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From senior to geezer in one easy step
Up on Flounder Creek
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Dateline April 27, 1944, 10 a.m. — R.S. and Rudine Waters announce the arrival of a 9 pound, red-headed baby boy.
That was 65 years ago and little did either parent know what they had done.
I recently found out that I came close to having another name. My mother asked my dad, “What shall we call him?”
My dad said, “Let’s call it quits.”
“Quits? That’s not a good name for a kid,” said my mom.
“No,” said my dad. “Let’s call it quits means I’m outta here.”
And off he went, leaving my mom and me to handle it by ourselves. But Rudine Waters was a strong woman and her theory was, “If I can get to Crescent, my mama and my sisters will help me feed this ugly little thing and I’ll prove that a mama needs a man like a mullet needs a bicycle.”
So as soon as Reidsville’s finest, and only doctor, Dr. Jelks, said it was OK to leave the hospital, my mama stuffed me in a bowling ball bag and we headed to the coast to grandma’s house where I was welcomed and referred to as the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
Grandma was nearsighted, but that was a good thing.
I live, to this day, on the same road where grandma’s house was. We were poor, but didn’t know it.
Between my mama and my grandma and two or three aunts, we managed to keep our heads above the high-water mark. When things were the toughest, all we had to eat was rice and gravy, fresh fried fish, peas and butter beans, okra and tomatoes, and maybe a bunch of collard greens that grandma picked out of our garden. Every few days, Johnny Howard would come by and drop off a mess of crabs or shrimp. If Johnny hadn’t died at such a young age, we would have weighed 500 pounds.
Jumping ahead to my teenage years, I would sit on the front porch and pick my guitar or play the old upright piano that was never in tune and Johnny would come by and sit for a little while and listen.
“Boy, you ought to be on the Grand Ole Opry” he would tell me. “You want this bucket of soft shell crabs? If your granny don’t want ’em, I’m just gonna throw ’em away.”
My grandma was a snuff dipper. She would give me 50 cents and tell me to go to Mr. Kicklighter’s store and buy her four cans of Navy. I think snuff nowadays cost $2 or $3 a can, but in those days it was four cans for a half dollar. Lip cancer was much cheaper in those days.
Off to Mr. Kick’s I’d go and when I went in and put the 50 cents on the counter he knew what to do. He would put the snuff in a paper sack and slide it across the counter and wink. Looking back, it was like a kid buying crack.
When I became a high schooler my uncle said that he would pay for me to go to military school. I thought that I was going to acting school because my mama jabbed her bony little finger in my chest and said, “You need to learn how to act.”
So off I went to Benedictine Military School where I was taught all the good things a young man needs to know, such as how to smoke cigarettes, and if your underwear is dirty, just turn them inside out. But it was a great experience in as much as it prepared me for the real world and let me know that grandma and mama weren’t always going to be there to help me along, and fried whiting don’t grow on trees.
I turned 65 last Monday and my wife threw me a huge surprise party. I saw friends that I hadn’t seen since high school and had the time of my life. Looking back, the one thing that sticks out most is that supper we ate, because we were so poor, was better tasting and probably more nutritious than anything I could get at high-end restaurants today, and didn’t cost $100 and I know for a fact that my grandma washed her hands before she cooked it.
Later on in life I played at the Grand Ole Opry and I thought about Johnny and how good those softies tasted.
I thank the Lord every day for the time I’ve had and I think about Johnny’s philosophy on life. “Why stretch it out to 100 when if you try real hard you can knock it out in 50?”
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