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.