Sunday, March 09, 2014

Big Dad Walker

Though the world has changed so much in the last 40 or 50 years, I can still remember the ol' fellers that would sit on the front porch over to Feltner's Store up on Spring Creek. They would arrive after chores were done an' just sit, talk an' whittle away with their Case knives. There is an art to whittlin' that most folks don't really understand. They weren't carvin' anything. They was just shavin' long curls of wood off the sticks they carried, just to have them curl off an' lay in great piles at their feet.

One of my favorites was ol' Big Dad Walker. Him an' Big Mom lived just up the road from the store an' he would walk down most afternoons to sit with the other fellers an' jaw for a while. I always had to laugh when folks mentioned Big Mom for she was about 5'2" and can't have weighed 100 pounds drippin' wet. Big Dad Walker was over 6' tall and a pretty big feller like his name said. Don't know why folks had to call his wife Big Mom.

I remember stoppin' by the store years ago. Big Dad  an' Henry Feltner were the only ones sittin' on the porch. Henry Feltner would come out an' sit with a cup of coffee when there was no customers. Henry was right quiet an' liked to listen to the others as they spun yarns. Both men greeted me as I climbed the steps an' they told me to not be in a hurry, to sit an' visit for a while.

Henry went back into the store to refill his coffee an' came back out with a paper cup of coffee for me just the way I liked it, two sugars an' enough cream to make the coffee all caramel lookin'. He told me Big Dad had been talkin' about the sheriff election an' that Gib Gilbert was about to be reelected again. Gib had been sheriff for as long as I could remember.

That was all the cue that Big Dad needed. Henry grinned an' winked at me real sly like as he sat back in his ol' ladder back chair. Big Dad peeled off one of the longest curls of pine off the stick he was whittlin' on, cleared his throat an' spoke up...

"Well sir, I heard some rumors an' goin's on about Gib Gilbert. Don't know as what you'll be wantin' to hear them, seein' as how y'all are kin an' all." he said as he looked over his glasses at me.

Big Dad knew that Gib an' I both went back to ol' Felix Gilbert who was my Great Great Great Grandpa. Gib was maybe my 5th cousin, maybe a 6th cousin.

I spoke quickly, not wantin' the story to get away, "Kin is kin, but politics is different, Big Dad. The voters want to know." Henry chuckled into his coffee cup, knowin' I was gettin' Big Dad primed, loaded an' ready to go.

"I know right smart," he said quiet like, "but I'll just tell y'all of one incident that happened when he was collectin' names on his petition to run. It is bound to make a feller stop an' think when they gets into the votin' booth.

Way I hear it, Gib Gilbert had been collectin' names on his petition of folks who would support his run. He started awful late, don't you know, just forgot to start the petitions, y'see, since he had been Sheriff so long.

When he realized he was almost a hundred names short on his petition the deadline was the very next day. Mrs. Gilbert told him she didn't think he had time to go round an' gather up that many names on the petitions. But ol' Gib is an inventive man, just like all the folks in your family. " Big Dad said with a sly smile.

That was true enough. My Great Grandpa had invented the paper airplane years before the Wright boys ever flew. They was cousins of ours, don't you know. They done stole his idea an' became famous, y'see.  Other kin invented them bobble heads they give away at the ball parks, the weed whacker an' even nicotine gum...'cept it was really just some country ham, sliced real thin like an' applied to the skin with a piece of duck tape,  smoked good an filled with nicotine after it hung for a year over Sophie Precious as she smoked 3 packs a day at the counter of her store, Precious Smoked Meats, but that is another story for another day.

Big Dad went on, "As I heard it, bein' inventive an' all, he loaded Mrs. Gilbert up in the truck, grabbed the clipboards with the petitions an' took off down the road. He stopped over to the graveyard by Booger Holler Holiness Church where your cousin, Hazel Nutt Budder is married to the preacher, Woodrow Budder.

They drove half way round the circular road through the graveyard an' stopped. Gib an' Mrs Gilbert got out an' Gib told her to start writin' the names on the stones on the petitions, usin' different ways to sign the names till they got the names they needed.

Now, Mrs. Gilbert knew better than to correct her man. After all, he was a politician an' he know how these things worked. Who was she to argue? They both went to work, signin' up the folks who was buried there.

After a while Mrs. Gilbert counted the names on the petition on her clipboard, went over an' counted the names on Gib's petition an said, 'Gib, we have done collected 131 names, more than you need to turn in your petitions. I reckon we can go on home now.'

Gib looked at her like she was some sort of Martian or Yankee or somethin'. 'What?' he said. 'Quit now? No mam.' Gib pointed to all the gravestones on the other side of the cemetery.

'See all them graves? Them folks have just as much right to vote as these other do! We are gonna work till we have ever' one of them registered.'

That is exactly what he said to her. That is the way I heard it told to me." Big Dad whispered to us with a crooked smile on his face.

Henry Feltner sat there for a minute or so studyin' on what Big Dad had said, shook his head, threw the cold coffee in his cup onto the ground an' went into the store.

I sat back an' laughed as Big Dad lowered his head, peeled off another long curl of pine an' grinned to himself, "Yessir, that is just the way it happened, least that was how I heard it an' all."

I can still see him there in my mind, gray hair pushed under his ol' beat up hat, long grizzled beard coverin' his chest an' much of the black tie he wore with his white shirt most days, black coat an' ol' work pants completed his wardrobe an' were always clean though well worn.

His smile an' them dark brown eyes were always full of orneriness an' stories. He always had a good word for folks, always was the first to laugh at himself an' the stories he told.

copyright 2014 Stephen  Hollen