Coming out of a funeral, I was stopped by two pretty ladies who left here many years ago. They spoke longingly of life “back home.” Just steps away, another former resident shared how he misses what he called the “Mayberry” quality of this community. Things like seeing people you recognize everywhere you go, knowing their families, etc.
I thought of that idyllic description as I drove away. Ever-vigilant as a reporter should be, I did a double-take on my way by a service station. Huddled around the back end of a pickup were no fewer than seven men. They appeared to be totally fascinated by whatever was there.
My curiosity couldn’t take it.
Quickly wheeling into the parking lot, I watched a moment as the men took turns pointing toward something in the bed of the truck. Occasionally, one would lean close, cock his head first to the left and then back to the right. Another pushed his cap back, swiped his forehead, and then rubbed his chin as if trying to solve a dilemma. Yet another elbowed the guy standing by him. All appeared to be deep in study at whatever was in the back of that truck.
Occasionally, they all burst into laughter and, as men will do, went into varying whoops and knee-slapping behavior before gradually all closing ranks in that same shoulder-to-shoulder huddle, focused again on the back of that pickup.
I got even more curious.
Over the years I’ve seen lots of newsworthy items show up in the back of a pickup truck. It doesn’t happen as often as it once did, but for years it was common for some guy to get out at our office, hitch his britches up and stroll in, summoning me to “come outchere and bring your camera.”
More times than not it was one of two newsworthy items: an oversized vegetable or a rattlesnake. When we were lucky, the vegetable would be given to us or the snake would be dead. Ever so often, they would not be. Answering one of the first calls to tote my camera to the curb many years ago, I leaned way over the pickup bed only to come nearly nose to nose with an angry, writhing rattlesnake. Despite a nasty gash on his head, he was still very much alive. The proud snake-hauler, shocked as I was, hadn’t quite finished the job. He took only a moment to dispatch the diamondback with the flat end of a shovel which quickly doubled as a prop to dangle the reptile for a picture displaying his length.
Despite the odds, I thought perhaps these men were all gawking at a (hopefully) dead snake.
That was not the case.
I edged my way into the group, eager for my own look-see at what had these guys all spell-bound.
Even I was surprised at how easily men can be entertained. Or maybe they were all training to work for the government.
Seven grown men were all standing around “supervising” one teenager as he drilled holes and riveted new door latches onto a dog box! These guys stood there, scratching and spitting and kidding with each other, as men will do. When I got there the conversation had focused for some time on whether the spring was sufficiently tight on one of the latches. The group took a good 10 more minutes to reach general agreement that the top spring was, indeed, not as tight as the bottom spring, but it was sufficiently tight to keep the latch fastened and the dog(s) inside.
With that concern out of the way, the conversation turned to how much was the service station going to charge for the work? Each man had an idea.
Estimates for the value of the job ranged wildly. The men argued over how many rivets were used, wear and tear on the drill, etc. It was soon decreed the price would be ... nothing.
In small towns you don’t charge a customer for something you wouldn’t charge a good friend. And in this small town, all your customers are friends.
No, this may not be Mayberry, but you can sure see it from here.
Robert Williams is an Effingham native who publishes weekly newspapers in Blackshear, Alma, Folkston, McRae and Forsyth. His commentaries can also be heard on Georgia Public Radio. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.