Heck yeah! Such was the RSVP I gave my father in response to his invitation to ride to town with him. The only thing sweeter to my five- year-old ears would have been, “The bream are biting; let’s go catch some,” or better, “Your mother and I have decided to send all your sisters to the convent.” The latter never happened, but I could still dream. I cherished the time I spent with Daddy.
He was a man of habits, manners and mannerisms. As he twisted the door knob with his left hand to walk into the house, his right hand rose in response to remove his cap. He never wore his cap in the house and certainly never at the dinner table.
“Well, good! Put on some fresh clothes and put a handkerchief in your back pocket.”
Those were also habits of his. He wore khakis everyday on the farm: Khaki pants, khaki shirt, and even a khaki cap. In this uniform, he showed no fear of dirt and grease. But, no matter how urgent his need to fetch a repair part in town, he always went by the house first, washed up and changed his clothes. He’d put on fresh khaki pants and a “sport shirt,” which was simply a shirt that was neither Sunday white nor work khaki. There was always a handkerchief in his back pocket, and he insisted I carry one, too.
Riding to town with Daddy was always fun. We’d ride in his pickup with the windows down, passing dozens and dozens of tenant houses along the way. I can recall as many as six country stores between our house and town. Today, there is scarcely a trace of their prior existence.
The stops in town might include the bank, parts house, International Harvester dealer and farm supply co-op. I remember the sights, sounds and smells of all of them and most of the nice folks who worked there. No matter where we went, Daddy was greeted as if he were a long lost friend.
The parts house was next door to the Crescent Theater. First, I’d walk over and admire the posters advertising the latest showing, and I’d wish I could go to the movies every night. Inside, the parts house was no less interesting. The packaging of the displayed products always caught my attention – products like Mack’s Stop Leak and the various anti-freeze and brake fluid cans, which were of such a rectangular shape that with the end cut out, I would have the perfect bailing can for the leaky old cypress bateau I paddled around the bayou.
The International Harvester dealership was neat, too. As much as I liked looking at all the shiny new implements, I was nervous prey there. In a separate office, behind a large glass window, sat a pretty secretary. She had no children of her own, and when I wasn’t stealthy enough to avoid her radar, she’d tear out of her office and charge at me, grabbing me, hugging and kissing on me, smearing red lipstick on my cheeks and stinking me up with her perfume.
She’d squat down to my level, her face too close to mine and gush and ask me questions and no matter how I answered, it was always the cutest thing she’d ever heard in all her life. Oh, how painful it was for a little boy!
Thirty years later, I stood in the farm supply store sipping coffee, talking with the manager, and waiting for the warehouseman to load my pickup truck. My five-year-old son Elliot sat at a nearby table, entertaining himself with the product brochures that lay about and randomly punching buttons on the DTN machine. I sensed the boy was getting restless, starting to squirm in his seat. His big brown cherub-like eyes had assumed a cautious squint. The secretary’s beautiful blond twenty-year-old sister had sat down at the table too and was flirting, making pretty eyes at him. I smiled. I pretended to glance at my list of errands.
“Big Man, we need to drop by the parts house next. Are you ready to go now?”
– Robert Royal, Midnight, Miss.