People see my “Hunker Down” byline and ask if I’m a Georgia Bulldog fan. Well, no. That is actually a whole ’nother way of hunkering. And I am certainly not entrenching myself into some kind of super defensive position in readiness to take on a mad neighbor or an insistent door to door life insurance salesman.
Once upon a time, way back before folks texted, emailed, instagramed, facebooked and/or tweeted, the older men in our community would squat down on their heels, drape their arms over their knees for a little balance and rock back a tad… and in very ordinary conversational tones discuss important things like the weather, crop rotation, hog prices and the time Lucy Johnson ran off with the International Harvester salesman from Paducah.
And they told stories. Boy howdy, did they ever tell some stories! It was a gentle way to pass the time when the world didn’t spin as fast as it does today.
A decent “hunkerer” could hold that position for hours; especially if someone had a narrative worth listening to. I was in awe of them. And they didn’t seem to mind a young teenager “sitting” down with them in what was usually a rough circle… as long as I didn’t say anything.
It was an education you couldn’t find in school.
If the conversation was really flowing, the tales - tall or otherwise - were so spellbinding time didn’t matter at all.
And that is what “hunker down” means to me.
I squatted with my mouth open as Mr. Grady Smith told us about the time his sister-in-law got into a fight with the foreman out at the Star Lumber Company. It had to do with how many board feet he had charged Grady’s brother. Didn’t nobody say nothing, but we all knew the brother wasn’t the sharpest tack in the box.
The sister-in-law demanded more wood or some money back. I leaned in when Mr. Grady got to the part where the sister-in-law was a mite bigger than the foreman. And, according to the storyteller, a whole lot meaner!
The foreman insisted the count was correct; the sister-in-law just as adamant that she had been shorted! Mr. Grady wasn’t sure if any blows had been landed but the big lady had both hands around the foreman’s throat and had lifted him off the ground when her husband showed up and “remembered” he had traded a few boards on the way home to Chester Galimore for a single tree harness and a plug of Brown Mule chewing tobacco!
They make a great deal today about “old time” front porch sitting. How family and neighbors would gather on the porch and enjoy an afternoon of talking and visiting. And it’s true. Since we didn’t have air conditioning, TV or internet, we didn’t have much cause to be inside…
But all the conversations didn’t take place on the porch.
The men of our town would hunker down up on the town square. I’ve seen them just off to the side of the loading chutes at the Tri County Stockyards. I’ve hunkered with them on the wood porch of the old icehouse. Those guys would hunt for a shade tree like a dog after a bone.
I’ve seen the talk so compelling the Camel cigarette would burn down almost to the stained fingers. The aforementioned Mr. Galimore would whittle as he rocked back and forth on his heels. Rufus Brown would punctuate the high points of his story by dropping a stream of chewing tobacco between his shoes.
I asked Mr. Pete Joyner once why we were so low to the ground, he said, “It’s safer if the shooting starts.”
It was never voiced aloud, but there was quite a bit of stock placed on who had the best story. They didn’t actually keep score… but I guarantee you, everyone knew the score!
Buck Martin’s tale about the run-away bulldozer down at the Milan Arsenal was a great one. As was Mr. Luther Purvis’ encounter with the bright light in his corn field. And the Dewayne Melton machine that printed one-hundred-dollar bills is a classic.
It never dawned on me that thirty years later someone would ask me to write down some stories. My first response was, “I don’t have any.” But then I got to thinking about Mr. Grady. Roy Manley. Mr. Purvis. Chandler King. And the list goes on and on…
All of my little blurbs are not exactly my own. I owe so much to so many.
Of course, I almost quit the business before I ever started. I was hunkered down and practicing a story alone in the backyard in 1960. I spit a rivulet of Warren County Twist between my knees like I’d seen the men do… and splattered tobacco juice all over my brand spanking new white Chuck Taylor All-Star basketball shoes…