Looking back over the last few years, I guess there have been a lot of men and women that have been made to look bigger than life by the news media. Politicians, military, movie stars, scientists, sports figures, medicine, religion, education, musicians, business people and doctors, just to name a few. Many times when the media gets through praising these folks, we are led to believe they possibly will walk on water.
As a tree swinger growing up, there usually comes to mind a few leaders that somehow influenced each of us either directly, or indirectly. Maybe, at this particular time, they didn't know or even realize possibly what an impact each could have on our life. Sometimes though, the bad outweighed the good. Possibly, there was a teacher, coach, banker, businessman, farmer, or a preacher that influenced, to some degree, a country redneck, and most cases neither appreciated the event at this particular time. You certainly don't understand, it or at least I didn't.
Many times our parents or older friends would say to us, "I hope you turn out as well as he or she did, you ought to pattern yo'self after him or her."
As my Southern country brothers know, we are called 'easy goin' but we just don't like to have anything crammed down our craw. You might have better luck teaching a mule to yodel!
Occasionally, things just rub off on a person without them ever realizing it. A few of us had that good fortune, but we didn't see it at the time. We had the philosophers that sat on the front porch of Mr. Ben's store in downtown Rosemark and analyzed the daily situation. Yep, they made fun of us and our 'ig'nurnt' ways as kids growing up. We did get lucky once in a while.
The philosophers and intellectual sages usually consisted of Mr. Leon McCullough, Mr. Bright McFerrin, Mr. Harber, Mr. T. D. Wylie, Mr. Miller and a few more ambled by according to the weather, crops, feeding and gatherin'. No one wanted any work to interfere with the outlay and incubation of knowledge.
The philosophers would show us anything, and start coaching us a little, if we had a problem. They demonstrated how to sew a baseball 'til it was like brand new. Before, we had wrapped it with black tape and it would get mushy. One brought a long bone needle and demonstrated the art of restringing a leather baseball glove. We learned to use tacks and wrap black friction tape on a broken baseball bat to salvage it. We were taught to sharpen a knife with a razor edge 'cause we had to play mumble peg!
We would use Monkey brand cold patches for bicycle tubes and then souge (dip), checking them in the mule watering troughs for leaks. The genius of tightening bicycle spokes without warping the rim brought a smile to our faces. They'd put the magic touch on a slingshot and fine tune the red rubber tension so to shoot accurately. All the time these sages had our undivided attention, they would give a few lessons to follow in life. Not once do I remember any one of us gully jumpers ever interrupting or addressing them other than with a mister! Even the most cantankerous philosophers were shown respect, but it was for our own good.
Vivid memories return as we were constantly reminded to obey our parents. Stay out of mischief, as it was the devils' workshop. Often we were quizzed with, "Have you little boys said your prayers before bedtime?" Had we studied our Sunday school lesson? When you work for someone and they pay you, always do a good job. Most of the time, youngsters our age didn't want to hear this preaching, but coming from these older sages, we were very attentive. Maybe we didn't want to let them down. They really helped us, so out of respect, we always agreed.
The memories, help, character, respect, hardworking, teachings, caring and the foundation the senior citizens left on some country boys will never be forgotten. They are etched in our minds to this day, just how blessed we were to have known such great individuals. Heroes come in all sizes, shapes, forms and in the strangest of places.
My only regret today is I never had the opportunity to shake all their hands and tell them how much I appreciate their kind, yet strict words helping to mold and shape not only my life but my dear loved ones as well. Traditions in the wonderful South are a great memory....Glory!
Otis Griffin is the author of the book "Southern Raisin." He was born in Charleston, Tenn., and attended Rosemark Grammar School and Bolton High School.