerce in Pulaski, WI to find out about her biological family, 116.

FLAGG

11:29:56
116. Well, she decides that she really is nervous about it, but she has the town where her mother came from and she was very concern that she need to find out anything about their background that might affect their children, like their health and everything.

REHM

11:30:16
Right.

FLAGG

11:30:18
And so she thinks about it for months. And so finally, she says, "Sookie finally got up her nerve and called the information and got the number for the Pulaski Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce. She grabbed a small paper bag just in case and started -- she started to hyperventilate. When she dialed area code 920 and the number answered, a woman, with a very blunt and definite accent that was alien to Sookie said, Hi, this is Marianne, can I help you?

FLAGG

11:30:57
Oh, hello, you don't know me. But I'm calling to inquire about a family there named Gertabelinski (sp?) . Who? She spelled the name for her. Oh, yeah, the Gertabelinskis. The gas station family. Pardon me? They used to run the gas station in town. Oh, I see. Well, do you happen to know if the family was healthy? Healthy? Yes, any history of diabetes? Heart problems? Any mental issues? Cancer or alcoholism?

FLAGG

11:31:43
Oh, geez, hun, never heard anything about that. My mom went to school with a couple of the Gertabelinski gals and, as I recall, there were four girls and a boy and two other girls were twins. Twins? Oh, really? For heaven's sakes. Oh, yeah. And one of the girls became a nun, and they were all healthy as far as I know. Do you know if any of them are still around? Oh, let me see. I think Tulla Tulenski (sp?) was a Gertabelinski before she married Norbert.

FLAGG

11:32:18
But they moved over to Madison. Are you a relative? Oh, no, I'm just a college student doing some research on old Polish families. Well, we sure got a lot of them in Pulaski. Now I can find out more about the Gertabelinskis for you, where they are and so forth. But it'll take a few days. We're awfully busy here this week, we got the Polish Polka Days going on. And we're up to our ears in activities with the parade and all.

FLAGG

11:32:49
Oh, well, I won't keep you then. I'll call back next week. Give me your name, hun. My name? Sookie panicked. Oh, it's Alice, Alice Finch. Okay then, Alice, I'll talk to you next week then. She hated to lie to the woman and she was sure she didn't sound like a college student, but she had to protect her real mother and Lenore as well. As she was quickly finding out, one deception begets a hundred others. At least she had gotten a little information.

FLAGG

11:33:28
The woman said that the Gertabelinskis were healthy as far as she knew. That was all the information she really needed. Her hands were shaking as it was. What if her mother was the one who became a nun? Then she really wouldn't want me showing up. And if she found out that her child had not been raised Catholic, she wouldn't like that either. She had enough information, too much really. She was afraid to call back. Who knows what else she might find out?"

REHM

11:34:06
Fannie Flagg, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Fannie, your ability to act comes through in your reading. I hope you're going to read this book on tape.

FLAGG

11:34:22
Yes, I did already.

REHM

11:34:25
Good. Oh, I'm so glad, because so many of our listeners love to listen to books on tape.

FLAGG

11:34:34
Oh, really?

REHM

11:34:34
Many of your novels have been set in the South. You were raised in Birmingham. Tell us about your childhood there.

FLAGG

11:34:45
I was an only child and my father and my grandfather were both motion picture machine operators. And I saw two, as they say, I say too many movies.

REHM

11:34:56
I love movies growing up.

FLAGG

11:34:58
I do too. So I grew up in the movies and we lived in a little apartment. It's so funny because most people assume that people from the South, you know, lived in -- but I lived in a little, tiny apartment in Birmingham which, as you know, is a large industrial sort of iron, coal and steel city. And I did have a wonderful childhood in those -- growing up in those beautiful movie theaters. And of course, this was in the '40s and the '50s. So the movies then were so much fun.

REHM

11:35:36
Oh, my God.

FLAGG

11:35:36
And beautiful.

REHM

11:35:37
You're absolutely right. I grew up in the same era. And going to the movies with my mother was my greatest satisfaction.

FLAGG

11:35:47
Oh, it was just fantastic. And everybody was happy. And, you know, I remember all the comedies and...

REHM

11:35:57
And the musicals.

FLAGG

11:35:58
The musicals.

REHM

11:35:59
And the Esther Williams spectacular.

FLAGG

11:36:03
Spectaculars and Doris Day.

REHM

11:36:04
Absolutely.

FLAGG

11:36:05
All those wonderful people. And I just -- I sit back and I think about that time. And I think we grew up in the Golden Age, I think.

REHM

11:36:14
We did.

FLAGG

11:36:14
We're so lucky.

REHM

11:36:15
We did.

FLAGG

11:36:16
I wouldn't take anything for growing up back then.

REHM

11:36:18
And that clearly set you on a path. Did you know then watching those movies that you wanted to someday be part of something like that?

FLAGG

11:36:36
I think I -- I think I did. It's so funny, Diane. I had a, you know, the stage mothers, I had a stage father.

REHM

11:36:45
Really?

FLAGG

11:36:45
He was so funny. He was hilarious. He was a funny, funny person. And he had wanted to go into show business. And he, of course, didn't. He was in the air force during the Second World War. And he came to California and fell in love but didn't wanted to move there. And my mother wouldn't go with him. So he always longed to want to be in show business, so he pushed me a little bit, which was great. And it was very unusual back then for men to push women into a career.

REHM

11:37:19
Fannie Flagg, her new novel is titled the "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion." Short break here. When we come back, your calls, your comments. Stay with us.

REHM

11:40:01
And if you've just joined us, Fannie Flagg is with me. And of course you know her from many of her books, my favorite being "Fried Green Tomatoes." She now has a new one. It's titled "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion." Obviously, Fannie, people are loving hearing you read. Margaret in Grand Prairie, Texas says, "I haven't laughed so much in weeks. I really needed a lift." Here's a Tweet from Myrna, "Great radio, lovely story."

REHM

11:40:46
And here is a message from Kate at Texas Woman's University who says, "I'm thrilled to hear Ms. Flagg's story incorporating the story of the WASP. I've been working on a nonfiction book on the women following them from their youth to the present and can assure you that she is quite right, they are amazing. Even today your listeners might like to know there are nearly 200 of the women still with us. And some of us are building them a float for the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade.

FLAGG

11:41:32
Oh, fabulous.

REHM

11:41:34
And people can go to www.WASPFloat.com to learn more."

FLAGG

11:41:42
Oh, fabulous.

REHM

11:41:43
Isn't that terrific?

FLAGG

11:41:44
Oh, so they're going to be on television.

REHM

11:41:46
How about that?

FLAGG

11:41:47
That's fabulous.

REHM

11:41:49
I'm so happy for them. Now let's go to Joe who's in Bethany Beach, Del. Hi, Joe, you're on the air.

JOE

11:42:02
Hi, Diane. I love you so much. I just love you so much.

REHM

11:42:04
Oh, thank you.

JOE

11:42:06
I'm just calling -- a little nervous -- but I just wanted to say that I loved Fannie Flagg since Match Game and she wore the fried eggs on the T-shirt. I don't know if you remember that.

FLAGG

11:42:16
Yes, I do, honey. I do.

JOE

11:42:20
I'm also a southerner. I'm from actually Murfreesboro, Tenn.

FLAGG

11:42:24
Of course.

JOE

11:42:25
And I ran to New York back in the '80s and wanted to be an actor and ended up being an artist. And I met all the celebrities, all the people. I was a horrible waiter as well and ended up making handmade cards on the street in solo. This was back in the '80s. And I picked up a job with Sesame Street. And what I'm calling for is that I had enough of New York and went back to the South. My mom and dad were doing antiques and I was just cutting and carving things. So they said, well make a crab. And I made two crabs, one said soft shell crabs, the other one said, we have crabs.

JOE

11:43:06
And about a year later someone called my mom and dad and said, you're not going to believe this. This is hanging at the end of the Whistlestop in the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes." So I was like, what?

FLAGG

11:43:16
Oh, how fabulous.

JOE

11:43:20
So I just wanted to call and thank you for starting a new chapter in my life as an artist. I've been doing carvings and things since that. But anytime anyone wants to know anything about me, I just said, it's hanging from the Whistlestop at the Inn. It says, we have crab.

FLAGG

11:43:34
Oh, how fabulous.

REHM

11:43:35
How about that. I'm so happy for you, Joe, and I'm glad you called today.

FLAGG

11:43:40
Thanks, Joe.

REHM

11:43:42
I want to ask you about the title "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion." Why don't you read that portion for us?

FLAGG

11:43:53
Okay. And then I'll tell you how I came up with the title. You'll love that.

REHM

11:43:56
Okay. All right.

FLAGG

11:43:58
Okay. Well, first of all, this is the beginning of the Second World War. And all the men in the town left, of course, and so all the women had to do everything. And so we come up with the All-Girl filling station, and this is in Pulaski, Wisc. "That spring when the station got busy, Gertrude and Tula came up with an idea of their own to help speed up customer service. They presented it to their older sister Fritzi and she approved.

FLAGG

11:44:30
After that, the minute they carpooled in, Tula and Gertrude wearing cute little caps and short skirts with fringe on them would fly out of the station on roller skates. And while Fritzi was filling the car with gas, they would clean all the windows, the lights and the tag in less than two minutes. And sometimes if the boys inside the car were cute, they added extra little twists and twirls and skated backwards as they cleaned.

FLAGG

11:45:03
Mama watched them out of the window one day and later said to Fritzi, don't you think all that skating around is a little too show offy? No, I don't. Mama laughed. No, you wouldn't. And it brings in the customers like crazy. Well, whatever you think, Fritzi. I didn't know what we would have done without you. If anything happens to me or papa, I can die happy because I know you'll take care of the girls. Sure, mama. But I worry about you sleeping in the station all night. Are you sure you want to do that? Sure, I'm sure. Don't you worry about a thing, mama.

FLAGG

11:45:49
Fritzi didn't tell mama, but being on roller skates at a gas station could be dangerous. One day, Tula had shot out of the station to the tune of "A Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" with a rag in her hand and had hit a grease spot. To everyone's amazement she skidded underneath a big 18-wheeler truck, came out the other side and ended up all the way across the street. Without missing a beat she had skated back across the street to the station and finished cleaning the window of a Packard."

REHM

11:46:28
Bravo. Truly, truly that is wonderful. So you have this All-girl filling station.

FLAGG

11:46:38
Yes. Well, it's -- you know, it was so fantastic that the women -- this is, I think this started the resurgence of the women's movement because these women had to do things that they never would have done. And the title -- I have to tell you the title -- I was thinking -- because the WASP, when I first knew of them, were having a reunion there in Birmingham. But I wanted to say, how would a girl that didn't have a lot of money and who had a plane already, how would she learn to fly and -- or to know how to work with motors?

FLAGG

11:47:16
And I was thinking about this and I was walking on a golf course one day and I asked this guy, I said, let me ask you something. Why do these players keep hitting the balls in the wrong -- over in my yard? And he laughed and so we started talking. And I was telling him I wanted to write about the Second World War when everybody in this country was pulling together and we were all -- nobody was fighting with one another, you know, because I was sort of missing that time.

FLAGG

11:47:44
And he said, yeah, he said, you know, that was a good time. And he said, my mother -- yeah, I remember my mother during the war. And I said, oh yeah. And he said, yeah, he said, she was a member of an all-girl filling station.

REHM

11:47:58
How about that.

FLAGG

11:47:59
Well, Diane, the minute he said that my hair stood up on my head and I went, you're kidding. She had -- there was a filling station, motors. These gals would have to know this stuff, right. And so he said, yes. And I said, do you have a picture of her? He said, I don't but my sister might. So he send me a photograph of these four gals standing in the snow in International Falls, Minn. holding hands in front of this filling station. And it just set me wild.

REHM

11:48:29
Oh, how marvelous.

FLAGG

11:48:30
Isn't that wonderful?

REHM

11:48:31
Just a great story.

FLAGG

11:48:31
So things come out of the universe when you really want them.

REHM

11:48:35
All right. To Bill in Sarasota, Fla. You're on the air.

BILL

11:48:41
Hello, Diane.

REHM

11:48:41
Hi.

BILL

11:48:43
Hello Fannie Flagg.

FLAGG

11:48:44
Hello.

BILL

11:48:45
This is a voice from your past. You talked about the tiny apartment that you lived in in Birmingham.

FLAGG

11:48:51
Yes.

BILL

11:48:52
And my name is Bill Shea and I lived next door to you.

FLAGG

11:48:56
Bill, my gosh, you darling thing. How are you?

BILL

11:49:01
I'm just fine. Now I wanted to ask you on the air -- and I could be wrong about this -- but did your father not select your name Fannie Flagg because you could not use your birth name?

FLAGG

11:49:12
Bill, you're absolutely right. I was in the theater and you have to join Equity. And my real name -- this is hilarious -- is the name of a movie star.

REHM

11:49:25
Patricia Neal.

FLAGG

11:49:26
Patricia Neal. And so at the -- I said, oh daddy, I'm in big trouble. I've got to come up with a name within an hour. And he said, well, he said, your granddad worked the Vaudeville spotlight and there used to be a lot of comedians that came through Birmingham. They were named Fannie. And he said, take that. It'll be a good luck name. And so then we called all around town and a friend of mine came up with Fannie Flagg. And I thought, well that's the silliest name I could think of. And I have it forever, Bill. So there you go.

FLAGG

11:50:00
But Bill knew me as little Patsy Neal, didn't you Bill?

BILL

11:50:04
That's right, I knew you as Patsy Neal.

FLAGG

11:50:06
Yeah.

REHM

11:50:06
Well, Bill, I'm...

BILL

11:50:07
I have one more thing that I would like for your listeners.

REHM

11:50:08
Okay.

BILL

11:50:11
Fannie Flagg, you talked about your mother whose first name was Marion.

FLAGG

11:50:15
...Marion, yes.

BILL

11:50:16
But your mother was a stunning looking woman.

FLAGG

11:50:20
Thank you.

REHM

11:50:20
And Fannie is...

BILL

11:50:21
And you look like her.

FLAGG

11:50:23
Thank you so much.

REHM

11:50:23
Absolutely. Fannie is herself a stunning looking woman.

FLAGG

11:50:29
Oh, sweetheart, I'm just thrilled to hear from you.

REHM

11:50:32
Isn't that nice...

FLAGG

11:50:33
Yes.

REHM

11:50:34
...to hear from old friends? Let's go to Ogden, Utah. Hi there, Peggy, you're on the air.

PEGGY

11:50:44
Hi.

REHM

11:50:44
Hi.

PEGGY

11:50:45
I should say, hey, Diane and Fannie.

FLAGG

11:50:48
Hey.

PEGGY

11:50:50
Fannie, thanks ever so much for the book and movie "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop cafe." It is such a -- those are such favorites of mine.

FLAGG

11:50:58
Oh, I'm glad

PEGGY

11:50:59
And I wanted to tell you that my friend and I even diverted part of our driving trip to Savannah so we could eat at that movie restaurant (unintelligible) and they were out of fried green tomatoes.

FLAGG

11:51:09
Oh, how -- oh, that's no good.

PEGGY

11:51:12
I wanted to ask you, as someone who has a southern accent herself -- I'm from Atlanta -- have you ever found that having a southern accent has been a hindrance to you?

FLAGG

11:51:22
Well, you know, I'm so glad you asked me that question. I'm telling you, honey, I went to -- I was in the Miss Alabama pageant to try to get a scholarship because I didn't have enough money to go to college. So I won a scholarship in the Miss Alabama pageant to the Pittsburg Playhouse. And I went up to Pittsburgh and I was just so southern. And I stayed there for a year and they were -- they -- the man that ran the playhouse said to me when I left that year he said, honey, you're a sweet girl. You're a nice person but you're not going to work in show business with that accent, darling.

REHM

11:52:07
Wow.

FLAGG

11:52:09
And why don't you just, you know, find something...

REHM

11:52:11
...give this up.

FLAGG

11:52:12
And I said, oh, okay. And what was so hilarious is that I'm the only one from that graduating class that has worked because of my accent. I think it was so different when I started doing like the Johnny Carson Show that it set me apart a little bit. So I kind of have to say I think it worked in my favor. And I had tried -- I tried so hard, honey, not to have it. And I tried to speak like that and I would get off the plane from Pittsburgh having had all those speech lessons and I would say, hello mother, hello father. I said, I'm so glad to be home. I'm just so happy to be here. And it was all over.

REHM

11:52:59
Isn't that too much?

FLAGG

11:53:01
Yeah, so thank you for the phone call.

REHM

11:53:04
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There's one more passage and that begins on page 230. It's about Fritzi's letter to Sophie.

FLAGG

11:53:21
Yes. Fritzi is the oldest daughter and she is the first to go into the WASP. And she is much of a dare devil. Her little sister Sophie is a little shy and a very pretty, sweet little girl. And she, like most of the girls that could fly, wanted desperately to be a flier. And Fritzi finds out about it and this is the letter she writes home. This is from Long Beach, California.

FLAGG

11:53:54
Dear Sophie, I hear from home there are still some rumblings about you threatening to sign up for the WASPs. Hum. I know you didn't ask for my advice but you're getting it anyway. Here's the deal. It ain't easy. Once you get to Avenger (sp?) Field you will be sharing a room with six other girls and a bathroom with twelve others No privacy. They will work you until you drop. The instructors here are strictly Army and tough. And if you don't wash out and do start delivering planes, it's worse. You are up before dawn and head out in the cold so you can get to the airport, ready to take off at first light.

FLAGG

11:54:35
You will most likely be flying in an opened cockpit in snowstorms, sleet and rain or in weather so hot you're a baked potato when you land. And no to be crude, but these planes are designed for men with a built-in tube And once you're up there's no way we can wiggle out of 40 pounds of heavy flying suits and a parachute and go to the bathroom. And on those four- and five-hour trips, this can be hell. Once you deliver, you are on your own to get back to base.

FLAGG

11:55:08
Now because they don't want any talk about fraternization they won't let us hop a ride back on a military plane with the guys. So we have to go commercial or any way we can. And here is my other big worry. Guys. As good looking as you are, you are bound to be swamped by every guy here wanting to date you. We are outnumbered by the guys about 5,000 to 1 and I'm not sure you're ready to handle that.

FLAGG

11:55:40
Gertrude, your sister, is a big gal and as you know, I have a big mouth. So we can take care of ourselves. But knowing you, you're a sucker for a sob story. In other words, I don't think this is the place for you. You've always been on the delicate side and I am not sure you could even get through the physical training. I know you want to help out but there are a lot of other things you can do.

FLAGG

11:56:07
You mean too much to mom and pop and all of us. And if anything ever happened to you, I would never forgive myself. Okay? I've had my say and told you the worst and you have to make your own decision. But at least you have been warned. Love you kid, Fritzi.

REHM

11:56:29
Fannie, that is just such a beautiful letter but it also outlines the hardships that those women went through.

FLAGG

11:56:38
Yes.

REHM

11:56:41
Do you think that at some point they will have all the recognition they deserve?

FLAGG

11:56:50
I think at some point they will, they must. And it won't be soon enough but I would like for their children and grandchildren to know how fabulous they were.

REHM

11:57:02
And we must tell people that your book has been sold to...

FLAGG

11:57:11
I can't really say.

REHM

11:57:14
Okay. But expect a movie from this one, "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion." Fannie Flagg, congratulations.

FLAGG

11:57:26
Thank you so much.

REHM

11:57:27
It's so good to have you here.

FLAGG

11:57:28
It's so wonderful to be here with you.

REHM

11:57:30
Thank you.

FLAGG

11:57:31
Thank you.

REHM

11:57:32
And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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