It is good to finally be home and in Lowndes County and to be here during this time of the year is wonderful. We are enjoying visiting with family and friends and eating some great food. Please stop by our booth at the Honeybee Festival and say hello. Also, please don’t forget the book signing at Frogtown Wineries on October 8th at 7:00 PM. I look forward to see you at one or the other, or both.
Have you ever wondered what a person’s mental health is worth? It is a strange question, isn’t it? For me, there was an answer. In the summer of 1968 I was eleven years old, and I later discovered that my mental health was worth approximately fifteen thousand dollars.
My parents bought the store at 303 Main Street when I was two years old. El Carrisal is now located in this building. They purchased it and the house connected to it from an older gentleman named Brooks. Mr. Brooks sold the business to them and returned to his hometown of Sylvester. We moved from the farm where we were living at the south end of Hahira into town.
When we moved into town and the house and store on Main Street, my mother was concerned about two things. She did not like that the store was on the main street and was always worried that I would lose a ball or toy in the street and be hit by a car. The second was the small goldfish pond that Mr. Brooks had put in behind the house.
The problem of the street was corrected by spankings and strong warnings not to go into the street. I would stand on the sidewalk and cry if I lost a ball or toy and waited for someone to help me. The goldfish pond was filled in with dirt and blocks. Two years later my brother Jon was born, and I was in charge of making sure he did not go into the street.
When I was five, my dad began construction on a small hamburger and ice-cream shop at the far end of the residence. My Uncle Buren built the small block structure, and it became Junior’s Dairy and Burger Bar. My brother Junior operated it, and he sold burgers and soft-serve ice cream. The shop paid my brother’s way through college at VSC. The new construction took up part of our residence, so we moved to a small house on Weaver Street.
We stayed in the small house on Weaver Street for a year and then Daddy purchased the L.M. Stanfill house on Railroad Street from Mr. Grady Darby. The Darbys had purchased the house from the Stanfill estate many years before, and many people referred to it as “The Darby House.” The house was huge, and my young imagination ran wild with ideas of the old Victorian house being haunted. I would make up stories of mysterious ghosts and strangers coming from the train as it passed through Hahira. I would read these stories to my classmates at Hahira Elementary. I guess this was my first attempt at being an author.
Daddy’s business continue to grow, and he extended the front of his grocery to join up with the Dairy Bar and turned the grocery into a small supermarket. Except for the color, the building looks the same now as it did in 1968.
In the summer of 1968 the tobacco market was in town, and scores of people packed Hahira. Sometimes the warehouses did not have all their receipts tallied until after three in the afternoon. Since the banks closed at three many farmers would have to come back to town the next day to have their checks cashed but Daddy offered a solution to this. He started to keep around twenty thousand dollars in his store to help the farmers cash these late checks. Many would buy groceries after he cashed their checks, and it was a win-win for both parties. Daddy kept the cash hid in the store and left it there overnight.
Daddy was an early riser. He was always up by five and would open the store at six AM. One morning he went to open the store only to discover that someone had already opened the store for him. The lock on the front door was broken. He rushed into the store only to discover that the stash of money was gone, approximately fifteen thousand dollars. Sitting in a bubble gum box to one side was a turpentine hack. A turpentine hack was a large tool used to scar the face of slash pines so they would bleed turpentine rosin. Daddy recognized the tool immediately. He had seen it in the back of a truck weeks earlier, he also knew the owner of the tool. The same man had been at Daddy’s store the previous three nights when daddy was closing and had only come in to buy a Coke.
Daddy was not sure what to do. He stood out front and sent the first customer of the morning to the house to tell Mama to come to the store. She showed up a few minutes later. When I rode my bike to the store later that morning, the store was covered with Sheriff’s deputies and GBI agents. Fingerprint dust was everywhere. Daddy gave them the turpentine hack, and they asked if he knew the owner. Daddy told them no. He was not one-hundred percent sure of his suspicions, so he chose to remain silent rather than cause problems. Daddy was the kind of man who believed in a simple philosophy of dealing with people. He called it “pass and repass” while others might say “live and let live.”
I was eleven and had a wild imagination and a fondness for mystery novels. I rode my bicycle all over town trying to “solve the crime.” At two the following morning I was in bed but still awake. The train passed in front of our house and was dropping cars on the rail spur down near Hahira Hardware. The train would chug, chug, chug and pull forward. Then back up and the couplers would engage a car and pull it forward. The summer heat, the drone of the small oscillating fan, the events of the day and the noise of the train pulling forward and backing up for what seemed like hours pushed my eleven-year-old brain beyond the point of insanity. My mind snapped into a full-blown manic attack, nightmares started with my eyes open. The monsters would not go away. I had lost my mind.
I went to my parent’s bedroom and stood at the foot of their bed and talked gibberish. They both got up and tried to calm me down. For the next year, I slept in their room. I would close my eyes, and the nightmares would begin. They would take turns sitting up with me at night. In whispered tones, they would discuss what should be done. They consulted Dr. Parrott.
A year later Daddy sold the inventory in the store and rented the building to George and Jimmy Fiveash. My parents retired, and we all stayed at home. We went fishing; we picked mayhaws, Mama put up jelly and baked jelly cakes. I healed, but the year scarred my mind. Years later, they told me the most of the story and how close they came to having me committed and how their early retirement was an effort to save me. Two years later I was better, and Daddy bought Weaver’s Seed and Feed and he was back in business.
The people who broke into the store were never arrested. Years later my dad told me the name of the two people involved.
Those events of that summer day left me scarred. Years later I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, and I struggle with mental health issues to this day but thankfully I have them under control. It affected everything in my adult life–jobs, marriages, interpersonal relationships. It also helped my imagination to flourish, and I have drawn on this craziness and quirkiness to help me write.
The other side of this illness is depression which is a different matter. Nothing happens when I am on the “dark side of the moon.” The depression leaves me debilitated and bedridden. Fortunately, the days of manic highs and depressive lows are behind me. Sometimes they will begin to rear their ugly head but I have learned ways to control them.
And after all these years I am still haunted by nightmares. If I become tired or stressed, it will trigger them. I close my eyes and breathe and think of Mama or Daddy’s hand on my back, whispering to me and saying, “Hush now, it’s gonna be okay. We’re here with you.”
Most of you may remember my parents as hard working business people but in 1969 they made a sacrifice for the sake of their crazy son, a sacrifice I will never forget.