If, Gentle Reader, you call North Carolina home, I promise you are familiar with the subject of this week’s essay.
I guarantee it.
You might not know her name (although you probably do), but I’m absolutely certain you know her face. She is the woman who never fails to lift you up. But, as she will confess, she also lets you down.
Her name is Cherie Berry, and she is the friendly face you see in every public elevator in the state.
After seven years serving the 45th district in the North Carolina House of Representatives, in 2001 she became the first female Commissioner of Labor. The department is responsible for safety inspections of public elevators.
Each one has to display its Certification of Operation. And since her second term, the photo of Ms. Berry AKA, the “Elevator Queen” has been on every one of them.
It has made her something of a state mascot; the sweet Southern aunt that looks out for the safety of every one of us.
Two years ago I asked her to participate in an annual holiday article that I write for another publication. She agreed, and I discovered something.
The woman is a certified, card-carrying hoot.
Last year while speaking about mashed potatoes, she told me that she puts mayonnaise in them (actually not as strange as it may sound, it makes them creamy and rich. Many restaurants do the same.).
Like many Southern folk, her mayo of choice is Duke’s (even though all sensible people are team Hellmann’s).
This led to her recounting of a hilarious story about the depth of her Duke’s devotion.
Ms. Berry and her sister used to have a little holiday place in Mexico. When they visited, they would cook. Like me, she loves potato salad. But Duke’s in not sold south of the border, and the mayo that was available just didn’t taste right in her dishes.
So, one year, she decided to purchase some Duke’s to take with her.
She wanted it near her to keep it safe during the trip. But this was post-9/11 and even the NC Commissioner of Labor can’t carry a big old jar of mayonnaise onto an airplane.
So, the determined woman contacted the Duke’s parent company, Sauer Brands in Richmond. She purchased a box of 200 individual packets, like the kind you get at a drive-through when you ask for “Extra mayo.”
They were small, but even small, 200 packets take up space.
She had a brilliant idea. For the flight, she’d wear her late husband’s fishing vest and divide the packets up into its many, many pockets.
Picture it, if you will: a genteel Southern lady dressed for traveling with not a hair out of place, and probably a string of pearls, sporting an old-school fishing vest with pockets full of packets full of Duke’s.
Security gave her the furry eyeball, but she wasn’t breaking any rules, so they let her board. Ms. Berry thought she was home free.
Until the plane took off.
Then, when the pilot pressurized the cabin, the sealed packs reacted and began to swell.
The NC Commissioner of Labor sat, looking like the Michelin man on summer vacation, with the vest pockets getting tighter and tighter. She waited for the explosion while imagining the humiliating headlines that would be generated by this mortifying experience (“NC official tries to hijack plane with condiment”, “Mayonnaise Mishap at 20,000 feet”, “Airplane forced to make extremely greasy landing”…). She wondered what airplane jail would be like.
Luckily, the blast never occurred. The cabin pressurization ended just in time, and Ms. Berry spent her Mexican vacation opening packet after packet of Duke’s to make her NC-style tater salad and other tasty mayo-based treats.
Thanks for your time.
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