My father never wanted me to turn out like him. He sold country sausage to country people in country stores while listening to country music. I went with him now and then. It was a country education.
I saw an old woman in Alabama chase down a runaway car, jumping on it like a stuntman, crawling through the window and slamming the brake with her hand while her feet flailed out the driver’s window.
I met a butcher in Tennessee who sang so much like Hank Williams it scared customers. He could yodel like a mule struck by lightning too. That is talent.
We met a 100 year-old woman selling baked goods at a little shed of a store in northern Georgia. Her peach tarts could slow down a mouthy politician. But that is not why I remember her. She had webbed fingers. A young boy remembers things like that. Webbed fingers and peach tarts.
We traveled all around the South at a time of great upheaval and unrest and cruelty and harsh words and hatred. But we saw a lot of love too. Sometimes that part just happened as he drove and talked about when he grew up picking cotton and I listened trying to imagine a dirt floor shack and no shoes and a cow so precious my grandparents brought her in the house at night to keep people from stealing milk. He was a storyteller.
All these years later, after eventually graduating from a school that let me stay long enough to wear the square hat and a robe, I ended up doing pretty much the same thing as he did. And now I am a MoonPie salesman.
But my education did not happen in all those classrooms. It happened on the road. Out in the country. There were tests, most definitely, but a lot more was at stake than a grade. Now if you’ll excuse me, a little store up on the left there is calling my name. I’m told a cashier there is a gator wrestler. The store is next to a swamp. She goes out during lunch sometimes and practices, so they say. I have to see it to believe it. Just more education on the road.