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My Personal Philosopher

April 28, 2008

When Clare and I returned to Spartanburg in 1980, we moved into the home that my grandmother and grandfather built after The Great Depression in 1937.  Soon afterwards, I met the man who would become my personal philosopher.

David lived on the King Line behind the old stockyard, located not far from our home. Though crippled up with arthritis, he would walk from his home past our house on his way to the lumberyard.  There he purchased his daily Coca-Cola.

David could barely walk. His feet were so gnarled that they hurt constantly.  His gait was more like a shuffle.

In those days, in order to get to the lumberyard, he had to pass a mini-mart.  I asked him why he didn’t just go there to buy the Coke.  He said, “At the mini-mart, it costs thirty-five cents.  At the lumberyard, it costs a quarter. No need wasting money.”

Though every step was painful, David walked twice as far just to save a dime.

Often David would stop at my house, sit in a rocking chair on my front porch to enjoy his Coca-Cola, and then shuffle on to his home.  Many mornings I would take my mug of coffee and join David on the porch with. Those were the times when I received my philosophy lesson.

In his starched and pressed khaki pants, David was always as neat as a pin.  One February morning, his knees were covered with mud.

I asked, “David, what in the world have you been doin’ this early in the mornin’?”

“Yesterday, I put in my English peas.”

David grew some of the best vegetables in some of the reddest clay in Spartanburg County. He planted according to the astrological signs.

“David, why are your pants so muddy?”

“Got up early. Dug up all the seeds.”


“My daughter was readin’ the Old  Almanac. She tol’ me I put in my peas on the wrong sign. So, I dug’em all up this mornin’ before daylight.”

“Did you find ‘em all?”

“Found all but four.”

He pulled a paper bag from his pocket with the seeds. He had planted three rows of English peas the day before.

“When’s the right time to plant English peas?”


“Will one day make a difference?”

“Yes, suh. My daddy always planted by the signs, and he always made a crop. I do the same.”

David was quite a gardener.

David and I were standing in my garden late one summer day. My wife brought each of us a cup of ice water.  At the time, Clare was pregnant with our daughter Betsy. As Clare walked toward the garden, obviously an expectant mother, David said to me, “Don’t you let her come in this garden!”

“Why, David?”

“You let a woman with child come in the garden, and every watermelon and cantaloupe will bust wide open.”

Clare had no intention of coming into the garden.  She handed our ice water over the fence.

David always kept a saltshaker with him in the summertime. Occasionally, he removed his old stained hat and sprinkled a little salt in his hair. He said the application of salt kept him from passing out.

I do not know whether that works or not.  David never passed out, and I saw him sprinkle a good bit of salt in his hair.

David was quite a churchman. He loved going to church. He especially enjoyed singing in the choir.  On Monday mornings, he would give me a report from the Sunday services.

One Monday we were having our early morning porch visit.

“Church was extra good yesterday.”

“What was good about it?”

“We had good singin’.”  David always bragged on the choir.

“How was the preachin’?”

“Preachin’ was good.”

“What’d the pastor preach about?”

“Well, he preached about sin.”

“What did he have to say about sin?”

“He’s agin’ it!”

“What kind of sin did he talk about, David?”

“He talked about gamblin’.  He talked about drinkin’.  He talked about smokin’.”

“David, did he say that smokin’ is a sin?”

“Yes, suh.”

David dipped snuff.  He almost always had tobacco tucked in his lower lip.

“David, did the preacher say anything about dippin’ snuff.”

“No suh.  He didn’t say a thing about dippin’.”

“David, is it a sin to dip snuff?”

“No, suh.”

“It’s a sin to smoke, but not a sin to dip snuff?”

“That’s right.”

“Why’s that?  How can smokin’ be a sin, but dippin’ snuff is not a sin?”

He said, “It’s a sin to burn up anything that tastes that good!”

David’s church built a new sanctuary. He invited me to come to the dedication. My dad and I went together to the Sunday afternoon service, all three hours of it.

David sang in the choir. Several preachers held forth.  The building was thoroughly dedicated.

After the service, David showed us around the church he took so much pride in.  He explained that the church didn’t have stained glass windows. I will never forget the way that he expressed it.

“We don’t have none of them windows with people on ’em that the light shines through.”

What a phrase!  “People that the light shines through.”

When you know people like David, you don’t need stained glass windows.  David was the kind of person that the light shined through.

-Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, April 2008

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