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Eatery's kindness during crisis appreciated
Liberty lore
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Have you ever opened the refrigerator and just stared into it hoping some good food would jump out at you? That’s what I was doing at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, 1999. My husband Harlon saw me and suggested we go out for supper. Boy, did I agree fast. I told him I would be ready shortly and he changed from his Hinesville police chief uniform into jeans. We never said where we were going.
I instantly thought of Huddle House in Ludowici, where we enjoyed dining occasionally. As I drove out of the yard, my husband said he’d like to go to Huddle House. I told him we had lived together so long (36 years) that we could read each others’ minds.
I remember the rest of the night very clearly. We entered Huddle House and headed for the back booth by the window where we usually sat. The waitress told us the special was cubed steak, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, corn and tossed salad. We both ordered the special and the waitress soon returned with our salads, but delivered them to a couple who had come in after us.
The couple had ordered grits and eggs and the waitress realized her mistake. Harlon and I looked at each other and smiled. The waitress said she knew it was going to be a bad night. I said, “Well, just think — tomorrow is Friday!”
We ate our salads, which weren’t much more than lettuce. All at once, Harlon blurted out, “This is nothing but damn lettuce! No tomato or anything else.” I agreed and said maybe the tomatoes were too expensive in the middle of February.
We ate our meals mostly in silence. About halfway through dinner, Harlon began to stare at an elderly man eating alone in a booth. Harlon just kept staring. I thought how unusual it was for him to be so rude. I was going to kick him lightly but I remembered he had hurt his leg a few weeks before when he fell off the porch during a dizzy spell. Finally, he stopped staring and went right back to eating.
Harlon opened a pack of crackers and as he bit into one, his hand slumped down and he began to fall slowly toward the window. I stared in shock. What was happening? The waitress said he was having a seizure. Another server called 911.
I jumped up and put my arms around my husband. “Baby, what’s wrong? What’s the matter? Are you all right?” I asked. He sat up, shook his head and said, “Nothing is wrong. Are you ready to go home?” I said yes and as I reached for my purse, Harlon closed his eyes and fell to the floor. I knew in my heart from looking at him that he had died.
Darryl Ballance came over to help and a waitress began CPR. In a matter of seconds the Long County EMS arrived. I told them to be careful with his sore leg. I asked the waitress to please call the police station and have them find Georgia State Trooper Bruce DeLoach because this was his father.
Liberty County EMS arrived. Hinesville Fire Chief Lamar Cook heard the call on the radio and sent them over. I called my son David and told him we were at Huddle House in Ludowici and his daddy was dying. He flung the phone down and ran out the house.
Bruce was home when he got the call. With blue lights flashing, he drove in his cruiser behind David’s car as the two flew into Ludowici. I called my daughter Paula but got no answer.
After the boys arrived, EMS transported Harlon to the ambulance. Before walking out, I got money out of my purse to pay our bill, but the Huddle House manager said supper was on the house.
I rode with Bruce to Liberty Memorial Hospital and it was the fastest, scariest ride of my life. I heard the EMS radio operator say they were transporting a middle-aged man in full cardiac arrest. We arrived at the hospital and Paula was there. No attempts to revive Harlon were successful. The autopsy revealed a massive heart attack.
My husband was buried on my birthday, Sunday, Feb. 21, 1999, at the age of 55 in the Hinesville City Cemetery. He served the Hinesville Police Department for 26 and a half years and had been looking forward to retiring in April. All these memories are forever etched in my heart, and I will never forget the kindness shown to us by all the people at Randy Wilson’s Huddle House in Ludowici 11 years ago. It is still one of my family’s favorite restaurants.
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