Hard Lessons Down a Curious and Confusing Road.

You never know what you'll find down the empty streets of Graham, Texas.
You never know what you’ll find down the empty streets of Graham, Texas.

 

Writers are always looking for interesting characters to breathe heart, soul, and life into our stories, and they are not that hard to find. They walk past you every day. All you have to do is keep your eyes open and not be afraid to eavesdrop. Real characters are almost always more fascinating than the ones residing in your mind.

***

The preacher was in a strange town.

Well, maybe the town wasn’t strange, but it was new and different and out of the ordinary for Dr. Paul Powell. He was the well-known and respected pastor for the well-known and respected Green Oaks Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas.

His home was East Texas with a shade tree on every lot and two on every corner. He drove into Graham, which was perched out on the edge of the prairie, baked by an unforgiving sun. If people didn’t live there, the land would be downright inhospitable.

Dr. Powell, on his way to preach a revival, reached the city limits just in time. His car was straining and coughing and sounding, for all the world, as though it might be on the verge of drawing its last breath.

He glanced down the empty street, saw a small auto parts store, and pulled into the parking lot on a wing and a prayer, heavy on the prayer.

The first man he saw was sitting on an old bench, leaned back against a post, dressed in faded, wrinkled overalls and an old flannel shirt with a frayed collar. His boots were worn, had holes in the soles, and had never seen a coat of polish.

He was casually whittling on a hickory stick.

Wasn’t making anything.

Didn’t intend to make anything.

He was just whittling.

“The car’s started acting up,” Dr. Powell said.

The man with the whittler’s knife pointed over his shoulder and said, “We got a man back there who can fix it up.”

“You don’t even know what’s wrong with it.”

“Don’t matter.”

Dr. Powell nodded. What he didn’t know, and what everyone else in Graham knew, the good reverend had managed to stumble across Beverly King, whose father had owned the bank, who inherited most of the money in Young County, who did little more than hang around town, add a few zeros to his bank account every now and then, whittle sometimes, spit when he wasn’t as industrious, and figure out what kind of mischief he could find before sundown.

“Is there a place around here where I can spend the night?” Dr. Powell asked.

“We got a pretty good hotel just down the street,’ the whittler said.

“How far?”

“About two blocks.” Beverly King slowly rose to his feet, shook a few wrinkles out of his overalls, and said, “If you’d like, I’d be happy to carry your suitcases down to the hotel for you.”

“Thank you,” Dr. Powell said. He eyed the shabbily dressed man and decided the whittler could probably use a nice tip. He might not be able to eat supper otherwise. The good reverend handed him a couple of dollars. He was always ready to help a good man down on his luck.

Beverly King smiled his thanks and stuffed both bills down the hip pocket of his overalls. He grabbed the suitcases, stuck the smaller one up under his arm, and began ambling down the sidewalk with Dr. Powell right behind him.

“Let me ask you a question?” the preacher said.

“Go ahead.”

“When I was driving into town, I passed by one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen. Could you tell me who owns it?” Dr. Powell asked.

“I do,” the whittler said.

The preacher, who was never flabbergasted, was suddenly flabbergasted. “I don’t want to appear rude,” he said. “But how in the world can someone like you own such a beautiful house?”

Beverly King smiled. “It’s simple,” he said. “When I go out of town, I carry my own bags.”

The two dollars were still burning warm in his pocket, wadded there beside his whittling knife, when he turned into the hotel.

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