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Sunday, April 17, 2011

OLD-TIME HILLBILLIES

osborne homeplace



Driving up to the stop sign on Wolf Branch Rd at Mahogany Rock Rd, I saw on the right a house I hadn't seen in a very long time due to foliage grown up around it. In my very first years here, late 1970s, a couple of old Osborne brothers lived there, John and Dewey. I'd never seen Dewey, as far as I knew. Maybe once at a glance, maybe drugstore parking lot--no recollection where or when. I'd heard people tell about him that when he came back from Korea he wasn't right. His brother John stayed there with him, both in their 70s or 80s then. John I saw around town a good bit in a 56 Chevy, one of those old boys you don't want to get behind on a road with no passing lanes. In that time there were several old men around the county living mostly alone on the old homeplace after everybody else was gone; parents to the grave, sisters and brothers to the cities. There are still plenty of them scattered around the county, the next generation. Old man John wasn't right either, but he could get around pretty well.



Two old boys I drove to church for several years, Sherman Scott and Bert Holloway, were neither one of them "right," but they could get about and do their business. Sherman drove a red-belly Ford tractor to town with a box fixed to the back to carry groceries, and not a very big box. Lines of cars half a mile long would follow him in and out of town. You can drive a tractor without a license in NC, or could then. Bert didn't drive. He'd ask people he knew for rides. One time I was in Food Lion and saw him walking around in the store like he was looking for somebody. At the checkout counter he saw me, someone he knew, and asked me to drive him to his house. Of course. Men of his generation told me he was mean, he'd fight ye. They said when he fought, when they was kids, he'd take a board to ye, anything. Nobody picked a fight with Bert, because he went full-tilt wild man aiming to create some pain. He was the one to pick fights. Make him mad, he'd lay into ye. I only knew Bert as an old character who talked about girlfriends and money all the time. He lived in a little cinderblock cottage in Pine Swamp, inside the bend in Pine Swamp Rd where Fraser Rd comes into it.



Sherman Scott lived in Pine Swamp too just off of Bullhead Rd in the one bend in the paved part of the road. His farm is now divided up into tracts with houses on them. I can't even make out the landscape there any more it is so radically different. He lived in a little house he lived in with his mother and dad, Charity and Jim. Sherman lived in one room, like old man Tom up the road from me. Sherman grew up here at Air Bellows on what is now the Willis land, then known as the Jim Scott place. He was a slow kid who took to math. He grew up among a rough bunch of boys, between the Pruitts and the Caudills. He went to school in my house, which was then the Air Bellows schoolhouse. Then, the house was located a couple hundred yards to the west of where it is now, in the place that served as the loading pen for Stern's(Caudill's) farm. The driveway to Jim Scott's house went by the schoolhouse.



Sherman and Bert in the seat of my pickup riding to church and back was a good time for me. They were so funny that when they made me laugh, it made them laugh. In a stretch of the imagination way they brought to mind Laurel and Hardy from the slapstick early movies I saw on tv as a kid when tv was new. Goofy is what they were, but also good people, good as gold people. They made me happy I was able to allow people who weren't quite right into my life. I didn't see them as not right. I saw them as people just like the rest of us with a little twist in the mind that makes their reality a little bit different from ours, but not much. I'd rather wash feet in church with one of them, which I have done several times, than just about anybody else. I didn't realize it at the time, but washing feet with someone in an old-time Regular Baptist way makes a spiritual bond that never goes away. Driving Sherman home from church after washing feet was a good drive. The best part was that Sherman was the only individual in the house whose feet needed washing. A truly humble man.



It may have been around 1980, in the time when Lowe's was located in the parking lot and county jail lot behind the courthouse. I was approaching the stop sign on the street that ran between the two at Hwy 18. Old man John Osborne spoke to me through the side window, his car parked in the space behind the courthouse, and asked me to help him out. His car, the 56 Chevy, wouldn't run, he couldn't get it going, the battery was dead, he didn't have any money to get it fixed. I thought if he wanted a ride home, I'd take him. He wanted me to tow his car behind my truck with a chain. He had the chain. I saw the road between there and his house in my mind's eye, and by the time we arrived, the front of his Chevy would be bashed so bad the radiator would be in the fan, and probably tear off my back bumper. I couldn't see that done without incident, the Chevy handled by a really good driver.



A tow bar is what was needed and I wasn't equipped. I offered to give him a ride home. No, he needed to get his car home. We parted and I figure he made it home somehow. He was at home in Sparta. A lot of people knew him, ones who really could help him out. As he was one of the people God takes care of, I turned him back over to God. Next time I drove Mahogany Rock Rd his car was parked at the house. It looked abandoned when they lived in it, but for the car. I was curious to see the interior, as I knew it would be looking way back in time, but never enough to knock on the door. Eventually, I heard Dewey died, and they might have put John in a nursing home, because I never saw or heard of him again. The house has been so surrounded by growth for at least the 35 years I've seen the place, thicker all the time, I've never really had a good look at the house. I drove up on it Thursday looking naked. Remembering Jr when his mind was gone, the time a hospice nurse was bathing him in his wheelchair, he said, "I'm ashamed." I saw that little old house of another time standing alone on its barren ground, being dismantled, exposed, ashamed.



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