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Southern Comfort is Good Neighbors

Southern Comfort isn’t just a drink

I am trying to find the best way to tell this story. People round these parts restore my faith in humanity. I guess it will be easiest to just start in the middle and talk my way out of this self-inflicted rabbit hole.

When I moved to North Carolina at the end of 2008 it was a comfortable culture shock. Shock because everything was new, and comfortable due to the fact that each and every person we met had an abundance of southern hospitality. Truth be told there was one rude idiot in a restaurant, but he was drunk and probably would regret it in the morning when his wife reminded him of his antics. He gets a pass. This was so very different from when I first moved to Florida in 1979. They looked at me like a carpetbagger. Even though I was bringing my new Brew-Thru drive through business to New Smyrna Beach, from Nags Head, NC, they instead locked onto my Ohio upbringing. What’s so funny is that the people dishing out the must guff were all transplants themselves. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and yes unfortunately former buckeyes.

It started with a realtor who arrange the rental. The introduction to the friendly folks I now call neighbors started with a very helpful Realtor, he got us a short-term rental with no lease, a completely furnished house, and they would even allow our two big dogs. And the rent was only $600 a month. The landlord lived next door and was always helpful, sometimes overly so. We needed to install a dish for cable… no problem, do what you need. He even allowed us to walk our dogs in an adjoining field with very little concern.

We were there about 6 weeks and the December weather was quite cold. Was had a gas furnace in Ohio for heat with a budget billing of $67 monthly, and here we had a heat pump. We paid the electric bill the first month and never gave it a second thought.

My wife would simply turn on the heat setting and we were comfy. As fate would have it, that little red light did not mean simply heat, but rather emergency heat. We spent most of the winter using the electric heating strips in the pipes, completely bypassing the heat pump itself.

Warm, dumb, and happy is expensive, the bill for one month was $537. When the landlord got the bill and showed us, he could not understand why it was so high, and we said we only used the heater. When he realized what he had failed to mention with the thermostat, he could not apologize enough, he never said you don’t leave the switch in that position, and he decided not to charge us at all which in essence meant he lost that last month's rent and he still gave us our full deposit back.

While we were waiting for our occupancy permit on new home, I unretired again by getting a job at the local Do it Best hardware store. Funny story here. When we first got to town, we were in need of temporary storage for our furniture heading here on an Atlas moving van. We saw the sign for storage at the hardware store and it was like déjà vu all over again because the last time I unretired was at the Do it Best Hardware in Canal Fulton while we were waiting for our house to sell. So being the comedian I am I put my Do it Best cap on and walked into the next 6 years of my life.

The first person I met was a character named Horace, and he said he’d be happy to rent us some storage as long as we needed. I got to talking with Horace, explaining that I got my hardware job in Ohio when We were getting a propane tank refilled and saw a sign for help waned. I was hired probably because I was tall enough to reach the higher shelves, and the current floor manage was a girl attempting and failing to reach 5 foot tall. So, what does Horace tell me? They just had a guy named Jeff quit and since Horace was also very tall, height was not the deciding factor, but at least they would not have to change the name on the locker.

Short story even longer, I got the job and made some lasting friendships and learned so much more about how to repair just about anything for yourself. I would strongly suggest young students work part time at an old fashioned, hardware, and learn skills for a lifetime. You get to meet people from all walks of life, and you know they are not window shopping.

Something broke or let loose and now they are needing your help, from talking them through water heater repair, or the correct fastener for some school project, to point me in the right direction and I’ll holler if I need help.

We sold seeds and got to meet all the gardeners in town, the amateurs chomping at the bit the first sign of warm weather, to the wiser folk who knew to wait until April 15th or at least Easter. The pros knew to go by ground temperature. Winter onions, lettuce and cabbage 40 degrees is alright but most vegetables needed 55-degree soil or better to thrive.

Another group of specialty customers were the country gentlemen, gathering at the store most weekend mornings, early enough to garner front of store standing room and discussing things seldom heard up north, and almost never in a big city. I once had the pleasure of meeting Harry Gant of racing fame, who refused to talk about his career but would gladly talk about everything else.

I once overheard him talking to one of his friends and they greeted each other by asking, “You got any more “57’s? You know they meant Chevy’s, right. Only in a small-town hardware.

So back to Horace who was the quintessential southern gentleman. Polite to a fault, smart as a whip, and knew where every item was in the store, right down to how far down the aisle, just count the floor tiles.

Horace and his wife Helen were truck people, tried and true. She had a four door Ford Ranger in pristine condition and only carried sunshine and wind in

the bed. Gotta keep it clean. Horace had a 2-door silver Ranger for his daily driver and a huge dually pick up 5th wheel for hauling their camper.

They loved camping, going as many times each season as they could, and their favorite haunt was Swannanoa KOA towards Ashville, NC. Horace liked the available fishing, and he was quite the Angler. He would take a bucket and folding lawn chair and park himself right at the beginning of the fishing trail and chat up the returning fishermen. Starting with “that’s some good-looking fish you got there, and closing with “do you really want to clean all of those?”. He claimed it worked almost every time and he would come back to their site proudly announcing his ability to always get some fish.

I’m not sure if they ate fish that often but I heard Horace on the phone every day checking in with the wife asking “what’s for dinner” to which Helen would always reply, “I’m not sure but I got the taters on”.

Horace is sadly missed passing in November of 2102.So in the following Spring when I needed to get another vehicle, Horace must have been thinking of me that day because I went to my Toyota dealer in Hickory and they had just taken in a pickup in trade and were inspecting it right now. Let’s see it please, and with of all the serendipity in the world it turned out to be a Silver Ford Ranger, just like Horace’s. I had to buy it, a one owner who did all servicing, even had radiator flushed with every oil change. I bought it immediately. And it really caused a stir seeing it parked at the hardware since he had only recently passed, some people thought he was back.

Just as a side story, Horace enjoyed his Ezra Brooks bourbon and frequented the local ABC store, and I swear my truck would give a little twitch, every-time I drove past.

I failed to mention the best part, Horace’s last name was Wade, and the bedliner of my truck is branded with the makers name…. Wade. Naturally, I had to buy it. When we purchased the land, they told us last year they only got ½” snow on three separate snow storms. Not this winter, come

January 2009, we got 7 inches overnight and my rear-wheel-drive Grand Marquis that would plow thru almost anything Ohio could throw at it got stuck 100 feet from the drive, blocking our narrow rural road. Another friend from the hardware store was out plowing driveways with his 4-wheel drive Toyota and when I called, he said he would be there shortly. So here I am standing out in the cold watching for any traffic, and sure enough he arrived shortly. Seeing me freezing he tells me I should have put a toboggan on my head. What a stupid idea! Trying to keep warm with a 7-foot wooden toboggan like I left in Ohio. Noticing the frown on my face, and me not wanting to insult my rescuer I played ignorant, to which he pointed to the knit cap on his head and said like one of these. Now I felt stupid and cold. Down here a toboggan is a hat. Who knew, well everybody except me.

Never left home without one, always kept one in my car. This old dog can learn new tricks.

I was blessed with some mighty fine neighbors. The kind that wave or honk each time they see you, and always ask if you need anything and actually mean it. One neighbor lives at the end of our road and his whole family will stop by occasionally to check if we need any help. Like with that 90-foot pine the storm last night knocked down. Sure enough next day they show up with chainsaw, trailer and that wonderful eagerness to help. They made short work of the tree, stacked up a safe burn pile, and hauled off some nice logs for them to burn. This is the same neighbor who regularly brings his tractor and grading attachments down the road to keep up with the country version of potholes. He even arranged for some much-needed crushed rock paving. His young son is following in his father's footsteps, truly a fine country gentleman himself even now, and he helps us on some of our more difficult projects. Gutter cleaning and other heavy lifting. His dad made time to haul our new tractor from Hickory so we donated our old John Deer L130 to help with his sons planned lawn business.

One of our favorite neighbors moved and yet we will always be neighbors. We still refer to the property as Deb’s house. My wife keeps in touch on Facebook, and I find it interesting that her friends actually use FB as a communication platform. Is anybody going to the latest local event, or what are the road conditions on Hwy 16 south… or keep an eye out for a lost pet. Life stuff and real recommendation for food well-made or a service done right. No malicious gossip, cause it ain’t polite and usually not true. It reflects what I’m trying to point out. People round these parts, had a proper fetching up. ‘Nuff said. Some people will comment that I haven’t met enough people because they ain’t all like that, to which I reply the good ignores the bad.

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