He never got ‘stuck’ in life

Published 7:09 pm Friday, February 28, 2014

Having grown up in Brundidge, I was blessed with having many colorful characters in my life. Naming them all would be difficult – Ol’ Peg, Hobo John, Dummy Davenport, the “Fat Ladies,” “Just Me Gertrude” French, “Boss Hog” Barr – the list could go on and on.

The Sacred Harp Sing on Saturday got me thinking about the “characters” in my life and the many good times I had sitting with Mr. J.C. Harden, listening and leaning into his stories, watching his video recordings of folks I knew and cared about, eating a “bite” at his table and “trying” to sing Sacred Harp songs.

We’d sit on the piano stool. I’d play the “right” hand and he’d play the “left” hand and we’d sing together, me following his lead. Now, I can’t sing “good” and he couldn’t hear good so that worked out just fine.

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One day Mr. J.C. asked me to take him on a ride to places of great importance to him. We’d stop at each one and he’d tell a story.

When we got to Monticello, he asked if I knew about Stillman’s Tanyard. I nodded. He told me anyway.

“Ann Love’s inn was over there. Pull over there in the field. I’ll show you right where it was.”

I cautioned him that the ground was wet, and if we got stuck we might not be able to walk out of there.

He took my arm to get my full attention, “You can’t go through life worrying about getting stuck. If you do, life’s going to pass you right on by. Remember that.”

My thoughts turned to another “character” in my life, Mr. Ovie Hughes.

Mr. Ovie was probably the best storyteller I’ve ever known and that’s saying a lot.

Weather permitting, he’d be sitting in a near-bottomless chair out under a towering oak tree in his front yard. He’d have on his “overhauls” and be barefooted and have a dip of snuff and he’d be at some stage of making a white oak basket. His dogs would be sleeping at his feet and the chickens pecking around the yard.

One day I visited Mr. Ovie and Miss Gertrude. I was there to “pick and plunder,” as he would say.

“Know anything about a granny doctor that used to roam around the Pea River Swamp?”

And off he went on the story about an ol’ woman who rode the swamp on a mule caring for the sick.

“At night, you could see her goin’ out through the trees,” Mr. Ovie said. “She’d light her way with a piece of fat-light’ard. You’d see the little flicker of light bouncing up and down and know she was on her way to do some good.”

“Was she real?”

“Real? She’s a-laying right up yonder in the cemetery,” he said, pointing in the direction of the church.

Miss Gertrude came out of her chair, screaming, “Lord, Lord, don’t be pointin’ up there, Ovie!” she yelled, jerking his pointer out the air. “You’ll be the next one a-laying there.”

“Just an old wives tale? Pa-sha!” Miss Gertrude said.

That’s the way my mind was working, sitting there listening to the fasola and poetry of those wonderful old hymns. Little did I know that on Sunday, another friend, another colorful character would be knowing “how beautiful heaven must be.”

“Old Rex” and I had been friends for a long time. I can remember when he would pick and sing and buck dance every time anybody struck up “Sally Gooden.” How many times over the years Rex would call and say, “Get on down here, I got something to show you” – things like the artificial flowers that were “growing” in buckets of dirt.

“Told you so,” he said with a big grin.

If I didn’t have time to stop in Henderson and visit, I’d blow the car horn and wave as I went by to the “mayor” and his cabinet sitting on the porch of the store. The next time my phone rang, it would be Rex, “How come you didn’t stop and smell the flowers?”

Old Rex always took time to stop and smell the “flowers,” even the plastic ones growing in the buckets at the “hang out” at Locklar’s Old Country Store Museum. Rex Locklar never got stuck and life didn’t pass him by. He lived life in living color.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger. Contact her at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.