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.