Solitaire by Bob Thomas
Southern Heritage Statement
I’ve spent, summer afternoons plucking honeysuckle blossoms and sucking the sugary sweet nectar from them.
I’ve gnawed Louisiana sugar cane until the last drop of sugar ran down my chin.
I’ve patiently licked all of the honey out of a honeycomb, and chewed the wax like gum for hours.
I’ve eaten ginger bread with lemon sauce. I’ve eaten Pralines, beignets, home made hand cranked ice cream, bread pudding, rice pudding, lemon pie, key lime pie, pineapple upside down cake, pecan pie, watermelons by the ton, cantaloupe, persimmons, figs, strawberries, Muscatine’s, fresh picked Georgia peaches and Florida oranges. . . all before 1953 when I was 10 years old.
I’ve eaten pork barbeque, barbequed chicken, fried chicken, pork chops, chitlins, pigs feet, chicken necks, collards, sweet potatoes, fresh, uncooked corn off the stalk, tomatoes while they were still on the plant, fried green tomatoes, fried dill pickles, raw string beans, grits and red eye gravy. I’ve eaten boiled shrimp ‘till I couldn’t possibly hold anymore. I’ve sat on the dock and eaten clams, scallops and oysters. I’ve had sea-urchin, shark, alligator, crawfish, snake and a nice fat ‘fried’ grasshopper or two. I drank an entire 10 oz. cup of hot Krispy Kreme icing on a bet. And since I lived in New Orleans and worked in South Louisiana for a while, I’ve eaten some really weird stuff too! Cajuns are the only people who occasionally have a Thanksgiving turkey with four legs!
I’ve eaten at the table, on the ground, at a work bench, in school, in church, in the car, on a tailgate, at NASCAR races, dirt track races, drag races and street races.
I’ve been arrested, almost arrested and not quite arrested. I’ve gotten a speeding ticket for driving 121 mph in Mississippi, 89 mph in Louisiana, 78 mph in North Carolina, and “too fast’ on the Myrtle Beach Strand without a license.
I’ve enjoyed the relaxing effects of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Four Roses, moonshine and ‘Purple Jesus’. I’ve gotten drunk in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, passed out and woke up at Myrtle Beach, SC – where I danced to beach music until someone took me home.
I have been blessed by the laughter and caress of Southern women – both the ones who are beautiful by bar-light and daylight and ones that are just plain ugly in any light – all with hearts of gold.
I broke horses (2) for King Ranch in Texas in return for a plate full of pit cooked beef barbeque, beans, cornbread and a six pack and some aspirin.
I know when to say “Yes Ma’am”, “Yes Sir” and “Thank you”. I open doors for ladies – and men – of any age. Even if they have a nose ring.
I never swear in the presence of people I don’t know, and I temper my language around women. I have no problem reciting a string of profanity if it’s appropriate to get my point across.
I have friends that will be friends forever and I’ll do anything for them – even if I never see them again. I have relatives that I love to death, brag about and never see enough of.
I believe in God – my God, not necessarily yours. I don’t care who your God is.
I stand and place my hand on my heart for the pledge of allegiance or the passing of the flag – I carried a gun, wore the uniform and fought for it, it’s mine. If you don’t stand; I won’t say a word to you. But I will think less of you.
I pray when the urge hits me. I can’t imagine my government making me stop.
My parents taught me that to get respect, I had to give respect. It’s not that hard to understand. I respected, love and feared my parents when it was appropriate, and I thank them for the life they gave me. Everyday I try to make them proud of me.
I believe that God created the South on the sixth day, and decided to stop while he was ahead and take the next day off.
These are all things I’ve done and learned in the South, or because I was raised in the South. I’ve never been anywhere else that “raised up” their children this way. And I’ve never heard anybody speak more proudly of their geographic heritage than a Southerner. You’ve never heard anyone say, “I’ve from the North”, with a verbal swagger in his voice like a Southerner.
So, my Southern heritage is not something I can write down on a piece of paper. If you know me, talk to me or read some of my writing, it will be evident to you that I am not, and could not possibly be from anywhere else in the world.
And now the Feature Essay:
The Norman Rockwell painting “Solitaire” depicts a man seated in the bed of a boarding house room, playing solitaire on his suitcase. I have a small original print in my home that I look at daily. It reminds me of my dad. When he started traveling for Schwinn Bicycle Company in the early 1950’s, this was the type of place he often stayed — a boarding house in some little town in the South.
One summer, when I was about 10 years old, I traveled with him and we stayed in a boarding house in Washington, NC that looked very much like the Rockwell painting. We shared the bed and we ate at the big dining table with the other boarders, mostly salesmen. A Wildlife Officer was also staying there. He asked me if I liked boating and I told him I had never been in a boat. He offered to take Dad and me for a boat ride after dinner.
The boat was a small ‘rowboat’ with a motor, but to me it was just as exciting as a yacht. We spend about an hour riding on the Pamlico River. The boat had only one seat, for the driver. Dad and I took our places on a tackle box. I sat between his legs and he kept his arms around me the whole time, turning my entire body in the direction of something interesting.
When the ride was over, we sat on the front porch overlooking the river until it was dark and talked about our adventure with the other boarders. At the time, I felt grown up and “one of the guys” as we all scratched, spit, cussed a little and drank our beer (or Nehi Big Orange drinks.) When we returned to our room, rather than wait our turn in the communal bathroom, Dad and I washed in the sink and went to bed.
The next day, we drove to Morehead City. Dad called on his dealer, then we went to lunch at Captain Bill’s Seafood restaurant. He sat me on a stool at the counter and told the waitress to “feed this boy shrimp ’til he pukes” and I ate boiled shrimp until I couldn’t eat anymore (stopping just short of puking!) That afternoon we went over to Atlantic Beach and walked in the sand, wet our feet in the ocean and picked up a few shells.
Our next stop was Greenway’s Harley Davidson in Fayetteville, NC. As well as the motorcycles, they sold Schwinn Bikes, Go Carts, appliances and other stuff. While Dad did business with Mr. Greenway, I sat on every motorcycle, played on the Go Carts and wandered the store — a great place for a curious kid to visit.
Dad asked me to tell Mr. Greenway about my boat trip. As I talked, I became more excited and they laughed like crazy at my story. (It was years later when I realized they were laughing at my excitement, not my story.) To top the day off, Mr. Greenway let me take my first Go Cart ride in the parking lot. For the rest of my life, every time I saw Mr. Greenway, he asked if I had been on any boat rides lately.
Our next stop was in Lillington, NC. The shop owner (or he could have been a customer) was a former Pool Champion and told me about winning a tournament by “stabbing himself in the leg” with his pocketknife to stop someone else from beating him. It unnerved his opponent so much he missed the shot. Then, right there in the shop, the storyteller pulled out his knife out of his pocket and said, “Like this!” and stabbed his leg. (As it turned out, the leg was fake — made of wood or cork — but it definitely was a memorable thing to witness.)
On that trip, and one or two others, I met a bike mechanic who “nailed” his hand to the workbench. (A trick.) Another shop owner showed me the souvenirs from his time as a prisoner of war during World War II and shared some of his experiences after being shot down over Germany. In Charlotte, there was a bike mechanic who could blow smoke out of his ear. I heard hundreds of jokes — some risque’, some just plain dirty. My dad always prefaced his joke with, “I’d better not ever hear you say this!” I realized that a good joke heard in Eastern NC would make its way to Southern Georgia on my dad’s lips in about two weeks. Often, when he entered a shop, the greeting was, “Tell us a joke, Bill!”
On another trip, Dad took a friend and me to Asheville, NC to see them film the movie “Thunder Road.” We sat on the hill over the tunnel and watched them wreck cars all day long just to make one scene in the movie. I still catch the movie every time it’s on TV.
This is just a simple little story from a child’s memory (and I’m not positive these memories are one-hundred percent accurate after fifty-six years), but they’re close — and they’re the ones I prefer to believe.
About twenty years later, as I did the same job for Schwinn Bicycle Company, I also entered dozens of bike shops to the greeting, “Tell us a joke” — and I always did. (Some of them were 20 years old.)
As I worked, I began to realize just how lonely it is being a “road warrior” salesman. How hard it is to wake up in a motel and not know where you are. How sorry you feel for yourself when you’re sick, have a cold or are just tired. I did the job for only two years. Dad did it for over twenty.
I understand now that sometimes the mettle of a man is not measured until it’s too late to say “Thanks.”