The Plagiarist of Winfield Shoals, Part One

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When he was eleven years old, and made his allowance by stacking cans on the shelves of Dunnaway’s Curb Market on Thursdays, Eddy thought his grandfather, Jackson Dunnaway, was the wisest man on earth. “Papa Jack” gave the best advice. One Thursday, after the grocery order was up and the two of them were sitting outside, sipping small C0-Colas while Preston Ragsdale ran the cash register, Eddy asked Papa how to play cards.

“Why come you need to know how to play cards, Eddy my boy?”

“They say when they have a camporee, everybody stays up all night, playing poker in Bryan Burford’s tent, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, the older boys’ll take every nickel you got.”

“Huh,” Papa said, thinking. “Is that Royce Burford’s boy?”

“Yes, sir. He’s a Eagle Scout.”

“Well, Eddy boy, let me give you a little tip,” Papa Jack said. “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, and you gotta know when to fold ‘em. You gotta know when to walk away and know when to run. Don’t never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.”

Eddy didn’t really understand what Papa Jack was talking about, but the way he said it sure made it seem important.

“Got it,” Eddy said.

“You’ll be fine, my boy,” Jack said, and somehow Eddy was. He eventually learned all the manly virtues – gambling, smoking cigarettes, cussing – from the older Boy Scouts who had been well versed in the fundamentals of leadership.

Papa Jack was famous in Winfield Shoals, though not as exalted in the minds of the general citizenry as in the impressionable one of his older grandson. Jack was the type of man of whom people often said, “Jack Dunnaway? He’s a character, all right.” Jack talked to everybody the same way he talked to his grandson, which is to say he copied things he’d heard off TV, listened to on the radio, and read in the newspapers, and passed them all off as his views, which was difficult inasmuch as most people he talked to watched just as much TV, listened to the same radio stations, and took the Winfield Ferry Beacon and The State paper.

Plus, sometimes Jack didn’t get his plagiarisms exactly right, which was another reason he was one of the town’s characters and not one of its leaders. Occasionally, when a passel of young’uns queued up at the soft-ice-cream machine, Jack would tell them, “All right, damn ye, it’s first come, first come!” and even little kids scratched their heads at that one. If the chairman of the board of the Coca-Cola Company, or, more likely, the fellow who owned the local bottling company, had been standing in front of the counter of Dunnaway’s Curb Market, Papa Jack would have let him know, without stooping to uncertain terms, that a Small Coke, in its dignified, seven-ounce bottle, was measurably better tasting than its ten-ounce cousin, the elongated Large Coke. The chairman of the board wouldn’t have dared dissent, just as the people of Winfield Shoals didn’t dispute Jackson Dunnaway’s words, simply because it was too much trouble.

Papa Jack was obsessed with the notion that every company in the world was buying up every other company in the world. About eight o’clock at night, long after the shifts had changed at the cotton mill and there wasn’t much for Eddy and Papa Jack to do but look at each other, the old man would stand over next to the Health & Beauty Aids and hold court. He’d pick up a box and hold it up as if he were making a television commercial.

“All right,” he’d say to Eddy, “Doan’s Pills. Who owns Doan’s?”

“Beats me.”

“Johnson & Johnson! Who owns Johnson & Johnson?”

“Don’t know.”

“Pepsi-Cola! Who owns Pepsi-Cola?”

Et cetera. Et cetera. Ad infinitum.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

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