Mr. Junior Spradley is the only man I know who keeps his casket at home. He also has one for his wife, Miss Frances, but neither one of them have any plans for immediate use. Mr. O. T. Spradley, Jr. is a 90-year-old retired farmer and rancher who enjoys wood working. I guess when you spend a lot of time making all sorts of furniture, it’s not too unusual that you would make your own casket.
I grew up about two miles away. Not long ago, I stopped by for a visit. I asked if he still had his casket. He said he did, then offered to take my measurements. I told him I’d hold off for now, that we would have to store it in the den. I’m pretty sure Jane would not agree to that.
Long before Dooly County named the roads, Mr. Junior lived near a landmark. There was a solitary pine tree on their family farm that was close to the highway. Someone started calling it Lonesome Pine and the name stuck. It was a well-known reference point for giving directions. Now it’s official. Lonesome Pine Road is on the green metal sign.
Mr. Junior named his farm after that tree. He grew some row crops, but his specialty was Charolais cattle. He raised and sold prize bulls that were top dollar specimens. The cattle of Lonesome Pine Farm had a reputation for exceptional quality.
We walked outside toward a storage building where he has the caskets. On the way there, we stopped by his museum. He calls it a museum in jest. It’s a small room with a few things that he considers special. The museum tours are free. The stories are priceless.
One wall is filled with a massive Japanese flag. Neatly pinned on top of the flag is Mr. Junior’s white sailor’s suit. He joined the Navy in 1944 when he was 18, not long graduated from Pinehurst High School. A young Japanese boy in Yokosuka offered to trade him the flag for a pack of cigarettes that cost six cents. Seven decades later that flag still brings a twinkle to Mr. Junior’s eyes. He was on the first ship to sail into Tokyo Bay after Japan surrendered. He could see the USS Missouri where the Instrument of Surrender was being signed. I learned a lot in that little museum. Small rooms can hold big memories. First-hand accounts from that era are no longer easy to come by. It’s good to listen while we can.
He pointed to a small straight chair that is sized appropriately for a young child. He’s only sold one of those chairs, but he’s given away another 399. Our family claims one. It was a gift for our first grandchild. The chairs are real sturdy, just like the man who makes them.
After the museum tour, he showed me the caskets. The same effort Mr. Junior put into cattle farming is now obvious in his woodwork. They are perfectly fitted, smoothly sanded, and beautifully polished. One is solid oak and the other pine. The pine seems especially appropriate for Lonesome Pine Farm.
He also makes some caskets for pets. Mr. Junior said, “You know, we think a lot of our dogs around here.” The pet caskets are well made too. It’s easy to tell that he believes in doing quality work.
Mr. Junior remembered a dry spring season many years ago. He said, “Your daddy planted a nearby field three times trying to get up a stand of cotton. I told George it should work out well, that since he planted three times he would probably get to pick it three times.” Daddy didn’t always make good cotton, but he always made good friends, friends like Mr. Junior.
When I was about to leave, he showed me a small piece of wood that had two round holes in it. It was shaped somewhat like a figure eight. He asked if I knew what it was. I told him I didn’t, but that I remembered seeing one in Daddy’s truck a long time ago. Mr. Junior put his thumbs inside the two holes and moved them around. He said it’s for old folks who want to sit around and twiddle their thumbs. He doesn’t need one for himself. They’re all made to give away.
Mr. Junior only takes one pill a day. He credits his woodwork with helping him stay healthy. Working with his hands helps to keep him on his toes. The cattle are long gone from Lonesome Pine Farm, but there’s plenty to do at the Lonesome Pine Shop. Maybe I’ll go back for a measurement one day. I guess we all need a good layaway plan.