I am on the phone with Jack. He’s another tree grower from Matthews, Alabama. Jack and I have been picking at each other for over 15 years. Every phone call is about trees, but never just about trees. I pick on Alabama. He picks on Georgia. And there’s pretty much nothing I wouldn’t try to do to help the guy if he needed me.
“Hey. Is this the Georgia Cracker?” Jack can never just say hello.
We talk about Tulip Poplars, Sycamores, Elms, Oaks and Maples. There’s one tree I don’t have right now. So, I come up with an offer.
“I’ve got a buddy just up the road a ways who might have that one. I can call and check for you.”
Jack is more interested in geography. “Now look here. I have to drive over and pick up these trees. And when a fella from Georgia says ‘up the road a ways’ I have to wonder what that might mean. Are we talking about 20 miles, 50 miles, or 100 miles? Just ‘cause I’m from Alabama don’t mean you can pull a fast one on me.”
“Don’t get your drawers all up in knot. I’d say it’s about 35 miles and half of that is interstate. It’ll be easy.”
I had a friend tell me once that the difference between a little ways and a fur piece was about ten counties wide. While some of the world might not have a clue what that means, it makes perfect sense to me. When traveling a little ways, you can usually be back in about an hour or two. No need to pack a lunch or worry about where to find a gas station on the way.
When traveling a fur piece, that means if you leave now you might make it back by supper but take some peanut butter crackers and a Coke just in case. It’s not so far that you need a map to get there, but once there you might have to stop and ask for directions because you don’t really know your way around. Which any male worth a plug nickel wouldn’t do for at least the first hour of trying to find where he’s going own his own.
There is a middle point between a little ways and a fur piece. It’s called not that far. No one knows exactly how many miles that represents. Over and back in a piece of a day is probably doable. It’s close enough that you might have a cousin or an old college buddy who lives there, but far enough away that if you went into the Piggly Wiggly you wouldn’t know a soul. But familiar enough that the teenager at the cash register would still call you ‘Hun’ though you’re old enough to be her grandfather. It’s far, but not that far.
I asked Beth where the scissors were the other night. In classic form, she pointed and said, “over yonder.” This is another rudimentary means of help for those who are directionally challenged.
Over yonder can be just about anywhere. It can be on the kitchen table in the next room. It can be a half mile away on top of the hill right before you start down into the valley.
In extreme cases when you draw an absolute blank, and your brain cells go numb and you can’t remember the name of the town where your Aunt Bessie lives out in Oklahoma, out yonder, which is similar to over yonder, can be understood as a reference to anywhere 500 miles west of here.
The thing about giving good directions is that success relies more on giving good landmarks rather than confusing road names. Even though we might know the number of the state highway or the name of the county road, we choose not to use them. We use barns and rocks and churches and Oaks for telling folks how to get somewhere.
Melton was riding his Cub tractor down by the road. He not only mows his own yard, but he mows the road edges up and down, both sides of the road for about a quarter mile. He thinks it makes his place look more civilized. A car pulled off onto the shoulder ahead of him with the window rolled down. A middle-aged woman with red fingernail polish and what looked to Melton to be a pearl neckless, leaned out the window and waived him down.
“Excuse me. Can you tell us how to get to Hainesville? I think we’re lost.”
Melton reassured them. “Oh, you’re not lost. I know exactly where you are. It’s just down the road a piece. Just keep going right out this away for a little while. After you cross over the second bridge, look for the wooden fence on your left. At the ed of the fence there’s an old barn with a See Rock City sign painted on it. You’re gonna wanna turn left just past that barn, and that’ll take you right into town.”
They thanked Melton. He was rather proud of being neighborly until after two more rounds on his mower he remembered the old barn got blown away in the tornado back in 1992. It was still there in his mind, just not in present reality. He hoped they found Hainesville.
So, I called Jack to tell him I had found the Elm trees he needed.
“Steve says to tell you that he ain’t hard to find.”
“Not as long as you ain’t got me on a wild goose chase up near the Tennessee line.”
I couldn’t resist. “Naw. I can draw you a map if you need one. Once you get into Luthersville, there ain’t but one traffic light. Go straight on through and out the county road. You’ll see a school on your right. Steve’s place is over yonder off the Strickland Town road just past the greenhouses that got torn down about 10 years ago. When you see the hog wire fence on your left, Steve’s gate is the next gravel road on your left.”
Jack seems relieved. “Well, why didn’t you tell me that in the first place. I know exactly where I’m going now. Over Yonder.”
Y’all be safe out there. If you ever decide you wanna come visit, it’s not far. Just turn left before you get to that little white Methodist church on your right. If you get to that, you’ve gone too far. See you in a bit.