I was four years old, or maybe five, and was outside playing. Uncle Murray came by. Mama told him that Daddy was in Unadilla at Giles and Hodge Warehouse. Uncle Murray said he was heading that way.
His pickup was loaded with bags of peanut seed, stacked above the back glass. I quietly climbed aboard and took the lookout position atop the seed bags near the cab. It was a fun trip. When he pulled into the warehouse, Uncle Murray found out why people had been waving so enthusiastically.
I was looking for Daddy, but I also wanted to go to the warehouse. Mr. Frank Giles was not just Daddy’s friend, he was mine too. I enjoyed his good-natured teasing and the free drinks during peanut season.
A few years later, when I was in the third grade, he showed me his pet mongoose. I had seen a mongoose kill a large wicked looking cobra on Wild Kingdom. Marlin Perkins had done the play calling, talking about the speed and tenacity of that little critter. They were small but fierce.
Mr. Frank had his mongoose secured in a wooden box. A heavy screen of hardware cloth covered half of the top. All you could see was the end of his tail. It wasn’t moving. Mr. Frank said he was probably asleep, but maybe we could get him to come out.
He told me to tap lightly on the side of the box, being careful not to startle him. “If he gets out,” said Mr. Frank, “then run for your life.” He cautioned me to stay away from the screen top.
I tapped the third time and the box flew open. I felt the mongoose tail slapping my face. I didn’t know whether to pray or run. The mongoose was loose and Marlin Perkins was nowhere around.
It took a minute for me to realize that what hit me was a squirrel’s tail. Mr. Frank had tied it to a string that was attached to the hinged door on top of the cage. That door was equipped with a large spring. When Mr. Frank slipped the pin out, the mongoose would attack whoever was nearby. He surprised a lot of people through the years. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.
Not long after the mongoose event, Daddy and I stopped by the warehouse. He went inside to pay his bill. Mr. Frank’s wife, Miss Susie, took care of the books. Mr. Frank and I stayed outside. I let down the tailgate to Daddy’s pickup to have a place to sit.
“Those are some fine-looking watermelons you have there,” said Mr. Frank. I told him we had melons going to waste, that he was welcome to take those home. I think there were seven or eight of them. Mr. Frank politely declined, but I insisted.
Daddy came out of the warehouse. I told him I had offered Mr. Frank our melons. Daddy assured him that we weren’t planning to eat them. Mr. Frank thanked us. We laid them under a shade tree.
The Giles children went to school in Unadilla. I was in Pinehurst at the time and didn’t know them. In the fourth grade, I transferred to Unadilla. Mrs. Hazel McGough, my new teacher, introduced me to the class. “This is Neil Joiner,” she said. “He’s been attending school in Pinehurst.”
I had never met Don Giles, but he quickly spoke up. “I know who he is,” said Don. “He’s the boy who gave my Daddy those citrons!”
Mr. Frank and Miss Susie had three boys at home at the time. A fourth would come later. It never crossed my mind that sending him home with wild citrons would not be nearly as funny to his children as it was to me. Citrons looked like Charleston Gray watermelons on the outside, but the inside was hardly fit for making a fruit cake. When he cut the first one, Mr. Frank thought he had a green melon. By the third one, he was sure it was a scam. It was a sad day for the young Giles boys.
I thought Don and I might have trouble at recess. Instead, he turned out to be one of my best friends. I’m glad to still count Mr. Frank and Miss Susie in that same category. You won’t find any better folks than the Giles family, but one thing I will suggest. If Mr. Frank offers to show you his mongoose, tell him you believe you would rather have a slice of watermelon.