I don’t remember how long I worked for Uncle Emmett at Joiner’s Store, but my guess is between six months and a year. I was eleven when I started and twelve when I quit.
Uncle Emmett had a dry wit and was fun to be around most of the time. He could, however, be grouchy on occasion and was a perfectionist in some matters. His excellent penmanship is a good example.
I’ve never known anyone else so meticulous and artistic with their writing. He carefully formed each letter as if the words needed to be suitable for engraving. My hasty scribbling, on the other hand, was barely decipherable. Our variance in style and effort was never an issue at work, but perhaps was indicative of how our approaches differed elsewhere.
He wanted every can, jar, and box on the shelves neatly aligned and consistently spaced with the labels facing directly forward. My freestyle approach was to stack them quickly and hope they didn’t tumble off. The prospects of my having a long- term career at the store began with a low probability which continued to decline.
One day Uncle Emmett was grumbling more than usual about something I’d done. I’ve long forgotten the details but have no doubt he had good reason to complain. That incident helped me decide I could get by without the dollar a week he was paying me. We apparently parted on good terms, as he later surprised me with a substantial gift for which he offered no explanation. He gave me a used Allstate Compact motor scooter that he bought from Mr. Bruce Poole. It originally had a three-speed transmission, but Mr. Bruce’s son, Bill, had worn out first gear.
The scooter was fine for me. My legs were long enough to help push off in second, or sometimes I’d run beside it a few feet then make a photo-worthy jump into the saddle. Although the start was a bit slow, once I shifted to third that bike rapidly topped out at a remarkable 42 miles per hour. That may not sound impressive to bearded guys in leather jackets, but that was probably more speed than a kid with no helmet or driver’s license needed.
Uncle Emmett never told me why he gave me that motor scooter. I believe he just wanted to do something nice, a gesture perhaps to let me know things were okay between us even though I’d quit working for him.
My mother’s father, Alger Hill, died in July of 1964. His small farm had been in a government conservation program and was overrun with kudzu. That fast growing pest had once been heartily embraced by soil conservationists who introduced it to farms and roadsides. Kudzu no doubt seemed like a good idea at the time. Some things, however, are seen more clearly in the rearview mirror.
Daddy began farming the land after Granddaddy’s death, with the first order of business being to harrow the kudzu. That was a perfect job for a somewhat careless unemployed twelve-year-old boy. I began harrowing the Hill Farm shortly after quitting work at Joiner’s Store. We had a little gasoline powered Ford tractor that I pulled a small harrow behind until everything in its path was chopped to smithereens. Kudzu, however, doesn’t give up easily.
Getting rid of those pesky plants in the field was no problem. The kudzu, however, had crept beyond where the harrow could reach and found a place in the edge of the woods, a place where it would sometimes be noticed but mostly left undisturbed.
Kudzu is like sin in some respects. The big green leaves can be reduced to tiny fragments, but unless the root is destroyed the vine keeps coming back. Dormancy in winter makes it easy to forget, then summer comes and climbing tentacles resume their relentless quest. They reach outward and upward, claiming more territory, always in search of opportunity.
Fifty-five years have passed since I first harrowed that land, and tangled webs of kudzu still grow where the field meets the woods. Every summer the green invasion reminds me there’s something which remains undone. And I know without question what it takes to eliminate the problem. I have to get rid of the root.