I think it was the summer of 1960. I was seven years old, almost eight. After supper one night, Mr. Teasley Lewis came to our home. He lived about a mile up the road toward Unadilla.
We sat around our kitchen table. Daddy shared a story from an earlier time, a time when every farmer raised a few hogs. Each winter, as soon as the weather turned really cold, some of the hogs were destined to leave the pen. They were transformed to hams, sausage, lard, and such. Nothing was wasted.
My grandfather, Papa Joiner, had a country store. It was a gathering place for the locals, most of them farmers. Daddy told us about a long running ritual between Papa Joiner and Mr. Teasley.
Mr. Teasley would drop by Joiner’s Store on one of the early freezing days of winter. He would patiently wait for a lull in the conversation.
“Jim,” said Mr. Teasley, “do you think it’s cold enough to kill hogs?”
Papa Joiner would hesitate for a moment, then reply, “I don’t know, Teasley. It probably is.”
Mr. Teasley would then finish their script. “Well it hasn’t killed any of mine.”
It was a simple little monologue, one that became a tradition of entertainment for the store crowd. Mr. Teasley had a knack for that sort of thing.
After Daddy finished telling the story, Mr. Teasley brought out The Dancing Man. This ten-inch wooden doll had been carved from an apple crate, way back when Mr. Teasley was a young man. His skinny arms and legs were attached with cords. A lifeline cord ran through his upper body, just below his neck. He was sort of a free-style marionette, his movements not hampered by overhead strings.
The Dancing Man’s goatee, mustache, and big eyes matched his black painted pants. A gold shirt and socks added flair suitable for an entertainer. Bright red boots, gloves, belt, and skull cap provided a certain mystique. He had the look of a Gypsy, a pirate, or perhaps both. It was hard to tell where he was from, but it was clear he wasn’t a local.
Mr. Teasley tied one end of the lifeline cord around the leg of the chair that I was sitting in. The other end he tied below his own knee. He pulled it tightly so that The Dancing Man’s red wooden boots barely touched the floor. The Dancing Man stood erect in the middle, silently awaiting the music.
With his right hand, Mr. Teasley held a hand carved stick and lightly tapped the cord. His left hand held his harmonica. I don’t remember the songs, just that they were lively tunes, the kind you might hear Uncle Ned & The Hayloft Jamboree play at a square dance. The Dancing Man never missed a beat, bending and jumping with vigor. His oversized feet tapped loudly on the floor, amazingly synced with the music.
I can’t recall many specific events during that time in my life. But I don’t have any memories that are more cherished than that summer night. Six decades later, it still makes me smile. I’m thankful that Mr. Teasley looked at that apple crate and saw something more in the wood.
The Dancing Man entertained a lot of folks in the Dooly County area. He especially loved dancing for children, but he would go anywhere that someone needed an extra dose of cheer. He enjoyed being on stage, but was just as glad to dance for a young child around a kitchen table.
Mr. Teasley died September 18, 1987. The Dancing Man retired that day. His slender wooden arms and legs are folded by his body, his lifeline cord wrapped neatly around him. When I think of Mr. Teasley and The Dancing Man, it reminds me to look a little more closely at my own apple crates. I can leave those crates where they sit, or I can look through Mr. Teasley’s eyes, and think about what they could be. Mr. Teasley is not with us anymore, but he left us with a valuable lesson. Apple crates are all around us. It’s up to us to look for something more in the wood.
i loved that story , i had forgotten about dancing man , Mr Teasley was quiet a character
Thanks for those memories Neil! I remember him when I “worked” at Thriftway with Sylvia. Keep writing!
What a beautiful story about my Uncle Teasley. He just loved to entertain and put a smile on everyones face. He was a true diamond in the rough! I miss my Uncle and his pure joy for life. Thanks for the memories!
I enjoyed reading this. I had not thought about Mr Teasley and his dancing man in years. He worked for my dad at Thriftway for years and on occasion would bring Dancing Man to work and entertain us and customers, especially children.
Thank you Neil. “Unk” as Mr. Teasley was known to the Mixon children, was one of the most humble, kind, sincerest person you would ever meet. We loved him so much and think of him often and it always makes us smile too.
Loved this story, Neil. I didn’t know Mr. Teasley, but this story makes me think about Richwood Store where my daddy would go to get his Dr. Peppers and tell and listen to tall tales. Mr. Hooper Powell was the owner of the store and he and Daddy were good buddies. I’m sure there were lots of similar stories told there. Hard to beat good memories like these. Like someone else said, “keep writing”.
Nothing but great memories of my Uncle Teasley.
Loved this story. Mr. Teasley entertained lots of folks, both old and young. This story brings back so many memories. I look forward to your story of the week, Neil.
Very touching – I enjoyed this a lot!
Neil: I have played the harmonica all my life, and I have always remembered Teasley Lewis. I have made inquiries as to where Teasley’s dancing man may be? Who may have him, but no one seems to know. Teasley was the only other person I knew who played the harmonica, but unlike him, I did not tell people I played. Thanks for a great story. I remember Teasley well. He, the dancing man and his harmonica.
Mama used to take me and my brothers and Sisters to Mr. Teasley’s house to visit and be entertained by him and his Dancing Man. Great memories…….Thanks for the story
Mr. Teasley was our neighbor when I was growing up. Dorothy Flournoy Greene