Nubbin Keith didn’t know it, but I walked down Cherry Street on Friday afternoon, with him on my mind. While I applaud the way our main street is reinventing itself, my stroll was one on memory lane—60 years ago. From the old First Federal Savings and Loan on the corner to the former Knight’s Drug Store by the alley, I paused to call up boyhood memories.
There was Bob Harrison Sr. sitting behind his banker’s desk. I could feel the first time Ralph Grantham slathered hot shaving cream on my neck in Jack’s Barber Shop. I could hear the wooden floors creaking in Mooney’s Department Store. I could see George Parrish, Carey Brannen, James Dent and Lonnie O’Quinn inside the American National Bank.
As a kid, I never scaled the staircase of the defunct Ingleside Hotel, but I knew Capp Cappelmann had an insurance office up there. I remember listening to records in Sara Few’s music store, wishing I could buy them. I could hear the admonishments of Big Dink and Margie: “We better never hear of you swapping salt and sugar in the shakers at Knight’s Drug Store.”
Yes, I know. I skipped Yeomans Shoe Store. I saved it until now. That’s where I met Nubbin. If Wayne County ever creates a Sales Hall of Fame, Nubbin should be in the charter class. He got his start selling shoes for Herman Yeomans. Today, technology does not stand still. With each rising sun, there’s wave after wave of gee-whiz advancements. However, few impress me more than the magic Nubbin performed. “Step right here,” he said. “Stick your foot in there.” Peeking in the screen, I could see my toes inside the shoe.” “Yep,” Nubbin said. “That’s the size you need.” The next “magic” Nubbin performed for me was to trade up our living quarters from a 480-square-foot mobile home to something to also hold mine and Pam’s first child. Nubbin took us to the original George Weinstein house on Park Lane. Mrs. Ira Spell said, “We are asking $34,000. But for you, we’ll take $31,000.” I thanked her and said to Nubbin, “The payments would have to be $300 per month. Goodness, we can’t afford that.”
I can still see Nubbin—behind the wheel of his beige Pontiac station wagon—leaning over and saying, “I’ve got something else in mind.” That’s when he waved his magic wand over 256 S. Brunswick St. For $14,400, we moved in, with a monthly mortgage of $98.49. By the time our third child was on the way, Nubbin found us the next house, on the corner of Ninth and Newcastle.
Those memories scrolled past, as I peered into what was once Yeomans Shoe Store. Walking away, I thought, “There’s another hall of fame for Nubbin.” His fishing-pole skills were legendary. Growing up, I heard people say, “Nubbin could catch a string of bream fishing in his bathtub.” That’s a stretch, but he was that good.
In 1949, when Dr. Lanier Harrell was coaching, his scrappy B-team quarterback was Nubbin Keith. And we should never forget the fisherman who survived, after tumbling into the Altamaha River and having his foot severed by an outboard’s angry prop. Scrappy Nubbin climbed back in his boat to wet a hook another day. If there’s a fishing hole in heaven, Nubbin’s found it.
Growing up in South Georgia, I can attest: “Boys will get a nickname.” I asked Nubbin how he got his. “Walking home from school,” he said, “we always passed a cornfield. Other boys would break corn cobs and throw the ‘nubbins’ at me.”
The nickname stuck, and so will the memories of Nubbin Keith.