A hand grabbed my shoulder and led me to the door. We wandered off from under the carport and angled to the red International pickup. He pinched the door latch open and pointed to the middle of the worn black vinyl bench seat.
I crawled in.
He turned and smiled running his hand down the hood.
He walked back under the carport.
He was gone.
The wind blew. My breath was in the air of the cab.
The floorboard was full. A crushed paper bag. A hammer. A can of QuakerState. Rusted fencing staples. Red dirt. Pinkeye spray. It was purple.
He returned with a pail. A grin was on his face. The door creaked open as a grunt sat him under the wheel.
I turned and peered through the back glass.
It was thick. Mushy. Light brown. It was still steaming. An electric grind turned the starter slow and squeaky. The engine turned over. He rolled his tongue between his lips as a denim cuffed hand pulled the gear lever underhand. I turned back on bent knees and stared while his brown leather boots worked the gas. Slowly, we backed down the creek gravel road.
He got out and opened the gate. The engine idled. Another grunt came as he sat back down and moved the truck through the opening. Soon we were off to the hog pen.
The pasture road was rutted and muddy. The trucked idled slowly past the old home place, the outdoor toilet, and the barn. Across the pasture stood a couple of black walnut trees. Underneath them was a jumbled looking shelter made of tin and hog wire.
As we pulled up, I became timid towards getting close to the strange beasts, their ears covering their eyes, noses held high to the cold air. I held tight to his hand and he used his other to draw the pail from the truck bed. We walked over to the sty.
The hogs grunted and smacked as Pop poured the warm slop into a steel trough. Their heads bumped one another as they fought to suck the sour brine.
I looked up and saw a man smiling down at me. His mouth was wide. His glasses mirroring the light. The worn cap with its black bill and marlin patch snuggled down against his ears.
One inspiration I can recall that led me to love old cars, cherish simple southern life and understand acceleration was a trip to the feed store with my grandfather, who I affectionately called Pop. My pet name that he called me was Pete.
I spent hours on end looking up to Jack Bailey.
There is a store just above the now present Exit 5 off of I-20 six miles from my hometown of Tallapoosa, Georgia. It’s still called the Buncombe Community. He, along with my dad, built it in the early Sixties. He ran it for a while. It changed hands many times after his death in 1972 and has been called Don’s Shoppett from some time now.
Sometimes when we get burnt out on the craziness of life we need something like this. Take yourself back to 1970 and see if this causes you to wander your soul of when your grandfather created memories for you.
---Feed Bag Physics
To my wonderment my grandfather could make the simplest chore or event seem Herculean in scope or proportion.
His most unusual task was the ritual of fetching a bag of feed from a small country store down the road. He would have me sit up beside him in the ’53 Chevrolet sedan and poke along to what seemed an eternity toward an odyssey. The Chevy was a straight shift. Three on the column. I watched as he gently stroked the shift lever on the barrel of the steering column. The floorboard was an ashy gray.
Once we arrived he would pull into the small parking area in front of the store.
“Now Pete, keep your seat.”
He threw open the door and pivoted his bottom bringing both legs out the car door. Holding the steering wheel for leverage he pulled himself out of the car. I sat still as I watched him open a door to a building adjacent the store. Pop disappeared into the shadows of the wooden shed. Seconds later he strode out into the morning sun with a huge sack of sweet feed under his right arm.
Walking past my side of the car with an opened mouth smile he flopped the double lined paper bag onto the top of the trunk lid. He called it the boot. There was no string or rope to tie the sack to the car. It just sat there anchored by its own weight. He winked and went into the store to pay.
As he returned, I fidgeted with the thought of the bag of horse feed sliding off the back of the car. Bursting onto the rode. Kernels corn and sweetened oats flying everywhere.
“Will it fall off?”
“Nah, it’s fine.” He rubbed his finger against his nose.
Looking over his right shoulder he slowly backed around. Going forward, he passed under the awning of the little store, looked both ways and pull out onto the highway. His left foot and right arm worked in tandem to help accelerate the old car.
Not to fast.
Amazed by it all, I crawled over to the back seat and wedged myself between the back glass and the top of the seat. It was warm there. I watched to see if the bag would slide or vibrate off the trunk lid.
Little knees pushed the thick undergrowth aside as they made their way along the bank through the brambles. However not far ahead he lay in waiting. Coiled. Poised. Ready to strike. His tongue repeating so often to get a sense of what was coming his way. Coiled, his head rested on the third wrap of his body. He was a canebrake or to a savvy farmer he was a Timber Rattle snake in the lowland phase.
Instead of being gray and brown he was more wickedly colored. He looked like a pine branch, which had been left scarred from a forest burn. From his tail up 6 or 7 inches he was black. Also along his sides, dirty black lined the lightning stripe pattern of its body. The largely uncommon sized snake's green eyes did not blink just above the deadly accessory of his pits. A very resolute brown line emerged from the base of his head and ran along the ridgeline of his back until it disappeared into the shadow of the black tail. To the hapless rabbit or field rat he was a silent legless predator; his venom powerful enough to kill a rodent within a minute. To a young child his bite could sink deep into soft flesh causing almost instant skin decay. But the poison would not stop there. With a raging heart the venom would send the small person into shock and eventual death if medical care were not prompt and immediate. A grandparent of the farm’s worst nightmare.
"Pete, you need to come back over here, now." Pop hollered. The child stopped quickly just feet from the devil. The big snake rattled softly only for his rattle's dry bean sound to be drowned out by the gurgling creek and the crunchy leaves being pressed by a collie sniffing to find what dogs sniff to find. Summer had allowed the birch leaves near the creek to settle and fresh jade green undergrowth to establish a micro covering to that of the tall standing hardwoods along its side. A gentle early summer breeze danced shadows under the canopy. To a small child the covered area along the narrow branch seemed mystical. The kaleidoscope of colors and sound meshed to make the corner of the creek dream like.
I was familiar with the trip to the creek. Most of our summer days were spent at the creek. We would sit where the creek made a sharp turn and several large hardwood trees leaned lazily overt the water. The shade provided was cool. At their base were exposed roots that made pockets for reclining at the bank’s overhang. We would sit for what seemed like hours catching bream, warmouth bass, and suckers. An occasional mud cat would find our hooks. Pop handled them.
But this day I grew tired of waiting on a worm’s fate and the red/white cork to jerk. He knew I was ready to go. I sat out first up the shaded rise along the bank. Little did I know of the danger.
Our trip at its end, Pop caught up with me and herded me to the old ’53 Chevy. It was blue. Chrome. As we walked over to car parked on the edge of the pipeline clearing the dog began to bark. Lady, a light brown and white collie mix had something at bay. From past experience Pop knew it could only be a snake.
Hearing her bark frequency increase he propped the two fishing poles against the bumper. He opened the door and told me firmly to stay seated in the car and for me not to move until he saw what lady was making a fuss over. His turn toward the creek greenery that we had emerged from was deliberate. His gait was faster, and troubled. Seconds later he reemerged from the dark green shadows only to have accelerated his intentions.
As he approached the car I stood in the seat leaning my head sideways to look upward at his face. In a quick breath he said calmly, “Lady, has a big ol snake pinned against the base of a tree near the creek. I threw an ol rotten stick at it but it didn’t hurt it. It’s gonna git away.”
He quickly retrieves a pitchfork from the back seat of the sedan. It had four tines and half a handle.
“You stay right here. I’ll be right back.”
Once again the shadows of greens and browns sucked him back over the rise. Knowing his adversary, I cheered over the sharp staccato bark of the collie.
“Gitt’m Pop! Git that mean ol snake. Gitt’m Pop!”
I cheered for the longest time it seemed and then slowly he appeared. To his side trotted Lady panting, with her nose held high to the long still moving serpent hanging from a tine. Pierced through the head, the canebrake was as long as he was tall.
My eyes were wide as he passed with heavy breath and slung the snake, fork and all straddle the trunk lid of the car.
Several people pass on a crowded street. Their faces locked in personal universe.
A horn blows. Steam rises from a grate. It's cold. Faded asphalt. Buildings are tall. A siren wails.
Still the faces revolve around the individual mind. Mechanical. For one to speak or gaze at another would cause disruption of reclusive emotion.
Lonely is the status quo. He rules. He is bitter. He is crass. Sarcastic. He likes hollow souls.
Rounding a corner a young couple stands, kissing, passion oblivious to evasive feelings. Lonely sees them. He doubles and is felled like a leave falling in a windless void. He first turns a cheek if not to stare. But power envelops his being. He turns, bleeding from the heart. Erect. Still. Peers into the souls of the couple. It's full, warm, and secure. There is no bitterness, hate, jealousy. Lonely finds love.