Friday, April 8, 2011

Sweet and Strong

Last weekend as my grandson Logan and I explored Hatcher Garden and Reserve in Spartanburg, SC, I thought about his namesake, my mom's dad, John Frank Logan whose last name became my middle name and Logan's first name. Watching Logan climb up and down the banks of creeks that flow through the reserve having temporarily suspended his obsession with clean clothes, I remembered my granddad taking me fishing at the mill pond in Chesnee and how I'd instantly lost my fear of worms and all things slimy.

My Daddy John was bigger than life, and for me at nine, everyone else was small by comparison. Daddy John died when I was ten. He was just a year older than I am now. On Sunday morning, I woke up still thinking about him and wrote the following.

Sweet and Strong
His right hand reached absently for the breast pocket of his freshly-pressed mechanic-blue work-shirt his fingers seeking the omnipresent pack of unfiltered Camels and then retreating as they found nothing but the rigid texture of six-ounce twill. He sighed, pushed up his glasses and continued reading the Cherokee County Tribune.

Another mill closing… Third one this year… This time in Gaston… Seemed that all the clothing companies were moving production to asia and there was nothing anyone could do about it. The future for the piedmont looked bleak. But then again, it looked even bleaker for him.

He turned towards the smell of coffee that Thelma was brewing in the kitchen and before he could call out to her noticed that she'd already set a cup next to him. He lifted it carefully and paused to bask in the warm aroma as he passed it under his nose. Just as he liked it, light, sweet and strong.

He sipped slowly and then swirled the potion around his tongue and mouth providing ample opportunity for all his taste buds to participate before letting it roll down his throat like salve flowing over a fresh wound.

In 1920, no one had known that cigarette smoking caused cancer. He was twelve then and his uncle Henry, an MD with poor eye-sight, had hired him to drive him around on house calls. Henry had paid him forty-cents an hour to ferry him across Spartanburg and Cherokee counties, but mainly to sit in the car and wait. To occupy the time waiting, he'd taken up smoking.

He'd started with cheap cigarettes, like Wings and American Spirit. You could purchase two packs for just fifteen cents. Then one day, walking into Riley's General Store, he'd seen an ad for Camels. Reading about the expert blend of choice Turkish and choice Domestic tobaccos and the wonderful smooth satisfying mildness, he'd decided that even at twenty-five cents a pack, Camels were for him. Besides, what was a twelve-year old making sixteen dollars a week gonna spend his money on in Chesnee, South Carolina.

Forty-three years later, they'd taken his Camels away along with the left half of his lungs.

He stared blankly at the paper and thought about the future, about his kids Betty, Ola May and Johnny, about the mill and the new foreman they'd brought in from Raleigh when he'd got sick. He sipped his coffee and thought of Thelma, how they were alike, the coffee and her, both of them sweet and strong.

He smiled and closed his eyes.

Happy Friday,


  1. Stellar writing, my friend. Your grandfather lives on so vividly in this piece ... thanks for sharing him with us. xx

  2. QuinnMama,
    Thank you for your inspiration and guidance.
    You are a miracle in my life.
    Love, Teflon


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