This is a column I wrote for the Jacksonville Daily News in 1996 from a collection compiled by my wife Roselee just before we got married in 1997. In those days I wrote often about growing up in Stokes County, especially during the summer months when childhood memories for me are strongest. And in those days there was a slim chance anyone from Danbury would see something published at the coast. So here’s a summer story about growing up in Danbury I altered a little because in this format I am allowed more words. First published on July 7, 1996.
When Bobby drove that old Ford pickup truck down the streets of Danbury folks tended to give it a wide berth. This was easily accomplished because few people lived there and road space was plentiful — at least on those days when court wasn’t in session in seat of government in Stokes County. Besides the truck, at top speed, could only do about 30 mph, meaning you could get out of the way with limited difficulty if the need arose.
It was a situation even the local authorities had little problem with.
This did not, however, include Bobby’s dog, which never perched easily in the back like most other Southern-bred canines — ears and tongue flapping the breeze like trousers on a clothesline.
No, Bobby’s dog ran alongside the truck. It did so with immense grace because it was born to glide along on Florida dog tracks for the pleasure of New Yorkers who might place bets on the outcome. It wasn’t a greyhound, although Bobby thought it was when he bought it. This was sometimes the outcome when Bobby was “on one,” as my father liked to say. When Bobby was “on one” he could muster up a powerful urge to buy most anything, including a greyhound that turned out to be a scrawny whippet too shot to race anything but that beat-up old Ford pickup truck.
And Bobby was “on one” every so often. He would take great pains to explain, particularly to young folks like myself — I was about 10 at the time — that he was definitely not a drunk. Fact is, he worked hard every day.
“I’m just ON a drunk,” he would say in a friendly sing-song cadence I now recognize as the unmistakable vernacular that usually accompanies long talks with Jim Bean, Jack Daniels, George Dickel and any number of other friends including the upright-standing Kentucky Gentleman or the familial Old Granddad.
But at age 10 I just thought he had a rather casual way of expressing himself. He would accompany speeches to “the boys” — as he called us, with curious little moves like shifting his prominently affixed sunglasses from the top of his head to his eyes then lifting them up and down rapidly for a few seconds in a strange game of peek-a-boo that made us all laugh.
Bobby and my dad shared an interest in random conversation, laughing, cards and having the occasional drink — most did in 1960s Danbury. Not much else to do there otherwise besides go the dump and shoot at grazing rodents. “There’s not one bit of harm in Bobby,” my dad liked to say, “even when he’s on one.”
So we were allowed but not really encouraged, to make Bobby’s acquaintance. He even let my brother drive that old Ford pickup truck a couple of times when he was only eight years old. “But don’t tell your mama, OK,” Bobby would say int he kind of tone only used in times of mammoth conspiracy.
He was our buddy.
So it was no real surprise when he called us all to his porch one summer morning when “the boys” were rambling about town. He wanted to make a grand announcement concerning his latest acquisition. “Boys, I bought me a red goat last night. It only cost $20. Can you believe it? You boys want to see it?”
How could we refuse.
We also knew that something was up. We overheard it over at the gas station where we stopped for a breakfast of B&G fried apple pies and Mountain Dew. It seemed that a few of the menfolk had invested in a little paint and tomfoolery. Apparently Bobby had been on a rip-roaring one.
We followed Bobby to his shed across the street where there was a rather confused-looking goat with mottled fur that was a shade of pink — like a healthy fingernail. Bobby shifted his eyes between the goat and us and finally scratched his head and sighed.
“Boys, I believe that goat’s done gone and faded on me.”