Uncle Floy

My good friend, Jan, recently posted a picture of her Uncle Floy Turnipseed. It seems like everybody in Hampton knew Floy. My dad spoke of him often. It’s a hard name to forget. The kind of name that captures a boy’s imagination.

I always thought of the turnips in our garden and wondered why anyone would be named after a baseball sized root.

Uncle Floy is kneeling upright on the ground, both knees in the grass. His bird dog is standing right up against him. A short-haired pointer, white with brown ears and a brown saddle patch. This 1957 photo is black & white, so I’m guessing at the color, but he looks just like a long list of other good bird dogs I’ve seen in my time.

Floy’s right arm is placed over the dog’s back, his hand resting just forward of the dog’s right-side haunches. I wish I knew the dog’s name. I’ll call him Patch because it fits. Patch is standing on all fours in a slight lean because he is pressed right up against Floy’s bibbed overalls. He is squinting at something off in the distance, his head held high. He appears to be dreaming of quail.

I get the idea that these two are pals. Best of friends. The old man seeing to it that Patch has plenty to eat. The dog seeing to it that Floy has plenty of good company.

In the background is a late 40s model Ford truck. Wide, sweeping, fender-wells. An F2 emblem on the front quarter panel. The gas cap is mounted to the outside back edge of the cab, right behind the passenger door. Chrome half-moon hubcaps that appear to be covered in Georgia red dirt. Again, it’s a B&W photo. Evidence of life on a country road.

Floy looks to be a comfortable man, at ease in this world. He’s wearing a no-name ball cap. The bill is tilted to one side and almost covers his right eye. Best I can tell, his eyes are closed anyway.

His face is somewhat thin with a square chin. He is almost smiling, but it looks more like he is showing his teeth to the dentist for inspection. The ears stand out wide, like the open doors on a VW. His shirt is buttoned up to the top, right at his neck, one side of the collar flipped up. And his long sleeves are rolled up just below the elbow.

There you have it. Uncle Flournoy Turnipseed. Floy for short. Not Floyd, as many mistaken folks called him. Just Floy.

I wanted you to see him in this picture because I can’t stop looking at it. Something about it captures for me an era in which I think I should have lived. I turned one-years-old in 1957, so I can’t claim much of this era. But somehow I feel connected to it. Country life. Good hunting dogs. Rumbling old pick-ups with the windows down.

The Hampton folks who knew him best responded to his picture with words kind enough to sweeten your tea.

“Such a sweet man.”

“One of the nicest men I ever knew.”

“He was always so kind.”

“We really enjoyed it when he came by to visit.”

“A very quiet and pleasant man.”

“He came by the house every year to see what we got for Christmas, and he always left his cigar on the front porch.”

For a bachelor, Floy had manners. He had a way of making himself a neighbor to everyone he met. It was common for him to offer a hand at work. He carried gum with him just so he could give a child a stick and watch her smile.

He was a regular character around town with nothing but time on his hands. He could sit around Earl Pendley’s store occupying a cane-back chair for most of an afternoon.

I can hear the conversation. “Floy. Don’t you have someplace to be?”

Floy stuttered when he talked. “N-N-N-No sir. I sh-sh-sho don’t. Wo-Wo-Wouldn’t want this here chair to ge-get lonely.” A little trail of tobacco juice running down the corner of his mouth.

Truth is, Floy was welcomed everywhere he went. His business was visiting with folks. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with his sister and her husband. Floy was the reason somebody came up with the line, “he never met a stranger he didn’t like.”

Floy took a notion to go fishing one evening over at Carl Parker’s pond. He reared back to get a long cast but had his line out a little too long. The treble hook on his top-water plug caught the seam of the back pocket on his overalls, and the tug nearly threw him to the ground when he went to sling his pole forward.

Miss Johnson (not a real name), who lived right across from the pond, was watching things unfold from her dining room window. She got a chuckle out of old Floy spinning in circles trying to get himself unhooked.

Floy, realizing his predicament, came up with the only plan that made sense to him. He looked round to make sure no one was in sight, and when he thought the coast was clear, he stripped out of his overalls in order to get a better handle on things.

After that day, Miss Johnson never could bring herself to look Floy in the eye again. She was properly embarrassed, and he was completely unaware of his exposure.

Besides the old Ford truck, Floy drove quite a few different cars around town. Most of them Fords, except one Chevy Nova. All of them bore the marks of his less than perfect driving skills. Long scratches down the side. Dents in both rear fenders. He’d cut the corner too tight and rake his car up against a stop sign without ever looking back. And he never looked when he put it in reverse. Seems he just figured whatever was there shouldn’t have been there to start with.

One of Floy’s weaknesses was the vanilla ice cream at Burel’s Pharmacy. An old-fashioned soda fountain on one side. White tile floor with a black diamond pattern. Long wooden counter with a marble top.

Mr. Jack was a good soul. “Well, hey there Floy. What’ll ya have today?”

Floy saddled up on one of the bar stools. “I’ll have me a vanilla ice cream. And if you don’t mind, add a little extra on top.”

That was Floy. Nearly 80 people saw his old photo and, with great joy, poured out their memories of a man who was a true friend.

These days, with urban sprawl, most folks have a very small list of good and faithful friends. We are good at having a lot of acquaintances. This photo reminds me of what so many of us are missing. A time when everyone knew your mama and daddy. When people worked and worshipped together and made the kind of memories that almost accidentally taught us everything we needed to know.

That spirit still lives in a few places.

It took a photo from 65 years ago to remind me.