Fridays Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South
I was downtown Madison, Florida early yesterday morning. Well, early for me. It was about 8:30, and the store I wanted to go to didn't open until 9. Wanda and I do get up early, but our mornings start off kind of slow, and heck, it is getting chilly down here in the morning. I have been away from Minnesota for five years, and I'll admit it, I am a woos when it comes to cold now.
So, what is cold? Well, it used to be when it got below zero, but now if there is even a chance of frost and a hint of a breeze, I can feel it down to my bones. Of course I dress like I am in Florida, and I do know if I wait long enough, it is going to warm right up. I haven't had to get out a jacket yet this year, and I don't even have a winter coat anymore. Yes, we are spoiled down here.
Anyway, back to being downtown early. Wally, at the Madison Farmers Supply, is shutting his doors after 33 years in business. I got a letter telling me about this special sale he is having for only his "best" customers. Well, I wasn't the only best customer, as the downtown was filled with cars, and I had to park a block away. There was a mob of people in front of the store waiting for it to open. I could tell right off that there were more people than there was room in that store.
As I got as close as I could, I noticed that the people had formed some sort of a line. I also noticed a space on a park bench up against the building a couple of doors down from Wally's.
I took a spot on that bench and started listening to the conversations going on around me. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding the Southern dialect when people are talking fast, and a load of chew in a mouth makes it even harder, but what I came to realize is that the fellows near me were talking about Wally and what a fine fellow he is.
Two of these men claimed that they went to high school with him, and they accused the other guy of going to school with Wally's dad. They were having a good old time talking up a storm. They related a story about farm auctions, and how people wanted to avoid them because banks were forcing people off their place, but then they realized if they didn't go to the auction, and buy and bid, that poor farmer would get nothing for what he did own. So, they had come down to support their friend and buy some of Wally's stuff.
It took a while, but I did get into the conversation, and we talked politics, economics, farming, old trucks, land prices, and what Madison was like 40 years ago. Yes, we were there a while, and that line didn't seem to be getting any shorter.
I couldn't spend all day talking, so I headed home. I worked for a while and went back in the afternoon. Wouldn't you know it, those guys were still there. They had all walked down to the Post Office which was closed for Veterans Day, and they had a meal from the hotdog cart that sets up there. Right now Madison is hurting for restaurants with the closing of Shelby's. There are a couple of Mexican eateries and O'Neil's Buffet, but you can eat tacos only so often, and the buffet is packed now that Shelby closed her doors.
In Wally's letter to his customers, he said he was selling out all the stock and the store fixtures, too. I finally went in about 3 in the afternoon, and I couldn't tell that much had sold, but it had. Wally had tons of stuff. Everything you needed for gardening, lots of hardware, and sporting goods. When I finally got a chance to say hi, I mentioned that I met the guys he hired outside. He looked at me questioningly, and I said, "The guys who were saying nice things about you."
Wally likes to verbally spar with people, and he is pretty good at it, but Wanda got him last week when he called asking for the head of the house, and she said without a moment's hesitation, "You got her."
I looked around at all the things for sale, and spotted a nice small glass display case that looked to be from the 40s and told Wally to put my name on it. I'll go back and buy things that don't readily sell. I was looking at ammo, bags of mulch, and Kow Manure. Ah, that is a brand name.
The good ole boys I met outside were in when I was, and true to their word they were stocking up on all sorts of things they might or might not need. They sure seemed like the kind of guys you would want for friends, and I bet Wally has a lot of them.
I did notice when I was talking to them, they sounded like they had stepped out of a Hollywood movie, and they were the Southerners lined up in some run down bar. But if you listened to what they were saying, you could tell each of them was well informed and educated, either self-educated or formally educated. They all had an understanding of economics from being in business for themselves, and they explained to me just how the county was a mixture of Democrats locally and Republicans on the State and Federal level for elections.
Right off, they knew I wasn't from here, but they knew who I was. After all, Madison is a small town. They knew where I lived, who lived there before me, and who lived there before those people did. They knew my wife was from the South (That always helps), and they knew I was a veteran (That helps, too). They liked my fenced-in garden, my new shop, and the way we are keeping up the place.
I moved down here from a small town, so I knew ahead of time that whatever you do in a small rural area, everybody else knows it in no time at all. People drive by your place week after week, and if something changes, it pops into their eye, and then they start taking a closer look every time they go by.
I asked a guy down on the interstate with a used truck lot if I could put my old International in there for sale. I said I lived on a side road and not many people would see it. He said, "You got that gold and cream pickup out on Dusty Miller?" Maybe people do see it.
Well, I probably didn't get as much done yesterday as I could have, but I sure met some nice good old boys, learned a bit about where I live, and had a good time. You can't ask for much more than that.
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