Albert Crozier lived a half mile up the road from my childhood home. He was born in 1914, 38 years before I came along. He had a thin work-hardened body, his hands and face tanned from long hours in the fields. His slight smile and clear eyes conveyed a sense of kindness, tinted, I thought, with some hint of distant sorrow. Albert’s voice was soft and his words came with noticeable hesitation. His beard usually looked a day or two old, like a man who only shaved once or twice a week.
Albert had a simple approach to life. He cashed his checks for one-dollar bills, carried his insurance policies with him on trips to town, and called his canine friend Dog. When leaving Joiner’s Store for the short walk back to his house, he’d say, “Let’s go home Dog.” It was a simple name that worked as well as any other, as Dog always left with Albert.
My mother said Albert would read aloud in their Sunday night Training Union class at Harmony Baptist Church. He read slowly and sometimes struggled with the words, but he liked being included. After he finished reading, he would look around the class and smile, glad he was asked to participate. Albert found pleasure in simple things, things that are often taken for granted.
He was married when he was young. The lady’s first husband had died. She was left with a few acres of land and two boys. Some folks thought it wasn’t a real marriage, that the woman just used Albert to work her farm. That was before I was born, so I can’t say. But Albert probably understood what they had. It’s pretty simple to feel love, or to know the emptiness of its absence.
After his wife died, Albert worked on some other farms around Dooly County. He later moved in with his uncle and aunt, Tom and Cardine Sangster. They gave Albert a home, and Albert helped them with their crops and garden. He worked hard. He wasn’t fast, but he was steady. He would carry a hoe down rows of cotton or peanuts or whatever needed attention. Hot weather didn’t seem to bother him. A weed didn’t stand a chance with Albert around.
For several decades, he would walk or catch a ride to Unadilla each Saturday, often staying overnight at Bill’s Place. It was a 24/7 gas station, always busy with travelers from U.S. Highway 41. He would visit with Johnny Black, Jack Pope, or whoever was working the night shift. The next morning, he would go to Sunday School at Unadilla First Baptist, dozing through most of Allen Head’s lesson.
On Saturday nights, Albert would buy fresh mullet from Mr. Lavender’s fish market and take them to the Unadilla Café. Mrs. Jackie Marshall would have her cooks clean and fry them. After supper he would sometimes head for home, walking alone in the darkness. He was easy to spot with his black overcoat. Albert wore his coat in all four seasons. It didn’t matter what the weather was like.
On one of those late Saturday night walks, Albert was leaving town, taking his usual route home. Two young men circled ahead of him on a different street. They climbed a big oak tree and took their places on a large branch that spanned the roadway. They pulled sheets over their heads and waited. When Albert got almost beneath them, the men jumped down in front of him. They wanted to see just how fast Albert could run. But Albert didn’t run.
He slashed out with his pocket knife, a knife he kept razor sharp. Albert did some pretty serious damage, enough to send them to the hospital. It could have been a lot worse. All Albert wanted was a plate of fried mullet and a quiet walk home. That’s not much to ask for.
Albert could have killed those fellows. A more complicated man probably would have. I don’t know if they thanked him or blamed him, or if their paths ever crossed again. I hope they realized that Albert gave them a second chance.
My father told me that story when I was a child. He admired Albert’s good disposition and his steadfast approach to hard work. He admired Albert for simple things, like the way he could hand sharpen a knife, like facing trouble head on instead of running away.
Those two young men learned, almost too well, what my father told me many years ago. He said, “There’s one thing you can say for sure about Albert Crozier. Albert Crozier won’t run.”