Another Boss Hog

Boss Hogg was the scheming but lovable political kingpin on The Dukes of Hazzard television series.  Bo and Luke Duke repeatedly foiled his poorly conceived and sometimes illegal plans.

Unadilla has its own version of Boss Hogg.  But the nickname was given to Clint Shugart with great affection, and with a tip of the hat to his fun-loving nature.  He was a longtime Mayor of Unadilla and is one of the most colorful politicians to hail from this part of Georgia.

Mr. Clint turned 89 on May 10th.  I went to his home in early April to talk about a men’s Sunday School class that was formed in 1955.  Mr. Clint is the only original member still living.  Charles Speight and James Ray Irwin went with me on the visit.  Mr. Charles is 96 and has taught the class since 1956.  James Ray, the youngster in the group at 84, is a longtime class member and a first cousin to Mr. Clint.

We talked about church, then briefly discussed the 65 years he drove a school bus in Dooly County.  That’s a state record for Georgia and most likely for all of America.  I rode his bus a few times back in the 1960’s.  He was as popular with the children as he was with his constituents, always smiling and welcoming us aboard.  He didn’t just drive the bus, he hosted a daily social event for his young riders.

The conversation during our visit naturally shifted to politics.  Mr. Clint’s countless trips to the state capital were unconventional but highly effective.  His political savviness was honed during an era when friendship and camaraderie were the best tools of the trade.

Mr. Clint would gather all kinds of produce from local gardens.  He’d head for Atlanta with corn, peas, butterbeans, and watermelons.  He once asked Mr. Charles about getting a few pears from a tree in his yard.  Mr. Clint didn’t leave enough pears on the tree to make a cobbler.

Joe Frank Harris ran for governor in 1982.  A lot of folks didn’t know who he was when Mr. Clint started putting up signs.  But we all knew who he was by election day, and Governor Harris knew who Clint Shugart was.  Those were eight good years for Unadilla and Dooly County.

James Ray asked me with a big grin, “Do you know where Clint parked when he went to see the governor?” I nodded that I didn’t.  “In the Governor’s spot!” he said.  “They would move the Governor’s car and motion for Clint to pull in.”

Mr. Clint and his helpers would unload the produce, hams, or whatever they were carrying.  When a question was posed about regulations, Mr. Clint told his group of friends to just leave everything on the sidewalk.  He said he would let somebody know there might be some abandoned items that needed to be moved.  He embraced results over orthodoxy and had a knack for getting things done.

The waiting room to see Governor Harris was always filled with men wearing tailored suits.  Mr. Clint wore his coveralls, the same ones he had on when he had picked the pears from Charles Speight’s tree.  The Governor would slip out the back door and welcome his good friend into his office.

When the Department of Corrections decided to put a state prison in Dooly County, they spent a full day looking at potential sites.  The last one they inspected was near Unadilla and was quickly deemed their top choice.  Mr. Clint understood that formalities and decisions are two different things.

“There were times,” said Mr. Clint, “when we couldn’t round up enough produce, and we needed some money to buy a few things.”  He said, “Charlie, that’s when I would go see Joe,” referring to Mr. Charles’ late brother.  “Joe would always help us out,” he said, speaking with a deep appreciation that’s lasted for decades.

Several times during our visit Mr. Clint laughed and said, “Charlie, we had some good times, didn’t we?”  Each time, Mr. Charles affirmed that they did.  We walked toward the door to leave and Mr. Charles paused by the chair of his old friend.  He shook his hand, held it a moment, and said, “Clint, we had some good times, didn’t we?”  We all laughed, knowing it was a question that required no answer.

Unadilla has been blessed to have its own Boss Hogg, a homegrown version that’s much improved over that fellow from Hazzard County.  Clint Shugart left town with his trunk full of produce.  He came back home with some big loads of bacon for the folks of Unadilla.  And he and his many friends had some good times all along the way.

Posted in 2018 | 7 Comments

Reverend A. B. Hosea

Reverend Arthur B. Hosea was a remarkable man in my youthful eyes.  I was around 10 years old when he became our interim pastor at Harmony Baptist Church.  He had served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Unadilla for 12 years.  He resigned in 1961, then came to Harmony not long afterward.

He was a distinguished looking gentleman. His silver hair was always neatly combed and his wire rim glasses spotlessly clean.  His white shirts were heavily starched to hold their sharply ironed creases.  In the humid summers of middle Georgia, he sometimes changed shirts several times a day.

He had a pleasingly graveled voice and a dynamic manner in the pulpit.  When he spoke of Elijah confronting the 450 prophets of Baal, I forgot about the hardness of our slatted wooden pews.  Brother Hosea wanted all of us to have a confident faith like that of Elijah. He made it seem almost possible.

It was probably 25 or more years ago when Mr. Emmett Stephens took me on a tour of rural Crisp County, mostly around the Pateville community.  I loved hearing a variety of recollections from a man born in 1912.  He even pointed out a wet bottom where a calf got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out by ropes.  But the place I found most intriguing was the long-vacated site of a country school.

Mr. Emmett mentioned that Arthur Hosea had grown up in that area.  He had quit school at an early age, something not unusual for a country boy who was born in 1897.  God called him to preach when he was a young man, still in his teens I think.  He returned to a one-room grammar school as an oversized student surrounded by the giggles of young children.  An accommodating teacher cut a hole in the floor so that Arthur could spit his tobacco.

Mr. Emmett said Arthur worked at the train depot in Cordele at night.  A couple of fellows about Arthur’s age decided they would test his commitment to ministry.  They sent a girl to call on him, a girl whose looks were much better than her reputation.  The boys hid behind a pile of coal and watched, expecting that Arthur would be easily distracted from his calling to preach.  But there was nothing to see.  Arthur sent the young lady on her way and continued with his work.

In 1955 Brother Hosea started a men’s Sunday School Class at Unadilla First Baptist.  Allen Head was their teacher the first year.  They began with a group of mostly unchurched men that Brother Hosea rounded up from all sorts of places.  He even found some of them on the barstools of downtown Front Street.  He told them they didn’t need to hide their beers, but that he really wanted to see them in church on Sunday.  He had a talent for meeting people where they were, for sharing his faith in a way that made others want to know more.

On Easter Sunday in 1958 that class had 56 men present.  The church wouldn’t hold them, so they met under a pecan tree.  Charles Speight, who has taught the class since 1956, was there, as was James Ray Irwin.  Clint Shugart was in the group.  He’s the only member left from the original 1955 roll.

I visited with those three gentlemen recently in Mr. Clint’s home.  They recalled a Sunday morning when Brother Hosea said that if God told him to lie down and preach, then that’s what he would do.  He stretched out on the floor and preached for a couple of minutes.  He taught his congregation in a memorable way to follow God’s direction, regardless of how it looked to others.

James Ray said Brother Hosea didn’t have much formal education, only through the seventh grade he thinks.  He smiled broadly when he quoted his beloved former pastor on that subject.  “I may not know the King’s English,” said Brother Hosea, “but I know the King.”

Those three Unadilla men have more memories than a short column will hold.  They recalled a man who had told Brother Hosea that he planned to make a public profession of faith at the next service.  When he stayed put during the invitation hymn, Brother Hosea walked to the pew and took him by the hand.  The man’s heart was more than willing.  Brother Hosea knew that it was his legs that needed some help.

The one room schoolhouse that Arthur Hosea attended is long gone.  So are the pranksters from that night at the train station.  But there’s a Sunday School Class in Unadilla that still bears witness to the efforts of a godly pastor.  There’s a longtime teacher and a dozen or so members still looking on Front Street for unchurched men.  Their faithfulness is a living testament to a remarkable man, a man who knows the King very well.

Posted in 2018 | 4 Comments

Lunchroom Lovers

This is a fictional story about true love.  Or maybe it’s a true story about a fictional love.  If it happened, it was before I met my future wife.  She says either way is okay, so just take your pick.

We weren’t exactly lunchroom lovers, but that title has a lot more intrigue than “My Cafeteria Friend.”  I loved seeing her behind the serving line at Valdosta State College, and I think she loved seeing me.  We enjoyed our brief exchanges as I walked by with my tray.  Our visits were often better than the food.

There was a time when I am sure I knew her name, but that was long ago.  I wouldn’t know it now, even if I heard it called.  I wouldn’t know her either.  Her face has completely faded.  That seems to happen more often lately than it used to.

I was a third quarter freshman in that spring of 1971.  She was a freshman too.  She helped in the cafeteria as part of the college’s work/study program.  She was blond and pretty and had a smile as sweet as her disposition.  She lived at home with her parents in Valdosta.

We never had a class together. Our paths seldom crossed except for those brief encounters in the cafeteria.  We flirted a bit, but mostly we just teased each other, each looking for a reason to talk, often finding something to laugh about.

I struggled in search of clever lines.  She willingly patronized my attempts.  I would ask quietly if she would get in trouble for sharing their recipe for English peas.  She would whisper back and swear me to secrecy, saying she could perhaps get me a label from a can.

I would ask if the potatoes being served had been grown in Idaho, that I much preferred Idaho potatoes.  She assured me that was the case.  She said that she had inspected the bags and found the documentation to be in order.

When we had peach cobbler, I told her I had a vitamin deficiency, that my doctor had advised I needed to eat more peaches.  She asked if he mentioned more ice cream as well.  I affirmed that he did, already knowing I would get a larger serving than the college administration had approved.   We both knew the conversation was not really about dessert.

Once we had a particularly suspicious looking entrée.  I don’t remember what the official cafeteria name of the dish was.  Maybe they didn’t identify it, giving the students a chance to think creatively.  I asked her if there had been any reported fatalities.  “No more than usual,” she casually replied.  “You can count them on your fingers for the whole week.”

The next day I told her that I thought I had food poisoning.  She said, “Maybe you should stop those late-night trips to the Royal Castle.”

“But they have a great scrambled dog for just a dollar,” I said.  “You can’t expect me to give that up.”

“I’ll never try to tell you what to do,” she responded.  “But if you sleep with dogs you’ll wake up with fleas.”

I never asked her for a date, and I’m not sure why.  Maybe she was dating someone, or maybe I was.  The shallow end of my memory pond only has a small trace of water remaining.

As spring quarter was ending, I was about to go home for the summer.  I was glad she was behind the counter that last day.  “Here’s that recipe you wanted,” she said, handing me a label from a can of English peas.

I told her I hoped that she had a good summer, that I would see her in the fall.  She made me promise to eat plenty of peaches and cream, a promise that I have faithfully kept.

She wasn’t working in the cafeteria when I returned to college.  My trips there were never quite the same.  But when I see peach cobbler on a serving line, sometimes it still reminds me of a brief but lovely friendship in a springtime long ago.

It was a special time for lunchroom lovers.  It was a wonderful season for peaches and cream.

Posted in 2018 | 2 Comments

The Floating Ax Head

In the sixth chapter of II Kings there’s an Old Testament story about a floating ax head.  Some prophets were cutting down trees near the Jordan River.  They were building some better accommodations for themselves, and for Elisha, who was the top prophet at the time.

One of those fellows took a hearty swing.  He sent an iron ax head sailing into the river.  To make a bad matter worse, it wasn’t his ax.  He had lost a valuable item that was borrowed and would have to be special ordered from the hardware store.

Elisha didn’t panic nor send for his diving gear.  He asked the man to show him where the ax head plunged out of sight.  He cut a stick and threw it in that same spot. That ax head floated right up to the top of the water.

In January of this year, I found an ax head that had surfaced unexpectedly.  It wasn’t a miracle like God demonstrated through Elisha.  This one was unknowingly rescued from a soggy grave by Chuck Coley’s backhoe operator.

Jane and I were taking one of our regular exercise walks.  We were on the scenic route around the edge of the June Coley Farm, just down the road from where we live.  Jane is usually the one that spots partially hidden things in the ground, but the ax head was right in my path.

It was caked in dirt and obviously had been there a long time.  A small drainage ditch had recently been dug, apparently bringing the ax head to the surface.  My first thought was that it would make a nice addition to Chuck’s scrap iron pile.  But there was also an element of mystique as I wondered how it had been so badly misplaced.

I’m no expert on ax heads or antiques, but I think it was made by hand in a blacksmith shop.  I cleaned off the dirt and rust and found that the metal sides were quite rough.  Part of its textured surface is from taking a long nap in a wet bottom.  But it doesn’t seem to have the uniformity of a mass-produced item. I believe it was hammered into shape by an artisan with a hot fire and a strong arm.

It’s larger and heavier than most modern ax heads.  The curved blade measures almost five inches, a good half inch more than the one I have at home.  Although the sides are imperfectly shaped, its cutting edge is symmetrical.  A few good licks with a file or emery rock and it could be splitting firewood again.

I don’t know how long that ax head had been lost, but I’m sure it was once a valued part of someone’s household.  It’s not the kind of thing that would have been intentionally left in the woods.  Maybe the person using it got sick.  Or maybe someone took a big swing like that prophet did, and the ax head took cover in mud or leaves or in a hole dug by a critter.

All of that is just speculation.  Sometimes I see things as they are, but sometimes I see things as I want them to be.  I don’t know how that ax head got there, but I have no doubt someone searched for a while trying to find it.

I’ve been thinking about those rough sides.  They’re not perfectly formed like an assembly line product, but that doesn’t really matter.  The important part of that ax head is its cutting edge, an edge that was hammered into a fine point, an edge that even today could be sharpened and made useful.

I don’t think that finding that ax head was a miracle, but it reminded me of something miraculous.  It reminded me that God looks past the mud and rust, that He sees us not just as we are, but as we can be.  It reminded me of what God told the prophet Samuel when He sent him to anoint a king: “The Lord doesn’t look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  (I Samuel 16:7b NIV)

I’m taking that old ax head to my good friend Chuck.  It’s up to him whether to put it with his keepsakes or add it to his scrap pile.  There’s a good case that could be made for either place.  There’s no miracle in that metal.  The miracle is in the message.

Posted in 2018 | 5 Comments

The Old Man and the C

                                                       A Parable of Purpose

Cephas Jackson was deep in South Georgia, driving down Hopeful Road near Chason Crossing.  He had been to look at an antique tractor, thinking he might enjoy having one to tinker with, hoping he would get asked to put it in the Christmas Parade.  The tractor was a bit overpriced in his opinion. He left it there and began the two-hour drive back home.   “Another wasted day,” said Cephas aloud, although he was alone in the truck.

A lot of Cephas’ days seemed wasted since his retirement.  He didn’t miss work, but he missed having something to do.  He missed the routine of having a place where he was supposed to be.

Cephas saw a homemade sign just off the right-of-way.   All he could read was a big letter C and a large dollar mark.  He figured it must be someone asking for a handout.  He didn’t know if the need was real or not, so he planned to drive on by, hoping they wouldn’t approach him at the four-way stop.

When Cephas got closer he saw that the scribbled C wasn’t for Cash.  “Collards – $1,” it read, a message that caught Cephas by surprise.

The old man had the sign propped against his rusted truck, a truck that held a generous supply of collards. He sat in a lawn chair that needed new straps.  He, the chair, and the truck seemed quite comfortable under a massive oak tree, a tree Cephas knew was much older than the man.

Cephas thought he might enjoy some fresh collards, and a dollar seemed like a bargain.   “Good morning,” he mumbled to the old man.

“It sure is a good morning,” replied the old man with a giant smile.  “I’ve got my health and a truck load of collards!  That’s a good morning to me.”

Cephas thought it was a bit of a stretch to be so happy about just two things, especially since one of those things was collards.  The old man’s smile, however, was infectious. Cephas could not help but smile back.

“I can understand being happy about your health,” said Cephas.  “But at a dollar a head, seems like you wouldn’t be that happy about these collards.”

The old man took another lawn chair off the back of his truck and placed it near his own.  “If you got a minute to spare, Mister, I’ll tell you about these collards.”

Cephas sat down, partly from curiosity, partly from having nowhere else he had to be.  The old man told how he had been doing this for over a decade.  He had retired from his work, then his wife had died.  Their three children lived too far away to visit often.

“These collards,” said the old man, “give me a reason to get up every morning.  I plant them, then keep them watered and free of weeds.  I bring them out here and make a little spending money.”

“Seems like you could raise the price and make a few more dollars,” said Cephas.

“I probably could,” said the old man, “but I ain’t here for the money.  I like having the folks stop by.  Sometimes I get lucky and another old man will sit in that same chair you’re in.  We’ll visit for a while. He’ll leave with my collards, and I’ll stay here with his dollar.  Most of the time we both feel a bit richer that day.”

Cephas folded a twenty-dollar bill so the old man wouldn’t know he was due any change.  He took a bundle of collards, shook hands with the fellow and drove away.  On the way home, he planned his collard patch.  And he thought about growing pumpkins for the fall and gourds to make houses for martins.  Cephas’ mind was overflowing with possibilities.  It was a feeling that he knew was worth way more than the twenty dollars he had left behind.

Cephas envisioned a small stand under the big oak in his own yard.  He would open it when the weather was nice, and would price everything at just a dollar.  He’d have an extra chair or two and maybe a checker board.  He knew that an old man might stop by on occasion, a man who had more time than plans, a man who had no particular place that he needed to be.  “This sure has been a good day,” said Cephas aloud, although he was alone in his truck. “This has been a really good day.”

Posted in 2018 | 9 Comments

We Are What We Eat

There’s an old saying that, “We are what we eat.”  It sounds logical if it’s said with conviction.  It seems a bit humorous if spoken with a smile.  I decided to test that adage by examining some of my favorite foods.

My palate strongly favors the country style meals that were common in my childhood.  They included the basic but wonderful offerings that were routinely found on southern dinner tables.  For this column, however, my focus is on three foods that I was introduced to by a friend.

Michael Sullivan was two years ahead of me in Unadilla High School.  We both lived in a rural part of Dooly County called Third District.  We were both members of Harmony Baptist Church.  Mike had a beautiful baritone voice.  I can readily envision him singing “It Is No Secret What God Can Do.”  His smooth clear delivery reminded me of legendary country singer Jim Reeves.

Mike played lead guitar in the Unadilla F.F.A. String Band.  The same five guys performed as VeEsta & The Country Gentleman when vocalist VeEsta Brown joined in.  Mike often sang “The Green Green Grass of Home.”  He sounded much better, in my opinion, than Porter Wagoner’s hit rendition.

When Mike was in the 11th grade and I was in the 9th, I joined the band as the piano player.  Jerry Pickard played rhythm guitar.  Charles Jones played the bass.  Jerry McIntyre kept time with the drums.  We practiced every Monday night in the school auditorium.

Mike gave me rides to and from practice and when we had occasional bookings.  On one of those late-night excursions, he asked if I wanted to go to the Allstate Truck Stop and get a ham and cheese omelet.  I had no idea what an omelet was.  Mama cooked a full breakfast for us six days a week and gave us cereal on Sundays.  Omelets, however, were not on the menu.

My first taste of that omelet was the beginning of a love story.  I’ve had several variations, but the one that I enjoy the most is still ham and cheese.  They are especially good at supper time with grits, biscuits, and pear preserves.

Mike and I took guitar lessons in Warner Robins for a while.  After about two months the teacher and I both realized that I should stick with piano.  During that short time, Mike helped me attain a greater appreciation for French cuisine.  I had never had a chocolate éclair, but with one bite I developed a severe addiction.  I thought about continuing the guitar lessons so that I could keep making those weekly trips to the pastry shop.

Mike also gets credit for introducing me to grilled cheese sandwiches.  Mama sometimes made open topped cheese toast in the oven.  It was, however, at Mr. Ed Langston’s Shell Station, in Unadilla, where I first had melted cheddar cheese encased in grilled bread.  It’s amazing how much good can be done with a stick of butter.

Mike Sullivan was a good friend to have.  He was more mature in his spiritual walk than most of us teenagers.  He was consistently a good example in both his conduct and attitude.  He drove me to band practice for two years, introduced me to three foods that I continue to enjoy, and made a lasting impression with his exemplary character.

He celebrated his 50th birthday on October 1st, 2000, then died unexpectedly on November 8th.  He was living in Chicago, a long way from his rural Georgia roots.

When I have an omelet, a chocolate éclair, or a grilled cheese sandwich, sometimes I still think about Mike.  I’m joyfully reminded of the good times we had in the band.  More importantly, I’m reminded of how readily Mike embraced his faith.  He knew what he believed, and he lived it.  It didn’t matter what was going on around him, Mike kept his feet planted on solid ground.

I guess in some ways it’s true that we are what we eat.  But it’s probably more important who we eat it with.  I’m glad I spent some time with Michael Sullivan.  The omelets and such were delicious.  But it’s the spiritual food we shared that I’ve come to value most.  It’s the spiritual food of which we can say without doubt, “We are what we eat.”

Posted in 2018 | 8 Comments

Kissing a Pig

In the fall of 2009, the Dooly County Livestock Association invited me to kiss a pig.  It was for a club fundraiser that was going to be held during the Big Pig Jig, the annual State of Georgia Barbeque Championship that’s hosted by the Dooly County Chamber of Commerce.

Jack Dukes came by Bank of Dooly to see me.  He named four well-known men who would join me in this endeavor.  Somehow that made the pig kissing seem more acceptable.  State Senator George Hooks was in the group, plus Myron Mixon, who had already attained legendary status on the barbeque circuit.  Local businessman Lee Harris was participating, as was our distinguished Judge of Probate Court, Rooney Bowen, III.

Jack explained that all of us would be in the showring, but only one of us had to kiss the pig.  That would be the person who raised the least amount of money.  The spectators would vote by dropping cash in our cups.  Jack was confident that I’d garner the most donations.  In a worst-case scenario, I figured that kissing the cute little pig he described was something I could live with.

We’d hardly stepped into the showring when Lee Harris made us an offer.  “I’ll give $500 not to kiss that pig,” Lee said. “You fellows can have all the fun!”  We quickly agreed, knowing it was saving the rest of us some money.

That’s when David Stephenson brought Wilbur into the ring.   Wilbur had once been a show barrow, raised from infancy by David’s granddaughter, Scout Weesner.  But he had grunted and smiled his way into the family.  He had become a 600-pound pet with access to a 24-hour buffet.  Wilbur was nothing like the precious piglet that Jack and I had talked about.

I made one desperate attempt to skip kissing that pig.  My wife, Jane, was in the stands.  I went over and asked her to give me her engagement ring.  I took it to Jack Dukes and offered to trade that diamond ring for a free pass.  I thought it was going to work, but Rooney noticed that the stone looked a lot bigger than something he figured I might buy.  Then Jack noticed the paint flaking from the gold band, and he saw the one-size-fits-all slit in the band.

Myron went first.  He had a confident approach that I assumed must reflect some prior experience.  A camera crew was filming him for his television show, and he gave them their money’s worth.  Rooney followed Myron, then George took his turn.  I figured all those years in politics had given George an edge on how to approach these kind of situations, so I asked him if he had any advice.  “The most important thing,” said George, “is to make sure you are at the right end of the hog.”

I followed George’s advice and puckered up.  Wilbur didn’t want to cooperate, so I whispered into his big floppy ear, “If you don’t behave, I’ll buy you and turn you into bacon.”  Wilbur knew that he wasn’t for sale, but it shocked him just enough that he paused for a quick kiss.

Wilbur’s makeup seemed a bit heavy and his lipstick far too red, but I’m not sure how much is stylish for an overgrown barrow.  Kissing that hog didn’t bother me all that much.  What worried me was going behind Myron and Rooney.  Sometimes at night I still have trouble sleeping.

I doubt there will be a next time for any of us.  George retired from the Senate and I retired from banking.   We don’t kiss pigs as readily as we once did.  Myron has a worldwide fan club, plus is busy as Mayor of Unadilla.  He would be hard pressed to squeeze in a pig kissing event.  Rooney could make a case that it might not be appropriate to the office of Probate Judge for him to get back in that pen.  I don’t know as it would matter, but I have a longstanding practice of not arguing with judges.

If by chance the five of us ever return to the showring, I believe we can negotiate a better deal with Lee Harris.  We took his first offer.  Next time I’ll ask to see the pig.

Should you personally encounter this type situation, there are three things that are critical to remember:  Ask to see the pig before making any deals.  Volunteer to be first.  Make sure you are at the right end of the hog.

If I can’t sleep tonight I’m calling Myron and Rooney.  It’s my fault for ending up in the back of that line, but it sure would be nice having some good company to help pass the time.

Posted in 2018 | 3 Comments