October 1, 2019

Will we ever reach out and join hands again?

The noise threatens your nerves and your eardrums. Just listen and watch. Every day, the Left and the Right go to bed and wake up with a primary purpose: Attack the other side. If you ever catch a rare moment of silence, listen for something else.
It’s there.                    
Can’t you hear a ripping noise like a 3,000-mile piece of Velcro being yanked from the East Coast to the West Coast? The ideological fissure that separates Americans is growing wider and wider. And the chasm becomes a divide in our communities, too.
What got us to this divisive point is complex. I don’t have the solution, but I do have a suggestion. As a 10-year-old, playing in the forbidden railyard, I learned how to accomplish goals which were believed to be impossible.
In 1958, trains—on the way to Miami and New York—rumbled or raced through Jesup. Mothers warned us to stay away from the dangerous tracks. And we did, most of the time, except this one Saturday morning. We were behind Colvin Oil on the corner of Orange and South West Broad streets, 200 feet from NeSmith Funeral Home.

With our dungarees rolled up and Keds kicked off, we were clamping our bare toes on the almost-too-hot-to-touch rails and flapping our arms for balance. The contest was on. Who could walk the longest distance without falling off the track?
That’s when Joe pointed to me and challenged our buddies. He said, “Dink and I are going to walk from right here to the Jesup Stockyard and back without falling off.” When the laughing stopped, Joe said, “If we don’t do it, we’ll buy you Topp Colas at Daves’ First Street Grocery. But when we walk down there and back, y’all are going to buy Dink and me Topp Colas.”
The hee-hawing erupted again among the doubters. But Joe held his hand up to shush them. He said, “Get your nickels ready, because watch this. Dink, get over there on that rail.” Stepping onto the other rail, he said, “Stick out your hand.” I stuck out my hand. Joe stuck out his, and we latched onto each other.
Providing steadying support, we chugged from Colvin Oil and NeSmith Funeral, past Hodges Hardware, Littlefield Furniture, Collier Brothers, Strickland Feed Store, and Peede and Bramblett Cabinet Shop, before coasting into our destination, the Jesup Stockyard. Whirling around, we headed back. At the Orange Street crossing, we hung a left and trotted—barefoot—down to First Street and hung another left.
After Daves’ First Street Grocery’s screen door slammed behind us, we plunged our sweaty hands into the crushed-ice water of the drink box. The disbelievers paid for our toast to teamwork, as we guzzled 16 ounces of Topp Cola to celebrate. We had just accomplished something neither one of us could have done alone.
Topp Cola, once bottled in Savannah, isn’t around anymore. It was cheap, just a nickel. That was a good thing. And that morning, victory made it taste mighty fine. But most days, it tasted like carbonated cod-liver oil. When I look up from my desk, I see a Topp Cola bottle in the bookcase. It’s a reminder that joining hands—working together—is the best way to accomplish what others deem impossible.
One day, I hope America can get back to where joining hands—teamwork—is an acceptable way to resolve our nation’s needs. Otherwise, the troubling chasm just keeps getting deeper and wider.