Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 6

W. C. Aultman was the closest thing we had to a Rowdy Yates type in Third District. He drove tractors and big trucks for a farming operation owned by the Cross family. During my youth W. C. often came to the store. He was young, tan, and had a head full of hair combed straight back like the cowboy played by Clint Eastwood on Rawhide.

Tractors didn’t have cabs in the 1960s and not many had umbrellas. Farm work lacked the romantic aura of riding the range, but it seemed a bit connected by the blazing sun of summer and winter’s cold winds. If W. C. had lived out west, there’s no doubt he’d have been comfortable straddling a fast horse.

W. C. would park his tractor on the side of the road across from the store, then hop down from his steel wheeled steed. He’d pull a black comb from his back pocket and work some magic as he walked spryly toward the open porch. With a few quick strokes W. C. would have a Rowdy Yates’s hairstyle by the time he reached the screen door.

I hoped for a while to sport that same look, but things never worked out and eventually I gave up my dream of becoming a cowboy. Driving cattle across the prairie seemed quite appealing during the weekly episodes of Rawhide, but I wasn’t particularly good with horses or guns. And even as a youngster I enjoyed taking hot showers and never wanted to swap my feather pillow for a leather saddle.

Mr. Bruce Poole, our rural mail carrier, would regularly stop by the store on his route. I don’t know if he ever varied his snack choices. The only thing I recall him having was a small Co-Cola in the bottle with salted peanuts.

He would take a sip or two from his Coke, then carefully pour a bag of fried peanuts into the bottle. Most of the nuts would float near the top, but sometimes it took a little coaxing to get a sinker off the bottom. Writing about that combo is giving me a strong hankering at the moment, but we don’t keep bottled drinks on hand, so it’s not likely to happen right away.

The most unusual thing I ever saw at Joiner’s Store was a lady nursing a baby.  She was more discreet than the folks pictured in National Geographic, but I wasn’t sure if I should excuse myself or pretend to be busy. I figured it was a good time to see how many ten-penny nails were in a pound, so I headed toward the wooden kegs near the hanging scale. And I listened intently to see how Uncle Emmett would handle such a delicate situation. “Good morning,” he said.  “What can I help you with?”

A lesson in money as well as life was provided by a couple of children several years younger than me. They priced some snacks, then purchased each item separately so they wouldn’t owe any sales tax. That left them with enough change to buy a few penny cookies.

Although I was a child too, I understood the few cents they’d saved made a big difference to those kids. After they left, I asked Uncle Emmett if it was okay for them to avoid the tax. He didn’t explain anything, maybe because he wanted me to figure it out on my own. He just smiled and said it was alright.

Rev. A. B. Hosea visited with us occasionally when he was doing interim pastorates at Harmony Baptist Church. He was sitting on the porch one afternoon puffing on his pipe, and probably noticed I was intrigued by its swirling smoke. “They say cigarettes can cause cancer,” he said, “and I have no doubt they do. But I don’t believe a little pipe tobacco will do me too much harm.” I have no plans to start using tobacco, but if I ever change my mind I’d smoke a pipe just like Brother Hosea’s.

It’s too late for a Rowdy Yate’s hairstyle. My comb will last forever since I just use it on the sides. A Coke with salted peanuts is still delightful, but not quite as good as it was in the store. If I ever see a mother nursing a baby and conversation is required, I’ll know to simply say, “Good morning.” And the memory of two children purchasing snacks still reminds me it’s a blessing not to wonder if I can buy some penny cookies.

I didn’t realize back then how much I was learning while working with Uncle Emmett, but long-ago lessons surfaced often while painting Joiner’s Store. I wish those lessons could be packed in a pipe. I’d sit in a rocker on an open porch and watch the swirls of smoke until they disappeared.     

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Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 5

A lot of Uncle Emmett’s customers had charge accounts. They generally paid them off each Saturday or at the end of the month. He was usually in the store when I was working, so extending credit was his domain. There were, however, a few times he left me briefly tending the place alone.

Most of his customers were regular patrons, so I had a fairly good idea of how he expected their accounts to be handled. The world of credit, however, can offer unexpected surprises to a boy of twelve.

An older man pulled up to the front of the store one day and told me how much gas he wanted. My cheerful pumping of fuel was abruptly interrupted by a panicky thought. He didn’t have a charge account and wasn’t reaching for his wallet. I didn’t know what I should do, so I kept pumping while watching the meter, making sure not to go even a penny over what he had asked for.

Everything turned out fine. The man paid me, and I thanked him more heartily than usual for his business. Those few minutes of nervous uncertainty gave me an early insight into extending credit. That incident helped teach me it’s better to ask questions before pumping the gas.

I learned a few things while working at the store, and I enjoyed visiting with folks who stopped by. The only exception I recall was a group of convicts, a chain gang as they were sometimes called.  They were using slings to knock down grass and weeds along the road. The men stopped working when they reached the store and came inside. A guard was probably with them, but I don’t remember one.  

One item some of those men bought that struck me as odd was Sauer’s Vanilla Extract. The small bottles were kept on a shelf on the right-hand wall where they usually gathered dust between infrequent sales. After the prison crew left, I learned the extract contained alcohol.

It seemed to me that a cold Coke would have been a better choice on a hot summer day, but I’ve never worn white pants with a stripe on the side or used a grass sling for hours on end. Maybe the weeds didn’t seem as tall for a while or the gnats quite as bothersome. I understood those fellows needed a break from their work, but I breathed a sigh of relief when they left.

Mr. Bud Cross, a longtime family friend, had an ongoing tradition with Uncle Emmett.  Mr. Bud called him, “Shrat,” a childhood nickname given him by Papa Joiner. They’d chat a few minutes until Mr. Bud would grin and say, “Shrat, you ‘bout ready to shoot the crack?”

Shootin’ the crack was how they decided who paid for drinks and snacks. They’d each throw a bottle cap on the wooden floor. The winner was determined by whose cap landed closest to a crack between the parallel boards.

After Mr. Bud left the store one day, Uncle Emmett told me something about their friendly competition. He said, “Your daddy most likely doesn’t approve of Bud and me shootin’ the crack. He probably thinks it’s gambling, but I don’t believe it is. It works out about even in the long run and neither one of us are worried about who wins.”

There are more opinions about gambling than there are people because some of the same folks are both for it and against it. But for those inclined to play a game of chance, Uncle Emmett and Mr. Bud had a good approach. If the amount is small enough and the friendship close enough you don’t care who wins, that’s not really gambling.

I was too young to shoot the crack with Uncle Emmett and Mr. Bud, plus a small string of losses could have wiped out a whole day’s pay. Occasionally, however, when no one else was around, I’d toss a cap to test my skill. I hit the crack dead center a few times, then had to suffer through the agony of keeping such good fortune a secret. The solo version of that game didn’t last long. Playing alone wasn’t much fun, and betting against myself had little appeal.

Pumping gas, waiting on convicts, and watching old friends shoot the crack are among the recollections that still resurface every now and then. Some old memories grow sweeter with time, and I know it’s a blessing when that happens. Because it happened quite a lot while painting Joiner’s Store.

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Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 4

Helping Uncle Emmett deliver the mail was a dream job for a kid.  The pay was great and the work was easy.  If my memory is correct, he drove a Plymouth with a push button transmission at the time. It wasn’t equipped with air conditioning, so I didn’t even have to roll the window up and down except in cold weather. But on March 8, 1964, the road of life took an unplanned detour for our family.

Mama, Jimmy, and I were at Harmony Church on a Sunday night.  We had been to Baptist Training Union for Bible study in our separate classes. After BTU concluded, our congregation assembled in the sanctuary to listen to our young pastor, Rev. Frank Powell.

When Mama heard a four-cylinder Corvair pull into the church parking lot, she knew something was wrong. Uncle Ray, Daddy’s youngest brother, interrupted the service to let us know there had been a wreck. Daddy and his two older brothers, Murray and Emmett, had been to Albany to a funeral that afternoon. Returning home at night, they were on the south side of Cordele at an intersection where a stop sign was hidden by overgrown weeds. They unknowingly went past the sign and took a solid hit in the side of the car.

Uncle Murray got banged up a bit, mostly bruises and cuts. Daddy’s pelvis was shattered, which required six weeks of traction and six months on crutches. Uncle Emmett had a compound fracture of his femur, a severe break that took months to heal. The quiet normalcy of rural living we were accustomed to was severely disrupted, but we knew it could have been worse.

Injuries sustained by Uncle Emmett caused him to lose the substitute mail carrier position. He eventually resumed running Joiner’s Store and hired me to help part-time. It didn’t take long for me to realize how much I missed working with the postal service.

Every Saturday I worked in the store, but my salary went from three dollars a day to one.  Rather than paying me each week, we settled at the end of the month. I did whatever needed doing, such as stocking the shelves with canned goods. Uncle Emmett taught me to put the newest merchandise behind the oldest, and to wipe off any dust that had accumulated.

I pumped gas for customers, oftentimes just a dollar’s worth or maybe two. The pump handle was locked when not in use, although it was just a few feet from the front door and we could see it through a window. That seemed unnecessary to me, but it was his store and I didn’t figure he needed the advice of a kid.

Uncle Emmett allowed me to work his ancient National Cash Register, a privilege I felt elevated my status considerably. The ring of the bell as the money drawer popped open had a rejuvenating quality. It provided a moment of positive reinforcement, a melodic reward to both parties for completing a transaction.

We had neither a calculator nor comptometer, but relied heavily on a manual adding machine, the same one my grandfather had used. The price of each item was keyed in and entered with a pull of the lever. An extra pull provided the subtotal, after which sales tax was added from a chart. It didn’t take me long to understand that pulling that lever was more pleasant than picking cotton.

I was taught by Uncle Emmett to count aloud when making change, and to leave the bills customers paid with on top of the cash drawer during the process. I don’t remember ever having an occasion where the denomination came into question, but I learned a few years later that it happens. It cost me five dollars one time during my teenage years, but that’s a story for another day. 

Between stocking shelves and waiting on customers, I spread red oily sawdust on the unpainted wooden floors then gave the store its weekly sweeping. After that I washed Uncle Emmett’s car. Perhaps he got more than his money’s worth, but I got more than a dollar’s worth of education each week. 

An infrequent part of my job that made me a tad nervous was extending credit. We’ll talk next week about a lesson I learned at the gas pump. One day while nonchalantly squeezing that trigger, I suddenly realized that sometimes it’s best to get paid before pumping.   

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Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 3

While Jimmy and I were painting Joiner’s Store I thought about my childhood employment there with Uncle Emmett. I began helping him one day a week in the summer of 1964, a little before my twelfth birthday in October. I’m not sure how long I worked there, probably between six months and a year. Store work had its benefits, but I had already been spoiled by a government job.

A couple of years earlier I had begun a lucrative stint with the United States Postal Service. That job also involved Uncle Emmett and was my first paid position with someone other than my parents.

Before I landed the post office job my resume included rather mundane chores around our home like gathering eggs for a penny each. Daddy also paid me a dime to polish his shoes, for which I’m almost certain I gave him a nickel’s worth of shine.  Shoes don’t need shining now like they did back then, and most folks have gotten rid of their chickens, so I don’t know what kids today do to earn money. I guess they help their parents resolve technology issues with electronic devices.

Besides operating the store, Uncle Emmett was the substitute rural route mail carrier for Unadilla.  Mr. Bruce Poole was the full-time postman who delivered mail to us on Route One.  I think there were three rural routes and he covered them all, but my thinking is sometimes more speculative than factual.

Uncle Emmett filled in for Mr. Bruce once every week. He paid me three dollars to ride with him and put mail in the boxes.  It was easy money and we had a good time.  He enjoyed gospel music and made sure we were tuned in for a thirty-minute program aired by WCEH radio in Hawkinsville.

As he sang along with The Chuck Wagon Gang and other old-time gospel groups, I’d kid him about being a little off key. Then one day he told me I’d said enough about his singing. He explained that even though his talent might not be all that strong, singing was something he enjoyed. It had never crossed my mind he was tired of my lighthearted ribbings. Uncle Emmett’s honesty stung just a bit, but it helped me better understand that teasing is something both parties should enjoy. That’s when I began singing along with him. I don’t understand why, but two fellows a little off key somehow sounded a little better than just one.

We’d go to the post office in Unadilla to pick up mail in the mornings, then return that afternoon with letters collected along the route.  Mr. Howard “Pop” Butler was the postmaster, and his wife, Miss Sarah, also worked there. They were a cheerful couple, wonderful folks to start and end your workday around. Cheerfulness, I’ve learned, is a good quality in those you work with, live with, or plan to marry.  

Mr. Taylor Hooks, an older gentleman, would occasionally be waiting by his mailbox. I didn’t know Mr. Hooks except for seeing him on the route and I don’t remember much about him, but somehow his rather unique name has stayed with me. Another man sometimes met us in his car rather than waiting until we drove by his house.  I’ve forgotten how he was injured, but Uncle Emmett said he had a steel plate implanted where he’d lost part of his skull. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could live through that kind of ordeal, and I sometimes wondered if a magnet would stick to his head. Even as a child, however, I knew some questions are best left unspoken.

The most thrilling incident of my postal career came unexpectedly. A mailbox had been noticeably leaning for months. The rotten post finally gave way and we found it lying on the ground.  Uncle Emmett left a note saying they needed to put the box back up. The next time we were there it was still right where it had fallen.  “Just throw the mail out the window,” he said, “They’ve had plenty of time to take care of that.” A new post was in place before our next delivery. That was one of the first times I realized some people need more encouragement than others.

My good paying postal job abruptly ended. Thankfully, I hadn’t run up a lot of debt and didn’t have any dependents. Next week we’ll talk about a new profession, clerking at Joiner’s Store. Retail work had its benefits, but the hours were long, the pay was low, and my expectations were perhaps too grandiose. Being the assistant to the substitute rural mail carrier can do that to a person.                    

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Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 2

Painting Joiner’s Store took a tad longer for Jimmy and me than it would have for most folks. Our meticulous repair of historic boards, exceptional surface preparation, and precision style painting extended over several months.  That was partly because we only worked in the mornings.  The other reason was weather conditions. 

In assessing the suitability of the weather each morning, I relied on something the late Earl Peavy had told me years earlier.  He had stopped by my office at Bank of Dooly one blistering hot summer day for a short chat. As is common to southern conversation, I led off with an innovative question. “Hot enough for you Mr. Earl?”

“I’m not all that hard to please when it comes to temperature,” he said.  “Some folks are always complaining that it’s too hot or too cold, but I’m not like that.  I’m comfortable most anywhere between 71 and 73 degrees.”

I used Mr. Earl’s guidance on temperature, plus added three other factors to personalize a paintability index model, or PIM as it’s called in the underground paint industry.

Wind is an essential consideration for outdoor painting.  A light breeze, between ten and twelve miles per hour, is ideal.  I have painted at wind speeds well above twelve mph, but I don’t recommend it for amateurs. I’ve also painted at wind speeds below ten miles per hour, but only when the temperature is less than 70 degrees. Wind velocity preference is a rather subjective matter, so I encourage beginning painters to develop their own parameters.  

Rain probability obviously must be taken into account. For the store project I used personal observation as well as local forecasts. If WALB First Alert Weather said the chances of rain were 20 percent or more, I didn’t jeopardize our work by foolishly forging ahead. And regardless of the forecast, if I saw a cloud that made me think it might rain, we took the day off.

Attitude is the fourth and perhaps most important consideration. In my experience it’s best not to paint when you really don’t want to. Irritable Painter Syndrome is no laughing matter, as my wife will readily attest.

My paintability index model is not perfect, but you are welcome to give it a try. Jimmy and I didn’t paint every day, but when we did, I had plenty of time to reflect on childhood memories of Joiner’s Store. Mr. Edgar Andrews provided one of those long-ago moments which I still enjoy.

Weather is not just a consideration in painting.  It’s long been a topic in country stores. One of my favorite conversations about weather involved Mr. Edgar and my Uncle Emmett, who ran the store.  Mr. Edgar often stopped by for a cold drink and a visit.

It was a hot summer day in the mid-1960s and had not rained in weeks. Crops were withering, their drooping leaves begging for moisture as drought conditions weighed heavily on everyone’s mind.

Uncle Emmett never rushed his words. He spoke with an honest drawl between puffs on his Tampa Nugget. “Edgar,” he slowly said, “do you think it’s ever going to rain again?”

Mr. Edgar didn’t hesitate. “Emmett,” he replied with a chipper tone, “I’ve noticed it always rains right after a dry spell.”

Gray ashes were clinging tentatively to the end of Uncle Emmett’s cigar. He gazed rather studiously before deciding to thump them off, allowing them to fall beside his rocking chair on to the concrete porch. “Edgar,” he finally responded, “I believe you’re right about that.”

Their brief but memorable exchange is typical of the subtle humor once common at country stores across the South. I occasionally hit the replay button on that scene, because sometimes I focus too much on the drought at hand instead of expectantly watching for the rain.

Perhaps they were simply talking about the weather that day, or maybe it was also a comment on life. All I know for sure is that it was good to revisit old memories while painting Joiner’s Store.

And I just heard the rumble of distant thunder.           

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Painting Joiner’s Store – Part 1

My brother, Jimmy, and I painted the outside of Joiner’s Store last year. The store has been closed a long time, which allowed us to grow comfortable with its badly flaking paint. We were about a decade late on this project.

Patches of bare wood and an empty barrel of excuses finally beckoned us to the job. There was nothing major to repair, but a few boards had rotted because of neglect. Others were moving closer to the front of that line, needing some filler for substantial gaps in the clapboard sides.

It’s a small white frame building, typical of the era when country stores were common. It was a gathering place for our rural community of Third District, especially for the farmers and men who helped them.  Some of them came six days a week for cold drinks.  That was back when sodas came in glass bottles like God intended. They visited on the porch in seasons of warm weather or around the gas heater during the cold days of winter.

Painting the store brought back a lot of childhood memories, none of them noteworthy to others perhaps, but all of them special to me.  It’s nice when little moments from the past still pleasantly surprise us.

The earliest recollection I have involving the store is of my grandfather, Jim Joiner, standing on the front porch calling out to Jimmy and me, “Come on and get a Coca-Cola boys.” He died three months before I turned five. His offering us free drinks somehow has stayed in my memory bank, probably because he did it more than once.

Uncle Emmett ran the store after Papa Joiner’s health failed in the mid-1950s. I frequently went there, beginning at a young age. The trip to the store from our home was an easy walk and took even less time on a bicycle, especially after the dirt road was paved.               

A big round cheese cutter sat on the far end of a long counter on the left side of the building.  Uncle Emmett would slice a wedge from the hoop of cheese, trying to cut however much someone wanted.  He’d tear a strip of white paper from a giant roll, then weigh the cheese in the metal pan attached to a scale that hung from the ceiling. He usually came close to what was requested with one cut.

The large pointer on the scales could be read from either side of the counter. It was later in life before I realized not everyone places the scales so both parties can see.

Uncle Emmett would call out the weight and the customer would say, “Close enough,” or something along those lines.  Then he would wrap the white paper around the cheese and secure it with a piece of masking tape he pulled from a heavy metal dispenser.

When I was a child my father told me a story about a young boy who came to the store wanting to buy a nickel’s worth of cheese.  Papa Joiner politely explained that he couldn’t slice that small of a piece.  The youngster asked if he could cut a dime’s worth and Papa Joiner affirmed that he could.  As soon as the blade sliced through the cheese the boy quickly added, “Now how about cutting that in half.”

That humorous tale was probably shared at other country stores. The young lad, whether he’s real, fictional, or something in between, helps remind me that solutions are often simple. Some problems are complicated, but many times the answers are not hard to find. That’s not a concept I can take credit for. I read about it in a book.

Jesus said we don’t need but two commandments. One is to put God first. The other is to love our neighbors like we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:35-40) Following those two rules seems a simple way for our country to approach some divisive troubling issues. Not everyone will agree, but that’s no excuse for me.

“Did Papa Joiner sell that little boy a nickel’s worth of cheese?” I asked my father long ago.

“No,” he said with a teasing smile. “He gave him the cheese and a Coke to go with it.”

It’s nice when little moments from the past still pleasantly surprise us. That happened more than once while painting Joiner’s Store.              

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Dude the Dog

I was right about Seth’s chihuahua, Louise, not being able to keep a secret. My printer was still humming when she trotted to the back door and asked to go out. She ran straight to Dude and told him I wrote a story about her. Thankfully, I could honestly assure Dude he would be featured the following week.

Dude is a big affable fellow who loves attention.  At 67 pounds he’s too heavy to sit in our laps, but he keeps hoping. Lately he’s been singing some lyrics from a song by Little Anthony and the Imperials, “I’m on the outside looking in. I don’t wanna be, I don’t wanna be left on the outside.” Even with two towering shade trees the hot Georgia weather has taken a toll, plus Dude is bothered considerably by the gnats.  We gave him a high velocity fan which he lies in front of much of the day.

I’ve lost track of how many times Dude has climbed our fence.  When he lived in Los Angeles, he barked too much to stay outside. He relished alerting sleeping neighbors to passing pedestrians and was especially enthusiastic about skateboarders.  Living indoors spoiled him a tad, plus he still hasn’t figured out why Louise is the only one who made it inside.  Dude is too big to join Louise, but I’m not sure we should tell him the truth.  Telling him he can’t come in because of his size might hurt his feelings.  

It took us a while to figure out Dude was climbing, not jumping, our four-foot chain link fence. He was cunning enough to stage his escapes when we weren’t looking, so we launched an undercover operation.  After discreetly observing his technique, I addressed the problem by simply running two strands of orange baler twine across the top of the fence. But Dude got out before I finished tying the last knot.

My next strategy was to zip-tie six-foot sections of white PVC pipe to our black metal posts, then stretch two feet of orange plastic fencing above the chain link, creating an impenetrable six-foot barrier.  I chose orange for the aesthetics, not because a giant roll was less than thirty dollars.  

I also ran PVC pipes parallel through the fence corners to obstruct his favored escape routes, then I placed four ice chests on our open back porch to block his access there.  Shortly after implementing these security measures that big dog was under our carport ringing the doorbell. He doesn’t run away from home; he just comes to the door and gives us a sad look.

There are plenty of online tips on how to keep a dog from climbing, but we didn’t want to shock him, crate him, or tie him to a cable.  I believe we should avoid doing things to a dog we wouldn’t want done to ourselves. Fortunately, I found some advice suggesting the first step to stop a dog from climbing is to determine why the dog wants to get out. So, Dude and I have been having some honest conversations. 

We had a backyard chat on July 4th and I gently explained why we feel it’s preferable not to have a giant dog living inside. I reminded Dude he has a lot to be thankful for, and I told him in confidence that Louise sometimes wishes she were a big dog like him. Then I told him what the Apostle Paul said about learning to be content in all circumstances. (Philippians 4:11)

Dude listened intently and seemed grateful for our efforts to make him comfortable in his outside quarters.  When I was about to leave and go back inside the thermometer was showing 95 degrees.  “I’m sorry it’s so hot Dude, but we don’t control the weather,” I said. 

As I was walking toward the gate, he began crooning an especially soulful rendition of Little Anthony’s song.  I turned to him, wondering silently if our talk had been for naught.  That’s when he shared what’s bothering him the most.  He said, “It’s not really the heat that’s so bad. It’s the humidity.”

Jane says the orange plastic has to come down. That’s why we’re ordering a cooling fan, whatever that is, hoping Dude will be content and stop climbing the fence.  If the cooling fan doesn’t work, I guess a window unit is our next step, or maybe a dehumidifier and cherry snow cones for snacks.

The things we do for our dogs sometimes seem a bit crazy. But the things we do for love, well that’s a whole different matter. That’s all I can write for now.  Dude is ringing the doorbell again.  

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The Things We Do for Dogs

If you read a previous column titled “Two Dogs and a Boy”, you already know part of this story. Our 41-year-old son, Seth, moved from Los Angeles back to Georgia in May.  He brought two rescue pets with him, a teeny-weeny vivacious lady named Louise and a gentle laid-back mongrel named Dude.

Louise is the world’s fastest and friendliest chihuahua and has an incurable addiction to laps. It’s impossible to ignore her big brown eyes as she begs to be held. If the eye trick doesn’t work, she resorts to her irresistible spin move.  She prances in a tight circle until we relent, usually after her third rotation.   

Louise is fluent in Spanish, but her English is rather sketchy.  Some things she understands like, “Come here – Good girl – and Suppertime,” yet she doesn’t grasp a simple “No.” If, however, we say “No! No! No! Louise!” her comprehension improves. Exclamation points apparently help overcome language barriers. 

Although Jane and I strongly prefer yard dogs, we have adjusted to having our first little one in the house. We’re not setting Louise a place at the table, but I can’t say with certainty it will never happen. The things we do for our dogs sometimes seem a bit crazy. And I admit this hasn’t just started.

We had two cocker spaniels, Libby and Freckles, who were part of our family a long time ago. Our youngest child, Carrie, decided to raise purebred puppies as a business when she was twelve. I loaned her the startup money at a favorable rate of interest and took the dogs as collateral. And I quickly learned it’s best not to rely on collateral that eats or wags its tail.

The cocker spaniel market took a nosedive as soon as we got aboard.  We bought high and sold low.  Jane and I could hardly stop hugging the nice lady who purchased the last puppy of our second and final litter. Another week and we would have been a three-dog family.  “Let’s don’t name him,” we kept reminding each other that last month we spent together. 

Freckles, the proud father of the puppies, didn’t have much ambition, but he was a good-hearted fellow. I felt guilty when I dropped him off for an overnight stay at Cordele Animal Hospital. On the drive down I wondered if I should tell him about one of my favorite Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson.

Larson depicted a grinning canine with his head stuck out a car window.  As his owner is pulling out of the driveway, the dog haughtily addresses his wistful next-door neighbor. “Hah, hah, hah, Biff” he says.  “I’m going to the vet to get tutored.”

I told Freckles I was sorry, and I meant it.  Whether he forgave me I don’t know.  He shunned me for several weeks and it was months before I could get him to ride in the car again.

Libby was more animated than Freckles, loaded with energy and a bubbly personality.  Although the puppy business was not a financial success, she and Freckles made wonderful pets for our children and us.  Then somewhere in Libby’s senior years she began having neck issues. Rather than running to greet us, she walked slowly and kept her head close to the ground, obviously in pain.

Our local veterinarian, Dr. Cindy Greene, examined Libby and said she couldn’t help her. That sad news weighed heavily on our hearts, then things got even worse. Dr. Greene said, “But the University of Georgia or Auburn’s vet school would probably accept Libby as a patient.” I cried all the way to the bank.

Auburn had an open bed in their ICU and could guarantee Libby a luxury suite in their rehab spa. That’s how a cocker spaniel from Middle Georgia became a War Eagle. After two surgeries she was as good as new plus had an honorary degree and a student loan. The things we do for our dogs sometimes seem a bit crazy.

I’m almost out of column space and haven’t begun to share Dude’s story.  Maybe we can cover him next week.  He’ll be hurt if I leave him out, and Louise is likely to brag that she’s already been featured.  It won’t do any good to hide the newspaper from her. She knows about the column because she sat in my lap and helped me type. The things we do for our dogs sometimes seem a bit crazy.

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U. S. 41 North – Part II

April 20, 1997.  On a corner lot was a Handy Andy, a convenience store brand I didn’t know was still around.  It reminded me of the first time I saw a Handy Andy in Hawkinsville during my childhood. Mama said she had gone to high school with the man who started it. She was glad he had been successful, but she wished he would close on Sundays and stop selling beer. I figured the seven-day schedule wouldn’t last, thinking not many people would go shopping on the Sabbath.  

A man with a cane fishing pole was walking along the road, headed to a pond I assumed was just over the hill.  I wondered if he used Red Wigglers or Louisiana Pinks, if he dug them in the wet area from his kitchen drain or bought them a mile or so back at Sunsweet Grocery and Bait Barn.

Tragedy comes even to country roads.  The small wooden cross had an arrangement of artificial flowers neatly tied in the middle with pink ribbon.  A faded banner read, “In Memory Of,” and had a name I couldn’t read.  She was somebody’s daughter, sister, wife, or mother, or maybe all those things.  I wished I had a rose to leave.  It’s odd that we can care about folks we don’t know, sometimes caring more than for the ones we do.

Wildflowers grew in several spots.  A grandfather had stopped on the way home from church to let a young princess pick a bouquet for her mother.  Black-eyed Susans seemed her favorite.

A 1959 black Ford Thunderbird was pleasantly entangled by wild pink roses in a pasture long absent of cows.  The junk man would probably pay thirty-five dollars and take it to the crusher, but good memories are often worth more than money.

Hobbs Station Grocery had a gas pump out front that hadn’t worked in decades, and a nearby tenant house looked to have been vacant for about the same time.  I figured the folks who had lived there moved to town and bought their gas from Handy Andy on Sundays.

Two graves in a field looked serene but lonesome.  A husband and wife, I imagined, whose children moved away.  I wondered if their grandkids knew they were buried there, and if anyone ever pulled weeds from around their markers or left a vase of flowers.

A mobile home seemed like a bargain and made me wish I was in the market.  “FOR SALE – $6000,” read the bold print.  Smaller letters added, “$5500 with wife and 3 kids.”

A redbird flew across the road and perched in a pecan tree.  The tree looked past the age of bearing nuts, but it still provided a welcoming shade.  Old things are sometimes too soon discarded when their value is not as easy to see.

A black runner quickly slithered over the hot pavement.  I could have decorated his back with steel belted bands, but I had no reason to.  I was once chased a few feet by his kind in the woods at Grandmama Hill’s, but that was a long time ago and the snake had as much right to be there as I did.

Four different colors, none of them recent, blended in tentative harmony on an old Chevy pickup.  After the wreck it had been repaired with used parts from at least three other trucks.  The owner probably fixed it himself for under $200.  Ingenuity thrives on two lane roads, and I knew If the truck were ever stolen it would be easy to identify.

The train tracks ran beside the road for five miles or more.  When I met the two o’clock special, the engineer blew the whistle without my even giving the sign.

I slowed to an almost stop at Van Gundy’s Motor Court in Tifton.  It was the same shade of pink as the wild roses in the pasture and seemed unchanged from my mother’s description long ago.  She and my father spent their one-night honeymoon there in 1947.  The grass was green and neatly edged and the azaleas were in full bloom.  The windows were so clean I saw my reflection while driving past.

You don’t see your reflection in chain motels on four-lane roads.  No one waves and trains don’t greet you with friendly whistles.  You don’t see redbirds in old pecan trees, homes with tin shingles, or barbeque places that advertise prayer.  You don’t see old ladies in cowboy boots or grandfathers watching young princesses pick wildflowers.  Even the snakes don’t bother trying to get across.

There was much to see along the road.  There was a lot to think about.

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U. S. 41 North – Part I

April 20, 1997.  I have nothing against highways with four or more lanes.  When my wife was in labor, I was glad to be near one.  But the roads I like best are those which are less efficient.  They visit country places and meander through forgotten towns. I put my watch in the glove box as I left Valdosta and headed north toward Vienna on U.S. Highway 41. 

He was a timber rattler, maybe four feet long.  His skin had too many tire tracks to make a guitar strap, so I ran right over him again.  You can never run over a rattlesnake too many times. 

A rather ancient lady with a German Shepherd was walking where grass and wild oats were well above her ankles.  I wanted to warn her about rattlesnakes, but decided it was unnecessary.  Her hair wasn’t in a bun or colored beauty parlor blue.  It was long and gray and fell freely from beneath a weathered felt hat.  Her faded Levi’s were tucked snugly into high-top cowboy boots that used to be brown.  I figured she knew more than I did about snakes.

The marquee at Yancey’s Barbeque said, “Prayers can only be answered if you pray.”  I wanted to thank them for such good use of their ad space, but it was Sunday and they were closed.

An abandoned motor court was covered with ivy.  It was only a few rooms, but no doubt was well used when 41 had more than local traffic.  I’ve never stayed in a motor court and I made a mental note to look for a nice one before they become extinct.  The few that I know of rent rooms by the week or the month.  I would only want to stay for one night.

Eldorado Baptist Church was on the left of the road.  It seemed odd for a southern town to have a western name.  It’s the kind of place where farmers in overalls once followed plodding mules down rows of cotton.  Maybe the settlement was started a long time ago by a displaced cowboy, brought here by reasons I would love to know but never will.  I wondered if the lady wearing the cowboy boots worshipped at Eldorado and if she checked her pistol at the door.

A massive billboard portrayed Jesus hanging on the cross.  His arms were fully extended and pinned against the roughly hewn wood.  Blood trickled down his face and around the piercing iron spikes.  The caption read, “Jesus loves you this much.”  I thanked Him and wished I had a camera.

There was a junkyard down the road with an impressive collection of antiquated log trucks.  A lot of old rigs have probably been kept running with spare parts salvaged from there.  It’s nice when something broken becomes a part of something that still works, helping them both stay useful.

Beautiful green foliage and multicolored blooms at a plant nursery closely nestled the right-of-way.  There wasn’t a chain link fence or even a “No Trespassing” sign.  They must have honest neighbors I thought.  And I wondered if the people around there still slept with their windows open.          

A man in a blue pickup waved cordially with a distinctive twist of his right hand.  He didn’t know me or where I was headed, but I knew that if I had a flat tire he would have stopped to help.  You can tell a lot about a man by his wave, but that’s just my opinion and nothing I can say for sure.

The dingy plate glass on Fletcher’s Hardware was mostly intact.  Some unsold items were collecting dust on homemade wooden shelves.  With white liquid shoe polish someone had neatly printed, “THANK YOU WALMART.”

“ROOMS/APARTMENTS” was barely visible in faded black letters on an arrow shaped sign that was nailed to a utility pole.  I wanted to follow the arrow down the deserted side street, but I had no doubt the sign had outlived the rooms.

A two-story frame home, built many decades earlier, was freshly painted in white.  Its shrubbery was neatly pruned, and its long inviting porch filled with rocking chairs.  The tin shingle top had outlasted several changes of the neighbor’s asphalt roof with the 20-year warranty.  I figured those tin shingles had come from Fletcher’s Hardware.  And I was sorry it was too late to thank them.

There was much to see along the road.  There was a lot to think about.

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