For me, I believe it started at Papa’s country store in very rural Washington County, Georgia. This small, white, tinned-roof store stood at the intersection of two dirt roads, Centralia Rachels and Sparta Davisboro. I was intrigued with lots of things about the store, and what took place in the store, but none more than the conversations that took place there.
One example: Mr. Hubert Hawkins would come up, overalls clad and often with nothing underneath, from down Sparta Davisboro, either walking in his dusty brogans or riding one of his mules. When I saw him, I wanted to be there, listening, because I knew it would be interesting. I made it my business to be there.
This is part of what really drew me, and at the same time, confused me. I’d heard my grandparents talk about Mr. Hubert and how he had gone off for a while for making illegal, untaxed liquor. To me that meant he was a bad man. And, yet, Grandma and Papa seemed to like and respect him. So, when he came, I wanted to hang around and listen, and I did.
Mr. Hubert usually sat by squatting down on his haunches, and Papa usually set up an upturned wooden Coca-Cola crate. Both could do this for long periods of time. They would talk about the weather, cotton and how their crops were, how many squirrels Mr. Hubert had killed lately, and people that lived in the area, north Washington County. If there were local or national elections going on, they might briefly talk about politics. And, they kept up with who died and when their funerals would be.
I learned to love the talk, the talkers, the tales and the lessons. I was hooked. The better the talkers and the better they were at the talk, the more I was drawn to them and it has lasted a lifetime.
Let me move to the sixth grade, Perry Elementary School, and my teacher, Jean Pierce Bledsoe. Periodically, she would let me tell a story to the whole class, and I would. I’d include every classmate, by name, in the story. This great teacher and this opportunity are probably seminal reasons for my writing today.
Law school at UGA was a hot bed of talkers and tale tellers. I think lots of lawyers are inclined this way. And, while in Athens, lunch at the Snack Shack around a long table in the back room with other law students, talking and eating, further fed my desire to be there, listen and participate.
Then, I was back in Perry, practicing law, but some part of most every day was spent by me listening and talking with other men in the community. There were plenty of good places to go for this fun and learning experience.
There was the Coffee Cup in downtown Perry. Our country’s problems were solved there, every morning, only to be re-solved the next. Probably 25 or 30 men, usually the same crowd, in about three shifts, drank coffee, talked and listened, sometime between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., five days a week. It was politics, sports, economics, weather and just plain gossip, Monday through Friday.
The Swank Shop, where the Perfect Pear is today, was another of my learning and hopefully teaching places. Billy Bledsoe, proprietor, was a world class quipster with hundreds of appropriate and funny sayings. Lots of days after work, and sometimes during lunch, I refueled my tales’ tank at Billy’s.
Then there was the feed store, Walker Thompson Supply. I’d worked there as a youngster and had great affection for Ed Thompson, Mr. Glea Gray and Joe Hodges. So, periodically, I would go by to learn more and be reminded of “stuff” I already knew. And, I must say, Mr. Glea Gray knew and told more funny stories than anyone I ever knew.
Then there was the tractor place, Gray-Walker and later Walker-Rhodes. Whether it was Daddy and Mr. F.L. “Doc” Hammock talking school business by board members Marvin Dorsett and Daddy, or Daddy and Foster talking about a wide variety of other subjects, there was much to be learned from wise, smart, savvy, articulate people.
And, so now, after over 50 years of practicing law, and previously having a wide variety of places to go after work or even during the day to learn and contribute, I find there are no longer any such places. If there are, I don’t know where.
Oh, there are stores and restaurants and good and smart people, but no atmosphere for visiting and talking. Why? Television. Too busy. No interest. I don’t know. But, I do know that it was good, to me, while it lasted. And, I do know that it is a part of what I am today. And I do know I miss it. I’m sad that there’s no place for me to go. I think our culture is being changed because of these lost opportunities. How do people learn about their family, friends and the community’s history? I don’t think they will or do.
Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.