I’m not sure what year Miller Lawson began helping my father on our family farm. I think it was in the early 1960’s. Daddy only had one employee at the time, Julius Bembry, a man of exceptional ability and character.
Miller was married to one of Julius’ older sisters, Mary Frances. I don’t know if Julius suggested to Miller that he come by the farm, or if Miller just came on his own. He told Daddy he was making a change and asked about a job.
Miller was around forty years old, I think. He didn’t have much experience on a tractor, but he said he would learn. He said that his young brother-in-law, Julius, would teach him.
Daddy knew the Lawson family. They had a reputation of being hard working and honest. Jolly dispositions and common sense were also strong family traits.
Miller grew up in an era when he didn’t have the opportunity for formal education. But he could sell a load of watermelons at the Cordele Market, and know just about how much money was due. He was a gifted salesman. The buyers would come by, looking for a bargain. Miller would convince them that nobody on the market had melons as sweet as his. He would cut them a slice, telling them he didn’t overload his with soda like most growers. Next thing you know, the buyers would be counting out the cash.
Miller knew the Bible better than a lot of folks with degrees. He was a good listener. He paid attention to the sermons, lessons, and conversations. He paid attention to The Holy Spirit. Miller often quoted Scripture. Sometimes I would wonder if it was really in the Bible, or maybe something he just thought should be. But I never found him to be wrong. I learned to stop wondering.
He might not quote The Scripture just like King James said it, but he understood the message. When life dealt him a challenge, Miller would smile and say, “There’s a ram in the bush, somewhere.” He was referring to Genesis 22:13, where God provides Abraham a ram to sacrifice in place of his son, Isaac. Miller always looked for the ram. That’s not a bad practice for the rest of us.
He had a saying that I learned much later was paraphrased from a song: “I just thank the Lord,” said Miller, “I ain’t what I ought to be, but I ain’t what I used to be.” I heard that song at a funeral at Mount Moriah or Big Poplar. I’ve forgotten which church, and I’ve forgotten whose funeral, but I haven’t forgotten who introduced me to that line. Miller understood that he was still on a journey.
Miller was blessed with a big supply of common sense. It was winter and he had been gathering pecans by hand at the Bob Brown Place, about two miles from our home. He was working alone that day. It was getting late, so Daddy went by to check on him. His truck was stuck in a wet spot.
Daddy had Miller drop him off at home and told him to just keep his truck. They could take the tractor the next day to pull Miller’s truck out of the bog.
The next morning it was freezing cold, but Miller arrived early.
Daddy said, “Miller, I don’t need my truck right away. You just keep it and we’ll get yours when it warms up a bit.”
Miller flashed that big smile of his, a smile we had seen many times. He said, “I already got my truck out. I just need you to take me to get it.”
Daddy couldn’t imagine how Miller had managed this without some help. He didn’t have to ask.
“There was a hard freeze last night,” said Miller. “I knew that ground would be frozen solid. I went over there and drove it out.”
Daddy laughed in admiration of such a simple solution. He enjoyed sharing that story for many years. Sometimes, when I feel like my truck is stuck in the mud, I find myself thinking about Miller Lawson, thinking about what he would do. Miller never got a chance to be a student, but he sure made a good teacher. There’s a lot to be said for hard work, honesty, and common sense. There’s a lot to be said for knowing that somewhere, there’s a ram in the bush.