Ralph Burton, Jr. Gets an Education

The late Ralph Burton, Jr. was a gifted story teller.   With a slight smile and soothing voice, he made listening easy. Ralph found interesting twists to life’s ordinary events. He embellished them just enough that you weren’t sure how to separate the truth from the fiction.

Ralph was working in his garden years ago. It was behind the home where he and Judy lived on East Union Street in Vienna. The traffic wasn’t as heavy in those days as it is now, but there were often some vehicles passing in front of their home. Some took the paved road beside it, the road with a clear view of their back yard.

Ralph’s pants were infiltrated by fire ants. They quietly covered his legs, maneuvered into position, and whispered the attack signal. That’s when the fight started.

Ralph took off his pants. He was running in his boxers toward the back door, slapping everywhere he thought there might be an ant.

Judy was looking through the window and had no idea what was going on. She met him at the door and said, “Ralph, what in the world are you doing? Have you lost your mind?”

“No ma’am!”, said Ralph. “I still have my mind. It’s my pants that I lost!”

Another story, that many enjoyed hearing Ralph tell, was about his education. He said he went to ABAC for four years before his daddy found out it was a two-year college. Ralph said he was so close to getting his degree, that his daddy sent him on up to the University of Georgia to finish.

He came home to farm, fully equipped with the latest information from the Agricultural Department of the University of Georgia. Ralph was planting some cotton that spring. He had those planters set to the exact specifications recommended by the Cooperative Extension Service.

Mr. Delma Stillwell pulled his pickup to the side of the road. He got out just to be neighborly. He kneeled and dug lightly in the seed bed, something he had done for decades before Ralph was even born.

Mr. Stillwell told Ralph that he was planting the seeds too deep, that he should raise the planters about an inch. Mr. Stillwell was a good farmer. Ralph wisely followed his advice.

Mr. Stillwell left and Ralph resumed planting. He made four rounds. Then it hit him. Mr. Stillwell did not have the knowledge and technical expertise that came with being a graduate of the University of Georgia. He only knew the old ways. Ralph changed the planter depth back to where he had it, back to the exact specifications of the Cooperative Extension Service.

Ralph said the only place in the field where he got a stand of cotton were those four rounds he made taking Mr. Stillwell’s advice. He had to replant the rest of the field. When he went back that second time, he asked Mr. Stillwell to meet him there and help him set the planters.

Ralph would tell that story, then smile and share a lesson that we all understood. In a soft voice, one appropriate for a moment of reverence and reflection, Ralph would slowly say, “You know, I got a degree from the University of Georgia,……… but I got an education from Mr. Delma Stillwell.”

Rest well my friend. And thanks so much for the stories.

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