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FLIGHT 800: HORROR IN THE SKY

Atlanta Blast Leaves Big Hole in a Small Town

Grief: Friends, family try to cope with death of Alice Hawthorne.

July 29, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ALBANY, Ga. — Inside Fallon's Hot Dog & Ice Cream Parlor on Sunday--the only store in town with a giant double-dip cone painted on its window--there were stale cigarettes and tired sniffles.

The plants that owner Alice Hawthorne insisted be moved over to the front window were dusty. A beer bottle stood on a table in a place that does not sell beer.

Curtis Kennedy, Hawthorne's business partner, could not decide whether to open or close. So he did neither, sitting away the afternoon in the dark, looking at the full ashtray, pushing around the bottle.

Inside American Legion Post 512 on Sunday, there was a table decorated in grief. On it rested a folded American flag, two shoes, and a frame containing the headline announcing that their former junior vice commander had been the one person killed directly by a bomb at the Olympics. Beyond the display, there were a dozen people shuffling around a large room preparing for a bingo game. An overhead television showed the Olympics. The screen was filled with snow, but nobody moved to fix it.

Inside Alice Hawthorne's well-kept house amid the tall pines of Juniper Drive on Sunday, there was more of the unthinkable.

While husband John was rushing 180 miles north to Atlanta to retrieve the body of his wife, burglars had broken through one of the front picture windows and taken an undetermined amount of loot.

That window was now covered with a huge wooden board. Just steps away was a cute wooden duck.

If the terrorists who bombed Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday morning wanted to poison the rich soil in which this country is rooted, in killing Alice Hawthorne they succeeded.

"This is a sick world," Kennedy said. "A sick, sick world."

*

Huddled against the storm in Atlanta on Sunday, immediate family members of the late Alice Hawthorne were upset.

They felt Olympic officials were almost bragging that only one life was lost as a direct result of the pipe bomb that injured 111 others in the park on Saturday morning.

"To me, they minimized or gave the impression that, 'We have only lost one life, so what's the big deal?' " John Hawthorne told reporters.

A trip to her south Georgia hometown of 78,000 Sunday uncovered what many have missed.

That every life is a big deal to someone.

Her impulsive Atlanta visit was typical of Alice Hawthorne, who at 44 still looked at miles of desolate plains surrounding her world and saw gold.

She thought of daughter Fallon's 14th birthday, and saw the Olympics.

She didn't have tickets to any of the events. She wasn't a high roller with a fancy hotel room.

She was a sales representative for an Albany cable TV company.

She was part-owner of a hot dog and ice cream store named after her daughter, but it sat in a weathered strip mall dominated by three beauty parlors.

*

She used to be in the Air Force, but was now content as an American Legion committee member.

She was a campaign manager for one of a zillion candidates for the Georgia House of Representatives.

She was famous in her westside Albany neighborhood, unknown 10 miles away.

And there was only one part of the Olympic schedule that immediately concerned her:

Jack Mack and the Heart Attack would be playing in a free concert on Friday night.

How Fallon loved Jack Mack.

"So she walks into the ice cream store on Wednesday--Fallon's actual birthday--and asks me what I thought about her taking Fallon to Atlanta," recalled partner Kennedy. "I said, 'She'd be thrilled.'

"Then Alice says, 'Well, I've got to make sure we can catch that show.' "

At 2 a.m. Saturday, with a wedding awaiting him later that morning, Kennedy awoke to hear the strains of Jack Mack on his television.

Still unaware of the bombing, he sat up in bed and shouted, "When's the funeral? When's the funeral?"

"Settle down," said his girlfriend. "We're going to a wedding, not a funeral. Go back to bed."

So he turned off the TV--which unknown to him was showing replays of the bombing--and fell asleep.

At 9 a.m., standing in Fallon's, preparing to pick up the soul food that would make for the sort of big-volume day that Alice loved, he received The Call.

For the next several hours, throughout the lower-middle-class neighborhoods and home-grown businesses that dot her favorite section of Albany like mismatched Legos, many received the same call.

Many could not believe it--not because Alice Hawthorne was unbelievable, but because she was so real.

Lois Crumbley, an elderly homemaker, drove down to Fallon's to see if it was true and broke down when she learned it was.

"I remember the time I went into the cable TV company, and Alice recognized me, and jumped up from her desk, and insisted on waiting on me," she said. "I needed a new remote control. And she said, 'I got one for you right here.' "

Lugenia Mimbs, a tailor and fellow member of the American Legion, needed to hear the news twice.

"I remember talking to her just last week; we were going through the discount clothes bin at T.J. Maxx, and we were laughing and having a great time," she said.

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