Going up? Going down? Going to dinner?

Published 3:00 am Saturday, March 12, 2016

When my granddaddy ran for road commissioner in Pike County, I was either in diapers – cloth diapers – or not born yet.

What I remember about his term of office was the big rough-wood county house in my grandparents’ back yard. It was yea-wide with three sides and a red clay floor.

It had a tin roof and housed all of the road equipment for which Pop was responsible. On one end of the county house was a wood grease rack high enough and strong enough to accommodate the big equipment that needed greasing or off-the-ground work.

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Mama ran in the county house and crawled under one of big yellow dump trucks with me in tow when a cyclone was sighted. That, and the fun of playing in the county house and on the grease rack were my introductions to county politics.

But my introduction to county politics doesn’t hold a candle to Pop’s big time introduction.

He went all the way to Birmingham to a road commissioner’s convention. My grandmother had spent days starching and ironing his pants and white dress shirts for the trip. Suits weren’t required and that was good. Pop wouldn’t have to wear his funeral suit. Anyhow, he looked his best in khaki pants and a white shirt dress shirt.

All the road commissioners were staying in a fancy hotel with elevators that took you up and down the floors and a big banquet room with tables with white tablecloths, cloth napkins and flowers in the middle. Pop would tell us all about everything when he got home.

Now, just want happened that gave us a story to pass down for generations, I’m not sure.

But, Pop got all dressed up in his khaki pants, white dress shirt and brand new tie.  His shoes had been polished by the shoeshine boy out on the city street. His pocket watch was wound and he got in the elevator to go down the fancy banquet room.

Back then, the elevators had operators, “Going up?” or “Going Down?” So, years later, we figured Pop must have, some way, gotten in a service elevator. He was the only one in there and the door closed. He went down. The door open and he got out.

Pop found himself in a pitch-dark place. He could hear a loud, clanking noise and he realized the noise was that of a coal-fired boiler.

He was down in the hotel’s big boiler room.

He couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. He couldn’t get back in what he had gotten out of so he just felt himself around the boiler room. He stumbled. He bumped and thumped. He felt all along the wall until he finally found a latch to a door and a way out. The stairwell was steep and narrow and low so he crawled on his hands and knees until he could see a faint light under a door to freedom. He crouched, found the doorknob and pushed open the door. He came stooping out — right out in the big banquet room filled with important people.

He stood to his to 6-foot, five-inch, 250-pound frame. He was covered from head to foot in black soot except for the white of his eyes.

A loud, collective gasp filled the banquet hall.

“What did you do, Pop? What did you do?”

“Well, I didn’t stay for dinner.”