November 25, 2020

Belated thanks for Tommy Gaines, Junior

            You don’t have to wait until a late-November Thursday to count your blessings but 

many of us do. Thanksgiving isn’t about turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce. I don’t need 

pumpkin pie or Black Friday deals to make me grateful. What I crave is a plateful of tranquility, 

spiced with laughter, miles from asphalt and hassle. 

             Give me the outdoors, surrounded by family and friends. By bedtime, I want to be exhausted from soaking up the simple life. If my clothes are flavored with campfire smoke, put another gold star by that day on the calendar. 

            Nine years ago, on a Thanksgiving morning­, I took a walk, a long trek, in the woods. Four little boys, their dads, their uncle and I kicked through the leaves. The camouflage clothing was comical. Stealth we weren’t. Squirrels were safe with all the commotion we were making. As we hiked and laughed, beneath the canopy of oaks, my thoughts kept zeroing in on the easy-to-take-for-granted gift of what we were doing—just walking. 

More than once, a chill cascaded over my Grandpa body. Except for a quick reaction and strong arms, I probably would not have been enjoying that moment and a half-century of adventures. Several times, I stopped, looked toward the heavens and mumbled.

Surely, my hunting gang wondered: “What’s Grandpa doing?” I’d waited until then to explain. I was saying, “Thank you, Lord, for Tommy Gaines Jr.” They need to know about Junior and what happened in the summer of 1961.

            Even though I was a wormy-looking 12-year-old, my long arms and legs made me a good candidate for handing sticks of tobacco on C.B. Cox’s Riverview Plantation in Mitchell County. Most of the time, I was handing to Junior, above me in a sweltering, dark barn. Sweat and dripping tobacco stung my eyes. Straddling the poles, I couldn’t shove the heavy sticks of green leaves fast enough for Junior.

            He had me by about six years and at least 100 pounds. With his chiseled physique, he looked like a linebacker, but Junior’s assignment was barn-crew leader. When I wasn’t handing tobacco up to him, I was poking sticks down to him. That’s what we were doing that morning.

Junior was standing in the bed of a green 1959 F-100 pickup. The boss was watching, so we were working in double-time steps. I had just handed Junior a stick when I pivoted to grab another. My Keds went out from under me on the wet, slick steel harvester deck. With my feet in the air and my head down, I gasped. There was no time for me to think or react.

With deft quickness, Junior spun, and plop! I landed in his ebony arms. Without his help, I would have crashed—crosswise—on side the Ford’s bed, snapping my scrawny backbone. Odds are I never would have walked again. Instead, Junior eased me to the ground and flashed a grin, saying, “Easy, Dank.”

             In 2020 C.B.’s older son, Cader, owns Riverview. Earlier, I had asked my friend to help track down Junior.  I wanted to say thanks, again. Oh, my. Tommy Gaines Jr. died about 25 years ago. Another lesson in why we shouldn’t delay expressing our appreciation.

            But, Junior, you have my promise and eternal gratitude.

             Every stroll that I take with our eight grandchildren, I will think of you. I hope you can hear our laughter. And when I bow my head each Thanksgiving, I will be giving thanks for simple plea­sures—things like a walk in the woods.