Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam Sr.—the future parents of Homer Hickam Jr.—were high school sweethearts during the Great Depression. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando, where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen (yes, that Buddy Ebsen). But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie's dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the coalfields of West Virginia, married to Homer.
Elsie was reminded of those carefree Florida days by Buddy's unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert who lived in the only bathroom in their little house. Eventually Homer gave Elsie an ultimatum: "Me or the alligator!" After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do—carry Albert home.