So when someone showed you a gun, you knew there was a reason. You didn’t always know what that reason was, so the polite thing to do was ask.
“What’s with the hog leg?”
“Keeps folks from takin’ the cash box.”
“I just want a watermelon. You sellin’? Or just sittin’ here showin’ em off?”
The truck was a 1950 International Harvester that had been ugly since the day it was born and the boy was a 1955 Hatfield with a homemade haircut that wasn’t gonna win no prizes, either. He looked to be about eleven.
“We’re sellin’. Seventy-five cents.”
I dropped three quarters into the slot in his tackle box and heard the slosh of a hundred others when he slid it under the truck seat where he’d been sleeping.
“Take your pick,” he said.
“They’re equal good.”
I flipped him another quarter and he dropped it in his pocket. Barefoot, he clambered to the top of the pile and reached to a spot behind the cab. It was worth the extra quarter.
“Truck not runnin’?”
“We always sell a few after dark and this is a good spot. Didn’t want to give it up.”
“Your daddy’s smart.”
“Don’t have a daddy.”
“Don’t have to be smart to stay parked in a good spot. Just common sense.”
“He’s smart for teaching you how to flash that hog leg without pointin’ it.”
“Illegal to point it.”
“I know. And your granddaddy’s smart for makin’ sure you know.”
He held it out to me on an open palm. “Walker Colt. Belonged to my granddaddy’s daddy.”
I looked at it and nodded, “Nice one,” but I didn’t touch it. My granddaddy taught me, too.
I said, “Want some watermelon?”
“Sell me one for 35 cents and I’ll split it with you.”
“Eat it here?”
I nodded. He reached into his pocket and with a quick flick of his wrist produced a slender, 7-inch blade.
“This time you choose,” he said. Two minutes later I laid my fingertip on a melon and made eye contact. He smiled. “You picked a good one. What’s your name?”
“I’m Mack.” He quartered the melon and then with a barely perceptible motion folded the blade against his hip and slipped the knife back into his pocket. The hand became an open palm. “You owe me 35 cents.”
I dropped a dime and a quarter into it. We both sat on the tailgate and began eating melon. “I’m named after my granddaddy. You named after your granddaddy, Mack?”
He laid his hand on the knife in his pocket as he shook his head slowly from side to side. “After my daddy.” Mack changed the subject. “You don’t look old enough to drive,” he said.
I smiled, “The police think I do.”
“You fifteen?” he asked. I nodded.
I let the subject of his daddy lay for a few minutes as we ate the heart of the melon in silence. When we were done eatin’ and I had put my 75-cent melon in the passenger-side floorboard, Mack said, “Your mama didn’t raise no fools, Roy.”
“Why do you say?”
“Most people put the melon in the seat. Then when they hit the brakes, the melon rolls into the floorboard and busts.”
“How do you know?”
Mack smiled, “’cause they always come back and buy another melon.”
I started the car, put it in reverse, and started to sing softly, “Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear. And it shows them pearly white.”
I heard Mack’s voice in the darkness, “Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe. And he keeps it, out of sight.”
I turned on the headlights but Mack was already lying down in the seat of the truck again, falling asleep with his great granddaddy’s hog leg pistol and the knife his daddy left him.
Roy H. Williams
Joanne Lipman was the first woman to become deputy managing editor at The Wall Street Journal; she was the founding editor-in-chief of Condé Nast’s Portfolio magazine; and was recently editor-in-chief of USA Today. Yet during her 35-plus-year career, Joanne never felt that the professional playing field between her and her male colleagues was level. But instead of berating men, Joanne aims to help men better understand the obstacles that women face in the workplace and why it’s in everyone’s interest to strive for gender-equal work environments. Listen in Joanne shares with roving reporter Rotbart a workplace perspective rarely articulated as eloquently or as persuasively. It starts the moment you arrive at MondayMorningRadio.com