February 5, 1981
JOINER’S STORE – COCA COLA SINCE 1902. That’s what the sign on the front of the small white frame building says. I don’t know if that’s when my grandfather, Jim Joiner, first opened the store or if that’s when he began selling Cokes. That was fifty years before I came on the scene.
Papa Joiner died in 1957 when I was almost five. Uncle Emmett began running the store a little before then. It’s been a longtime gathering place for the farmers who live nearby. Uncle Emmett helps facilitate their friendly banter that covers everything from crops to politics. Almost every conversation is seasoned generously with good-natured teasing. That’s the main reason they still come.
Some of them stop by twice a day for a refreshment break, once in mid-morning and then again in the afternoon. They are accustomed to sharing smatterings of local happenings as they pause to enjoy a Moon Pie and a Coke. But the news on that cold day in February came as a shock to those gathered around the gas heater. Queenie was dead.
“I know they must be mighty sad over at Ben Wilkes’ house,” one remarked. The others were respectfully quiet and nodded in agreement.
Queenie’s passion for her work had earned her quite a reputation among the men in the community. Finn Cross was in the store that day. He had joined Ben Wilkes many times following the Brittany Spaniel’s rambling trail. Queenie stood atop the pedestal of birddogs. She was perhaps the most adept quail hunter that ever passed through this part of Dooly County.
Queenie pointed, Ben shot, and birds fell. It was a well-established routine they had long perfected but never grew tired of. Ben seldom misses when he raises his gun. Maybe that gave Queenie an extra dose of inspiration.
Ben is a good enough shot to clean out a covey, but a wise enough sportsman not to. “Leave some birds to rebuild,” is what he says. He understands that hunting is not just about the moment, that it’s also about those moments somewhere down the road. I think that Queenie may have understood that too. I think she appreciated that Ben tempered his ability with discretion. They were a perfectly matched team.
Queenie was more than just an excellent hunter. She served an uncommon dual role for a birddog by also being a beloved family pet. Ben’s wife, Joyce, said that her mother-in-law told her years earlier to, “Love Ben and love his dogs.” Joyce says she didn’t love all of them, but Queenie was different. In the woods she was the avid hunter. In the yard she was the loving playmate for Ben and Joyce’s two daughters.
Ben built Queenie a wooden coffin, then shoveled out a place for her among the pines and broom sage on The Scarborough Farm. As far back as I can remember those woods have offered a splendid habitat for quail. Countless coveys have made it their home. It was for a while Queenie’s dominion.
Ben did one last thing for Queenie. He walked alone into the tall pines and fired a single shot. He gently placed the still warm quail in Queenie’s mouth, then softly spread the freshly dug dirt over her grave. The bobwhite whistle of a distant bird echoed through the thicket, offering a chance but proper eulogy.
“Yep,” someone somberly agreed. “I reckon that Ben is mighty sad about Queenie.”
Finn Cross knew Queenie much better than most. “I’m sad too,” he added in quiet reflection.
And the men warmed their hands around the heater, knowing there was nothing else that needed to be said.