A Big Day in Pinehurst

Bill Horne, a native and longtime resident of Pinehurst, Georgia, told me something several years ago that I found amusing enough to remember. He had once asked his mother, the late Mrs. Sara Horne, what was the biggest thing that ever happened in their little hometown.

Miss Sara was known for her quick wit and answered without hesitation. “The biggest thing that ever happened in Pinehurst,” she said, “was when Cab Calloway’s sister, Blanche, came to Americus. Everybody left town to go see her. The streets here were empty!”

That mass outing to Americus was in the 1930s when Pinehurst was booming. Blanche Calloway was a popular jazz singer and bandleader of the era, a lady who paved the way for many others.

In September of 2020 Pinehurst had another big day, one that brought people in instead of taking them out. Miss Sara would be pleased that one of her descendants played a key role.

Luke Horne, 16-year-old great-grandson of Miss Sara, lives on their family’s farm just outside the city limits. His uncle, Dewel Lawrence, called me a few weeks ago to ask if I’d heard about his nephew winning 40 vehicles to give away. I wondered for a moment if Dewel’s cough syrup had fermented, but he sounded believable enough that I kept listening.

That conversation with Dewel was the first time I’d ever heard of MrBeast, a 22-year-old YouTube sensation. Now I’m hoping he’ll come this way on a regular basis.

Due to COVID-19, Luke and his family have spent more time than usual at home this year and have often relied on the internet for entertainment. Luke’s younger brother, Ben, is a fan of MrBeast, an energetic fellow who loves spreading money around. Ben convinced Luke to subscribe but had no idea he would hit the magic 40 million mark. When you’re the 40 millionth subscriber to a show which gives things away, you know something good is likely to happen. And it did.

Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson got in touch with Luke to congratulate him. He told him there would be a celebration but offered no details. MrBeast brought five car-haulers of vehicles to Luke’s home, had them parked on the lawn, then presented Luke with a challenge. He told him if he could give all 40 vehicles away in 24 hours, a 2019 Tesla Model 3 would belong to him.

Family and some friends got cars as did a few people Luke had never met. A young man from Surcheros in Cordele made a food delivery to Luke’s home and left with the best tip of his career. One of the happiest recipients was a fellow who was driving by and had no idea why a crowd had gathered. They flagged him down and gave him a yellow Ford Ranger.

MrBeast and Luke pulled into the drive-through window at Zaxby’s and surprised a youthful fast-food worker with a Nissan. A man walking through the parking lot at Walmart was given an Infiniti Q50. The day after her sixteenth birthday, a classmate of Luke’s celebrated with a Kia Forte. One of Luke’s football coaches got a Chevy Cruze to replace a vehicle he had wrecked.

When I asked Luke which car was the most fun to give away, he told me how much he enjoyed surprising his grandparents, Bill and Grada Horne, with a 2019 Nissan Sentra. It’s not often a grandchild gives a grandparent a vehicle. That’s a wonderful idea which I hope catches on quickly.

The 40 vehicles included some nice ones as well as several clunkers. Two that looked junkyard ready came with $5000 inside. If you want some lighthearted entertainment, you can watch Luke sharing his good fortune on YouTube’s MrBeast 40 Millionth Subscriber episode. I don’t know much about Jimmy Donaldson except he gets a kick out of making money so he can pass it on. In a world where the norm is holding tightly to all we can, it’s great to see someone who’s passionate about giving.

Luke now owns a classy gray Tesla, which I’m guessing is the first self-driving car with Pinehurst as home base. Forty other people are wearing smiles of gratitude. Millions more have enjoyed taking an amusing virtual trip to Dooly County.

I wish I could airmail this column to Miss Sara. She’d be tickled about Luke’s great adventure, but would no doubt strongly suggest he keep his hands on the steering wheel. And she’d be delighted to know there’s been another big day in Pinehurst, a day when the streets of the little town she loved dearly, were for a while busy once again.   

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Chasing a Turtle

Entry from my private journal – “Saturday, September 5, 2020. I chased a turtle for a half mile early this morning but never caught him. It’s possible he was a ninja who found it easy to evade me. A more likely explanation is he had too much of a head start. I also realized late in my pursuit that the turtle and I were going in opposite directions. After considerable reflection I now believe that was a strategic error too significant to overcome.”

Chances are some of my friends are thinking the turtle outran me, but I assure you that wasn’t the case. For the sake of accuracy, may the record reflect I wasn’t really chasing that turtle, but merely following the longest turtle trail I’ve ever seen.

I’m not a morning person and never have been. Before I retired from banking, I awakened each workday to music from my bedside clock. Hitting the snooze button rewarded me with seven minutes of soothing melodies suitable for slumber. A second tap added seven more and took me to fourteen. A third tap continued the music, but at the fifteen-minute mark a horrendous buzzing noise seriously interrupted my tranquility. That’s when I got up.

Thanks to the effects of aging it’s gotten easier for me to wake up in the mornings. Or perhaps I should say it’s more difficult to sleep, which reminds me of a moment on our family farm from thirty or so years ago.

It was harvesting season and I had taken a week of vacation from my bank job to help pick peanuts. I decided to surprise my father, a consistently early riser, by being there when he walked out of the house that Monday morning. The surprise was mine, however, as I was too late. The next morning, I arrived fifteen minutes earlier, only to again find him already on the job.

That night I set my alarm clock so I could get to the farm well before daylight, expecting to find Daddy at the breakfast table. As I pulled into the quiet driveway, I saw the slight beam of a flashlight near the diesel tank. In the predawn darkness Daddy was filling up the tractors with fuel.

“I’ve been trying to get here before you came outside,” I confided with a grin. “But I’m giving up on that. I wish I enjoyed getting up early as much as you do.”

That’s when Daddy said something I’m just now beginning to appreciate. He said, “I don’t particularly enjoy getting up early. I just wake up and can’t go back to sleep. I’d rather get up and do something than lie there in bed and be miserable.”  

It had never crossed my mind he didn’t choose to be a morning person, but now I’m having some of those same unplanned awakenings. That’s why I was walking Dude the dog on a Saturday morning just as the sun was beginning to rise.

The two of us headed east on Coley Crossing, the dirt road beside our home. A county road-scraper had been there the day before and there had been no traffic since.  Etched into a canvas of smooth sand was the trail of a large turtle. His route was clearly defined for a half mile until it veered into a cotton field.

Dude the dog is good company but not much of a tracker. He showed little interest in leaving the road and I was already short on incentive. Jane doesn’t have a recipe for turtle soup and I’m allergic to row-crop rattlesnakes. So, we abandoned the mission and stayed on the road to our turnaround spot at the railroad track.

On our return trip home, I realized the turtle had been going west while Dude and I had been eastward bound. I could have followed that trail until my hair turned gray and would not have caught him. Although my efforts were not successful, I was reminded of a couple of old lessons.

The first lesson is that it’s best to start early. Even a slow-moving turtle is hard to catch if he gets a big lead. Secondly, it’s critical to make sure we’re going in the right direction. Speed and determination don’t help if we’re running the wrong way. Those two observations can be useful whether we’re after a turtle or chasing a dream.

There’s one other thing I’ll suggest. If you ever chase a turtle and don’t catch him, it’s probably best not to admit that or even note it in your journal. Just lay low and hope no one finds out.

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New Words

My friend and neighbor, Dewel Lawrence, recently introduced me to a new word. That’s not hard to do as my vocabulary is pretty slim, especially for someone who poses as a columnist. This is at least the second time Dewel gets credit for expanding my personal dictionary. The first word he taught me was cavalry, a term I once knew but had for decades incorrectly substituted with calvary.

I don’t remember which column it was, but months ago I mentioned the calvary in one, thinking I was referring to those soldiers on horseback routinely featured in old westerns. Despite watching a fair share of such fare in my youth, I had been using the wrong word for ages. I’ve seldom had reason to say, write, or even think about the word cavalry, which helps explain how my error went unnoticed for so long.

In the unlikely case there is someone reading this who has made that same mistake, here’s the gist of it. Calvary is the place where Jesus died on the cross. Cavalry refers to soldiers. Both are pertinent to the rescue business but there are substantial differences. The cavalry’s relief is temporary and for specific situations and people. They are one of many avenues for physical deliverance. Calvary, on the other hand, paved the way for spiritual deliverance. It offers the path for eternal salvation and is available for all who will accept it.

When I say my vocabulary is limited, I’m not being modest. The Vice-President of the proof department at Joiner’s Corner returned a draft to me not long ago for a column I was working on. Penned in red ink across the top was a note, “Congratulations on a new record! You used “it” 17 times and “its” twice.” She had underlined the numbers showing a total of 19, and graciously added a big smiley face on the side. Not many proof departments add smiley faces and sometimes a heart.

The late Murphy Head deserves credit for teaching me an interesting word years ago. Murphy, who was affectionately called the walking man’s friend, sold used vehicles and all sorts of home furnishings. Nobody ever left his place on foot if he could help it. When he stopped by my office at the bank one day, I politely inquired, “How’s it going, Murph?”

“Everything’s copasetic,” he said with his usual grin. I had never heard the term copasetic before, so Murphy explained it meant okay, lovely, or jam up and jelly tight. It’s odd how little moments like that stay with us and sometimes become an ongoing part of our conversations. For years afterward Murphy would ask me if everything was copasetic, or I’d ask him the same. That one word gave us a thousand laughs and I just added another to the count.

The new word which Dewel shared with me in September is discommoded. His casual inclusion of discommoded in an email seemed a ruse to slyly introduce a made-up word. But Dewel works a lot of crossword puzzles, so I knew it was possibly something he’d stumbled across or found going down.

Discommoded, I reasoned, must be the opposite of commoded, which is obviously something a nurse and doctor might discuss in a hospital setting. “Nurse, do you know if Mr. Lawrence in room 308 has been commoded?”

“Yes, doctor. He was commoded just before the shift change for the third straight day. The second shift discommoded him and several of the staff are threatening to quit if it happens again.”

My conjecture seemed logical, but I also checked with Google. Discommoded reportedly means “to cause (someone) trouble or inconvenience.” The example sentence provided was, “I am sorry to have discommoded you.” Apparently, that can be said by either the patient or the nurse.

I don’t expect to embrace discommoded as heartily as I have copasetic. I am, however, now mildly inspired to expand my vocabulary and have set a goal of learning one new word per month. I considered a weekly challenge but decided the stress might cause me to feel more discommoded than copasetic.   

Ol’ Murph would get a kick out of reading this, so maybe St. Peter will show him the column. The walking man’s friend is spending time now where every day is far beyond copasetic. I can say that with confidence, because Murphy was confident in what happened at Calvary.

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The Mask of Silence

Masks are all around us these days. Most of the ones we see are designed to deter the spread of COVID-19. Some masks, however, are intended to hide someone’s identity. Christians seem increasingly comfortable donning a disguise that requires no physical material. We put on the mask of silence which conceals the tenets of our faith.

This isn’t a new problem. The mask of silence has a long history, even in the relatively young life of our country. An early example is the treatment of Native Americans, Indians as they were first called, tribal people who lived here long before our ancestors came.

Native Americans are near the top on the list of people who’ve gotten raw deals. They were driven without mercy from their land. It was justified and deemed legal since they didn’t have deeds to their property recorded at the courthouse. Their plight was predictable as arrows were no match for bullets. The atrocities suffered by Native Americans were horrendous because too many people of faith wore masks of silence. It was easier to stay quiet than to face ridicule or risk being ostracized.

Slavery is another matter we can look back on and see the terrible cost of staying silent. There’s no way a civilized society could justify slavery, yet it flourished for years. People were abducted from their homeland, loaded on to slave ships, and traded like merchandise. There was no question it was cruel and sinful, yet people of faith wore masks of silence. It was easier to stay quiet than to stand alone and risk perilous attention.

The voices of many Christians today are silent on issues we find difficult to discuss. One notable area is moral depravity. Immorality is widely embraced by the entertainment industry, much of society, and even within the realms of organized religion. Clearly stated Biblical principles are commonly scorned, as are people of faith who openly share their convictions. So once again we take cover behind a mask of silence rather than face criticism, condemnation, and litigation. We avoid honesty in our conversations in fear of others taking offense or accusing us of insensitivity and bigotry. It’s much easier to stay quiet.   

I’m not advocating that people of faith engage in rude or demeaning behavior. But our lives should give evidence of beliefs which are based on God’s Word rather than social norms and celebrities who merchandize licentiousness. As Christians we should be prepared, willing, and unafraid to share God’s Word in a loving Christ-like manner.

Isaiah 6:8 relates how God extended an invitation for Isaiah to be His spokesperson and how the Old Testament prophet responded. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord asking: Who should I send? Who will go for us? I said, Here am I. Send me.”

There are two things I find inspiring about Isaiah’s response. One is that it was immediate. He didn’t hesitate and ask God to give him a few days to think it over. He didn’t delay by mentioning things he needed to take care of at home or the office. Isaiah was ready to answer the call.

The second thing I admire about Isaiah’s reply is he didn’t add any restrictions. He didn’t question the details of what God had planned for him. He didn’t look for excuses or seek an easy path of service. God gave him a difficult task and told him in advance the people wouldn’t listen. But Isaiah was ready to do what God wanted him to do.

God still uses people to help convey His Word. As it was during Isaiah’s time, many won’t listen and will reject it. We can’t control the response of others. We can, however, choose to faithfully share and defend God’s message with boldness and compassion.

Our challenge as Christians is to speak the truth in love. Our challenge is to be like Isaiah and go where God leads us without hesitation or restrictions. Our challenge is to answer God’s call and say with all our heart, “Here am I. Send me.”

I’d love to think countless believers will meet those challenges, but I believe that’s unlikely. I understand the dilemma far too well, as my convictions are often more robust than my courage. So, I wear the mask of silence sometimes, knowing it’s much easier to stay quiet.  

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After the Store

I don’t remember how long I worked for Uncle Emmett at Joiner’s Store, but my guess is between six months and a year. I was eleven when I started and twelve when I quit.

Uncle Emmett had a dry wit and was fun to be around most of the time. He could, however, be grouchy on occasion and was a perfectionist in some matters.  His excellent penmanship is a good example.

I’ve never known anyone else so meticulous and artistic with their writing. He carefully formed each letter as if the words needed to be suitable for engraving.  My hasty scribbling, on the other hand, was barely decipherable. Our variance in style and effort was never an issue at work, but perhaps was indicative of how our approaches differed elsewhere.

He wanted every can, jar, and box on the shelves neatly aligned and consistently spaced with the labels facing directly forward. My freestyle approach was to stack them quickly and hope they didn’t tumble off. The prospects of my having a long- term career at the store began with a low probability which continued to decline.   

One day Uncle Emmett was grumbling more than usual about something I’d done. I’ve long forgotten the details but have no doubt he had good reason to complain. That incident helped me decide I could get by without the dollar a week he was paying me. We apparently parted on good terms, as he later surprised me with a substantial gift for which he offered no explanation. He gave me a used Allstate Compact motor scooter that he bought from Mr. Bruce Poole. It originally had a three-speed transmission, but Mr. Bruce’s son, Bill, had worn out first gear.

The scooter was fine for me. My legs were long enough to help push off in second, or sometimes I’d run beside it a few feet then make a photo-worthy jump into the saddle. Although the start was a bit slow, once I shifted to third that bike rapidly topped out at a remarkable 42 miles per hour. That may not sound impressive to bearded guys in leather jackets, but that was probably more speed than a kid with no helmet or driver’s license needed.

Uncle Emmett never told me why he gave me that motor scooter. I believe he just wanted to do something nice, a gesture perhaps to let me know things were okay between us even though I’d quit working for him.   

My mother’s father, Alger Hill, died in July of 1964.  His small farm had been in a government conservation program and was overrun with kudzu. That fast growing pest had once been heartily embraced by soil conservationists who introduced it to farms and roadsides. Kudzu no doubt seemed like a good idea at the time. Some things, however, are seen more clearly in the rearview mirror.

Daddy began farming the land after Granddaddy’s death, with the first order of business being to harrow the kudzu. That was a perfect job for a somewhat careless unemployed twelve-year-old boy. I began harrowing the Hill Farm shortly after quitting work at Joiner’s Store. We had a little gasoline powered Ford tractor that I pulled a small harrow behind until everything in its path was chopped to smithereens. Kudzu, however, doesn’t give up easily.

Getting rid of those pesky plants in the field was no problem. The kudzu, however, had crept beyond where the harrow could reach and found a place in the edge of the woods, a place where it would sometimes be noticed but mostly left undisturbed.      

Kudzu is like sin in some respects. The big green leaves can be reduced to tiny fragments, but unless the root is destroyed the vine keeps coming back. Dormancy in winter makes it easy to forget, then summer comes and climbing tentacles resume their relentless quest. They reach outward and upward, claiming more territory, always in search of opportunity.

Fifty-five years have passed since I first harrowed that land, and tangled webs of kudzu still grow where the field meets the woods. Every summer the green invasion reminds me there’s something which remains undone. And I know without question what it takes to eliminate the problem. I have to get rid of the root.

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Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 6

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.     

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Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 5

A lot of Uncle Emmett’s customers had charge accounts. They generally paid them off each Saturday or at the end of the month. He was usually in the store when I was working, so extending credit was his domain. There were, however, a few times he left me briefly tending the place alone.

Most of his customers were regular patrons, so I had a fairly good idea of how he expected their accounts to be handled. The world of credit, however, can offer unexpected surprises to a boy of twelve.

An older man pulled up to the front of the store one day and told me how much gas he wanted. My cheerful pumping of fuel was abruptly interrupted by a panicky thought. He didn’t have a charge account and wasn’t reaching for his wallet. I didn’t know what I should do, so I kept pumping while watching the meter, making sure not to go even a penny over what he had asked for.

Everything turned out fine. The man paid me, and I thanked him more heartily than usual for his business. Those few minutes of nervous uncertainty gave me an early insight into extending credit. That incident helped teach me it’s better to ask questions before pumping the gas.

I learned a few things while working at the store, and I enjoyed visiting with folks who stopped by. The only exception I recall was a group of convicts, a chain gang as they were sometimes called.  They were using slings to knock down grass and weeds along the road. The men stopped working when they reached the store and came inside. A guard was probably with them, but I don’t remember one.  

One item some of those men bought that struck me as odd was Sauer’s Vanilla Extract. The small bottles were kept on a shelf on the right-hand wall where they usually gathered dust between infrequent sales. After the prison crew left, I learned the extract contained alcohol.

It seemed to me that a cold Coke would have been a better choice on a hot summer day, but I’ve never worn white pants with a stripe on the side or used a grass sling for hours on end. Maybe the weeds didn’t seem as tall for a while or the gnats quite as bothersome. I understood those fellows needed a break from their work, but I breathed a sigh of relief when they left.

Mr. Bud Cross, a longtime family friend, had an ongoing tradition with Uncle Emmett.  Mr. Bud called him, “Shrat,” a childhood nickname given him by Papa Joiner. They’d chat a few minutes until Mr. Bud would grin and say, “Shrat, you ‘bout ready to shoot the crack?”

Shootin’ the crack was how they decided who paid for drinks and snacks. They’d each throw a bottle cap on the wooden floor. The winner was determined by whose cap landed closest to a crack between the parallel boards.

After Mr. Bud left the store one day, Uncle Emmett told me something about their friendly competition. He said, “Your daddy most likely doesn’t approve of Bud and me shootin’ the crack. He probably thinks it’s gambling, but I don’t believe it is. It works out about even in the long run and neither one of us are worried about who wins.”

There are more opinions about gambling than there are people because some of the same folks are both for it and against it. But for those inclined to play a game of chance, Uncle Emmett and Mr. Bud had a good approach. If the amount is small enough and the friendship close enough you don’t care who wins, that’s not really gambling.

I was too young to shoot the crack with Uncle Emmett and Mr. Bud, plus a small string of losses could have wiped out a whole day’s pay. Occasionally, however, when no one else was around, I’d toss a cap to test my skill. I hit the crack dead center a few times, then had to suffer through the agony of keeping such good fortune a secret. The solo version of that game didn’t last long. Playing alone wasn’t much fun, and betting against myself had little appeal.

Pumping gas, waiting on convicts, and watching old friends shoot the crack are among the recollections that still resurface every now and then. Some old memories grow sweeter with time, and I know it’s a blessing when that happens. Because it happened quite a lot while painting Joiner’s Store.

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Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 4

Helping Uncle Emmett deliver the mail was a dream job for a kid.  The pay was great and the work was easy.  If my memory is correct, he drove a Plymouth with a push button transmission at the time. It wasn’t equipped with air conditioning, so I didn’t even have to roll the window up and down except in cold weather. But on March 8, 1964, the road of life took an unplanned detour for our family.

Mama, Jimmy, and I were at Harmony Church on a Sunday night.  We had been to Baptist Training Union for Bible study in our separate classes. After BTU concluded, our congregation assembled in the sanctuary to listen to our young pastor, Rev. Frank Powell.

When Mama heard a four-cylinder Corvair pull into the church parking lot, she knew something was wrong. Uncle Ray, Daddy’s youngest brother, interrupted the service to let us know there had been a wreck. Daddy and his two older brothers, Murray and Emmett, had been to Albany to a funeral that afternoon. Returning home at night, they were on the south side of Cordele at an intersection where a stop sign was hidden by overgrown weeds. They unknowingly went past the sign and took a solid hit in the side of the car.

Uncle Murray got banged up a bit, mostly bruises and cuts. Daddy’s pelvis was shattered, which required six weeks of traction and six months on crutches. Uncle Emmett had a compound fracture of his femur, a severe break that took months to heal. The quiet normalcy of rural living we were accustomed to was severely disrupted, but we knew it could have been worse.

Injuries sustained by Uncle Emmett caused him to lose the substitute mail carrier position. He eventually resumed running Joiner’s Store and hired me to help part-time. It didn’t take long for me to realize how much I missed working with the postal service.

Every Saturday I worked in the store, but my salary went from three dollars a day to one.  Rather than paying me each week, we settled at the end of the month. I did whatever needed doing, such as stocking the shelves with canned goods. Uncle Emmett taught me to put the newest merchandise behind the oldest, and to wipe off any dust that had accumulated.

I pumped gas for customers, oftentimes just a dollar’s worth or maybe two. The pump handle was locked when not in use, although it was just a few feet from the front door and we could see it through a window. That seemed unnecessary to me, but it was his store and I didn’t figure he needed the advice of a kid.

Uncle Emmett allowed me to work his ancient National Cash Register, a privilege I felt elevated my status considerably. The ring of the bell as the money drawer popped open had a rejuvenating quality. It provided a moment of positive reinforcement, a melodic reward to both parties for completing a transaction.

We had neither a calculator nor comptometer, but relied heavily on a manual adding machine, the same one my grandfather had used. The price of each item was keyed in and entered with a pull of the lever. An extra pull provided the subtotal, after which sales tax was added from a chart. It didn’t take me long to understand that pulling that lever was more pleasant than picking cotton.

I was taught by Uncle Emmett to count aloud when making change, and to leave the bills customers paid with on top of the cash drawer during the process. I don’t remember ever having an occasion where the denomination came into question, but I learned a few years later that it happens. It cost me five dollars one time during my teenage years, but that’s a story for another day. 

Between stocking shelves and waiting on customers, I spread red oily sawdust on the unpainted wooden floors then gave the store its weekly sweeping. After that I washed Uncle Emmett’s car. Perhaps he got more than his money’s worth, but I got more than a dollar’s worth of education each week. 

An infrequent part of my job that made me a tad nervous was extending credit. We’ll talk next week about a lesson I learned at the gas pump. One day while nonchalantly squeezing that trigger, I suddenly realized that sometimes it’s best to get paid before pumping.   

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Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 3

While Jimmy and I were painting Joiner’s Store I thought about my childhood employment there with Uncle Emmett. I began helping him one day a week in the summer of 1964, a little before my twelfth birthday in October. I’m not sure how long I worked there, probably between six months and a year. Store work had its benefits, but I had already been spoiled by a government job.

A couple of years earlier I had begun a lucrative stint with the United States Postal Service. That job also involved Uncle Emmett and was my first paid position with someone other than my parents.

Before I landed the post office job my resume included rather mundane chores around our home like gathering eggs for a penny each. Daddy also paid me a dime to polish his shoes, for which I’m almost certain I gave him a nickel’s worth of shine.  Shoes don’t need shining now like they did back then, and most folks have gotten rid of their chickens, so I don’t know what kids today do to earn money. I guess they help their parents resolve technology issues with electronic devices.

Besides operating the store, Uncle Emmett was the substitute rural route mail carrier for Unadilla.  Mr. Bruce Poole was the full-time postman who delivered mail to us on Route One.  I think there were three rural routes and he covered them all, but my thinking is sometimes more speculative than factual.

Uncle Emmett filled in for Mr. Bruce once every week. He paid me three dollars to ride with him and put mail in the boxes.  It was easy money and we had a good time.  He enjoyed gospel music and made sure we were tuned in for a thirty-minute program aired by WCEH radio in Hawkinsville.

As he sang along with The Chuck Wagon Gang and other old-time gospel groups, I’d kid him about being a little off key. Then one day he told me I’d said enough about his singing. He explained that even though his talent might not be all that strong, singing was something he enjoyed. It had never crossed my mind he was tired of my lighthearted ribbings. Uncle Emmett’s honesty stung just a bit, but it helped me better understand that teasing is something both parties should enjoy. That’s when I began singing along with him. I don’t understand why, but two fellows a little off key somehow sounded a little better than just one.

We’d go to the post office in Unadilla to pick up mail in the mornings, then return that afternoon with letters collected along the route.  Mr. Howard “Pop” Butler was the postmaster, and his wife, Miss Sarah, also worked there. They were a cheerful couple, wonderful folks to start and end your workday around. Cheerfulness, I’ve learned, is a good quality in those you work with, live with, or plan to marry.  

Mr. Taylor Hooks, an older gentleman, would occasionally be waiting by his mailbox. I didn’t know Mr. Hooks except for seeing him on the route and I don’t remember much about him, but somehow his rather unique name has stayed with me. Another man sometimes met us in his car rather than waiting until we drove by his house.  I’ve forgotten how he was injured, but Uncle Emmett said he had a steel plate implanted where he’d lost part of his skull. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could live through that kind of ordeal, and I sometimes wondered if a magnet would stick to his head. Even as a child, however, I knew some questions are best left unspoken.

The most thrilling incident of my postal career came unexpectedly. A mailbox had been noticeably leaning for months. The rotten post finally gave way and we found it lying on the ground.  Uncle Emmett left a note saying they needed to put the box back up. The next time we were there it was still right where it had fallen.  “Just throw the mail out the window,” he said, “They’ve had plenty of time to take care of that.” A new post was in place before our next delivery. That was one of the first times I realized some people need more encouragement than others.

My good paying postal job abruptly ended. Thankfully, I hadn’t run up a lot of debt and didn’t have any dependents. Next week we’ll talk about a new profession, clerking at Joiner’s Store. Retail work had its benefits, but the hours were long, the pay was low, and my expectations were perhaps too grandiose. Being the assistant to the substitute rural mail carrier can do that to a person.                    

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Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 2

Painting Joiner’s Store took a tad longer for Jimmy and me than it would have for most folks. Our meticulous repair of historic boards, exceptional surface preparation, and precision style painting extended over several months.  That was partly because we only worked in the mornings.  The other reason was weather conditions. 

In assessing the suitability of the weather each morning, I relied on something the late Earl Peavy had told me years earlier.  He had stopped by my office at Bank of Dooly one blistering hot summer day for a short chat. As is common to southern conversation, I led off with an innovative question. “Hot enough for you Mr. Earl?”

“I’m not all that hard to please when it comes to temperature,” he said.  “Some folks are always complaining that it’s too hot or too cold, but I’m not like that.  I’m comfortable most anywhere between 71 and 73 degrees.”

I used Mr. Earl’s guidance on temperature, plus added three other factors to personalize a paintability index model, or PIM as it’s called in the underground paint industry.

Wind is an essential consideration for outdoor painting.  A light breeze, between ten and twelve miles per hour, is ideal.  I have painted at wind speeds well above twelve mph, but I don’t recommend it for amateurs. I’ve also painted at wind speeds below ten miles per hour, but only when the temperature is less than 70 degrees. Wind velocity preference is a rather subjective matter, so I encourage beginning painters to develop their own parameters.  

Rain probability obviously must be taken into account. For the store project I used personal observation as well as local forecasts. If WALB First Alert Weather said the chances of rain were 20 percent or more, I didn’t jeopardize our work by foolishly forging ahead. And regardless of the forecast, if I saw a cloud that made me think it might rain, we took the day off.

Attitude is the fourth and perhaps most important consideration. In my experience it’s best not to paint when you really don’t want to. Irritable Painter Syndrome is no laughing matter, as my wife will readily attest.

My paintability index model is not perfect, but you are welcome to give it a try. Jimmy and I didn’t paint every day, but when we did, I had plenty of time to reflect on childhood memories of Joiner’s Store. Mr. Edgar Andrews provided one of those long-ago moments which I still enjoy.

Weather is not just a consideration in painting.  It’s long been a topic in country stores. One of my favorite conversations about weather involved Mr. Edgar and my Uncle Emmett, who ran the store.  Mr. Edgar often stopped by for a cold drink and a visit.

It was a hot summer day in the mid-1960s and had not rained in weeks. Crops were withering, their drooping leaves begging for moisture as drought conditions weighed heavily on everyone’s mind.

Uncle Emmett never rushed his words. He spoke with an honest drawl between puffs on his Tampa Nugget. “Edgar,” he slowly said, “do you think it’s ever going to rain again?”

Mr. Edgar didn’t hesitate. “Emmett,” he replied with a chipper tone, “I’ve noticed it always rains right after a dry spell.”

Gray ashes were clinging tentatively to the end of Uncle Emmett’s cigar. He gazed rather studiously before deciding to thump them off, allowing them to fall beside his rocking chair on to the concrete porch. “Edgar,” he finally responded, “I believe you’re right about that.”

Their brief but memorable exchange is typical of the subtle humor once common at country stores across the South. I occasionally hit the replay button on that scene, because sometimes I focus too much on the drought at hand instead of expectantly watching for the rain.

Perhaps they were simply talking about the weather that day, or maybe it was also a comment on life. All I know for sure is that it was good to revisit old memories while painting Joiner’s Store.

And I just heard the rumble of distant thunder.           

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