W. C. Aultman was the closest thing we had to a Rowdy Yates type in Third District. He drove tractors and big trucks for a farming operation owned by the Cross family. During my youth W. C. often came to the store. He was young, tan, and had a head full of hair combed straight back like the cowboy played by Clint Eastwood on Rawhide.
Tractors didn’t have cabs in the 1960s and not many had umbrellas. Farm work lacked the romantic aura of riding the range, but it seemed a bit connected by the blazing sun of summer and winter’s cold winds. If W. C. had lived out west, there’s no doubt he’d have been comfortable straddling a fast horse.
W. C. would park his tractor on the side of the road across from the store, then hop down from his steel wheeled steed. He’d pull a black comb from his back pocket and work some magic as he walked spryly toward the open porch. With a few quick strokes W. C. would have a Rowdy Yates’s hairstyle by the time he reached the screen door.
I hoped for a while to sport that same look, but things never worked out and eventually I gave up my dream of becoming a cowboy. Driving cattle across the prairie seemed quite appealing during the weekly episodes of Rawhide, but I wasn’t particularly good with horses or guns. And even as a youngster I enjoyed taking hot showers and never wanted to swap my feather pillow for a leather saddle.
Mr. Bruce Poole, our rural mail carrier, would regularly stop by the store on his route. I don’t know if he ever varied his snack choices. The only thing I recall him having was a small Co-Cola in the bottle with salted peanuts.
He would take a sip or two from his Coke, then carefully pour a bag of fried peanuts into the bottle. Most of the nuts would float near the top, but sometimes it took a little coaxing to get a sinker off the bottom. Writing about that combo is giving me a strong hankering at the moment, but we don’t keep bottled drinks on hand, so it’s not likely to happen right away.
The most unusual thing I ever saw at Joiner’s Store was a lady nursing a baby. She was more discreet than the folks pictured in National Geographic, but I wasn’t sure if I should excuse myself or pretend to be busy. I figured it was a good time to see how many ten-penny nails were in a pound, so I headed toward the wooden kegs near the hanging scale. And I listened intently to see how Uncle Emmett would handle such a delicate situation. “Good morning,” he said. “What can I help you with?”
A lesson in money as well as life was provided by a couple of children several years younger than me. They priced some snacks, then purchased each item separately so they wouldn’t owe any sales tax. That left them with enough change to buy a few penny cookies.
Although I was a child too, I understood the few cents they’d saved made a big difference to those kids. After they left, I asked Uncle Emmett if it was okay for them to avoid the tax. He didn’t explain anything, maybe because he wanted me to figure it out on my own. He just smiled and said it was alright.
Rev. A. B. Hosea visited with us occasionally when he was doing interim pastorates at Harmony Baptist Church. He was sitting on the porch one afternoon puffing on his pipe, and probably noticed I was intrigued by its swirling smoke. “They say cigarettes can cause cancer,” he said, “and I have no doubt they do. But I don’t believe a little pipe tobacco will do me too much harm.” I have no plans to start using tobacco, but if I ever change my mind I’d smoke a pipe just like Brother Hosea’s.
It’s too late for a Rowdy Yate’s hairstyle. My comb will last forever since I just use it on the sides. A Coke with salted peanuts is still delightful, but not quite as good as it was in the store. If I ever see a mother nursing a baby and conversation is required, I’ll know to simply say, “Good morning.” And the memory of two children purchasing snacks still reminds me it’s a blessing not to wonder if I can buy some penny cookies.
I didn’t realize back then how much I was learning while working with Uncle Emmett, but long-ago lessons surfaced often while painting Joiner’s Store. I wish those lessons could be packed in a pipe. I’d sit in a rocker on an open porch and watch the swirls of smoke until they disappeared.