A cardboard box. A practical joke. A shared laugh. That’s how our friendship began more than a quarter-century ago.
Our family was looking for a weekend playground. The wish list included acreage, an old farmhouse, a barn, pecan trees, a patch of woods, pastures for animals and frontage on Lake Hartwell.
One call to my real-estate-broker friend, Buck Chapman, and every box on the list was checked. I had never met the sellers—two sisters and a brother—who had inherited the small farm from their father, George Burns. Buck promised I would love them.
On closing day, I walked into Buck’s office with my attorney and a cardboard box. Following introductions, I slid the box to the center of the conference table and said, “I’ve never done this before, but I decided to pay in cash.” The siblings and their spouses glanced at each other and then looked at me, the stranger.
I nodded, as in “Go ahead, open it.” Somebody peeled back the top, and the laughter erupted. There were no bundles of greenbacks, just jars of Altamaha River swamp tupelo honey. Oh, a cashier’s check was in my coat pocket.
We were brand-new to the area, and we were eager to learn. Margaret Burns Craft and her husband, Pete, were our early go-to teachers. Margaret, along with her brother, Jimmy, and sister, Mary, had grown up on the farm. Pete said, “I’ve cut this grass my entire adult life. You want me to continue?”
And mowing on his John Deere and Snapper was just the start. Pete became more than just a next-door neighbor and friend, as did Margaret. We were absentee owners. They were our eyes, ears and first responders. If our motion-sensor flood lights flicked on, they were quick to investigate.
A week before Pete died, Pam and I sat in the Craft living room. Margaret was in her customary spot on the couch. Pete was in his chair. His voice was weak. Absent a miracle, he knew cancer might not let him see his 91stbirthday on April 20. And it did not.
But as we sat there, we had an opportunity to relive so many of our good times on Old Beacon Light Road. I remember the day Pete called my office. With a laugh, he asked, “Do you know that you have 100 animals with names, and they all expect to be fed every night?”
I believe Pete loved my wide-bodied mules as much as I did. Ruby and Rose were the start of the critter menagerie. Then came four goats that begat 71 more to join bantam chickens, Royal Palm turkeys, Belted Galloway cows, miniature donkeys, a horse, llamas and Great Pyrenees dogs. Rain or shine, our animals heard the whine of his four-wheeler. Religiously, Pete counted noses and checked the fences. He couldn’t have cared more if the 50 acres were his.
For the 20-plus years that we owned the farm, Pete was right there to assist and advise. The retired electrical engineer kept his tools, his know-how and his hands ready. Lord knows, Pete knew I needed help. And when we needed a courier for The Hartwell Sun, Pete was perfect for the task.
One summer, Pete, Margaret, Pam and I journeyed to Ohio Amish country. In Sugar Creek, we went to draft-horse team-driving school. We came away with new knowledge, but all those hours in the car reaffirmed what I already knew.
Pete Craft, a Korean War-era veteran, was a patriot. He was loyal to America, God, his family, his church, his community and his friends. Our introduction started with a practical joke, but what a “honey” of a friendship it became.
Buck was right.
We loved them all.