On Thursday, April 18th, I stood in a long line of people waiting for Larry Walker to sign his latest book “Tales From Georgia’s Gnat Line.” This was the second offering in his gnat series, following “Life on the Gnat Line.”
You don’t have to worry about me doing many book reviews, because I don’t read many books. I like to read but there are several things I enjoy more. This year, however, I’ve completed two books in the first four months. At this pace I will easily break my previous record.
I’m not sure what that record is but it’s low. “Call of the Wild” and “The Old Man and The Sea” are the only two books I clearly remember reading in high school. I made two reports on each book between ninth and twelfth grade. That was all that our English teacher, Mrs. Collins, would allow.
My friend, Smitty Dennard, wrote a report in the ninth grade on “Beneath the Bleachers” by Seymour Hiney. He told us at recess that he got a B plus. I tried to check it out from our school library, but apparently Smitty didn’t return it on time. I asked about it weekly until our librarian told me not to ask again. There’s no telling how many overdue book fees are on Smitty’s permanent record.
Standing in line to buy an autographed book was a first for me. I went to the Perry Arts Center with a clever acquisition plan, but it fell through. Larry’s wife, Janice, wouldn’t take a check on the Bank of Elko. My friend, Don Giles, had recently recommended that bank to me. It didn’t work, but that’s probably because I looked nervous. I think I’m going to shred the rest of those blank checks.
The first book I read this year was also by a Perry native, Billy Powell, who now lives in Peach County. Many of you have read Billy’s books and his thought-provoking weekly column. In “Pride of the Panthers” Billy gives a splendidly detailed account of a Perry basketball dynasty that is without peer.
It’s interesting that Billy Powell and Larry Walker both give Coach Eric Staples credit in helping shape their lives. Senator Sam Nunn was another of Coach Staples’ basketball players. The unparalleled wins of Coach Staples’ teams prove that he was an exceptional coach. But his exemplary character and faith seem to be the common threads among numerous men who excelled far beyond the ball court.
A recent story in The Macon Telegraph said that Larry’s latest book would help answer the question, “Where is the gnat line?” It does that and much more. I had, for example, forgotten about lockjaw until Larry wrote about it. Although I never knew of anyone afflicted with lockjaw, it was a dreaded malady of childhood often touted by our protective mothers.
The thoughts of stiffened jaws leading to inevitable starvation were horrendous. It was even worse to think that it could happen on a day when we had peach ice cream. Hand churned ice cream on a hot summer day was a tad sweeter than anything that comes in a carton. I guess turning a crank made me appreciate it a little more. Reward that comes too easily is often not as fulfilling.
Larry’s book reminded me of things that have faded from current conversation. Traveling old roads can revive all sorts of memories. He also addresses some serious matters, such as changing the Georgia state flag years ago. Larry took a stand that was unpopular in many circles, because he believed it was the right thing to do. There’s a lot to be said for a man who will stand up for his convictions.
When Larry was born in 1942, Perry was still a small town. His years as a Southern lawyer and state legislator give him a unique perspective, but it’s his everyday stories that I enjoy most. He tells about having a minority ownership interest in a dog named Tux. He talks about boiling peanuts and selling them for ten cents a bag, and how his father taught him to make certain the bags were full. And he shares stories of old friendships that remind me to savor such moments with special people.
I plan to read Larry’s book a second time, but I don’t guess I should count that in my annual total. I hope he’ll take another swat at his Gnat Series. His stories have warmth, humor and charm. When it comes to sharing tales of the South, Larry Walker has a gnatural talent.
(“Tales From Georgia’s Gnat Line” is available at Gottwals Books and many other fine retailers. For a signed copy you may email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.)