Old Joe lived down the street from my grandparents. He was always sitting in his rocking chair on his front porch. His house was right at the crest of a steep hill. I had never talked to him but he would always nod and wave when he saw me.
I was only six years old and I loved to ride my bicycle down that hill. I was full of life and had a natural curiosity. The one thing I wanted more than anything was to have wings. I would stand at the top of the hill, wave to old Joe and get ready for the ride of my life.
I felt like a bird as my bicycle and I went flying down that hill. The wind would hit my face like a thousand tiny needles. How I used to wish that I could soar up to the sky and dance on the clouds.
One summer day, I decided to just walk right up to old Joe and talk to him. My grandpa had once said “you’ve never met a stranger, have you?”
I didn’t have a mama and daddy anymore. My grandparents said they had “gone away.” I really didn’t remember them so I wasn’t ever sad.
I told old Joe that my name was Abby but that my grandparents called me “little bit.” He said “it’s nice to meet you, Miss Abby.” It made me feel so grown up when he called me that. He said “peoples just call me old Joe.” I asked him if he had any children. When he said “no” I asked him why. He said “I guess the Heavenly Father didn’t see fit to give me any.”
Old Joe quickly became my best friend. After my flight down the hill, he would bring out glasses of lemonade and we would sit in his rocking chairs, talking and taking sips of that cool delight. I would tell him all the knock-knock jokes I knew and he would just laugh and laugh. Sometimes I stayed until it got almost plumb nighttime.
My grandma had a huge cow bell that she would ring when it was time for me to come home. As soon as I heard it, I would tell old Joe “got to go home now.” He would smile and say “alright, see ya tomorrow.”
Old Joe told me lots of stories.
One day he told me about the first time he ever saw an automóbile. He said “I was sittin’ right here and I looked up and said to myself “lawdy mercy. Yonder comes an automóbile.”
I had never seen an automobile either so I wanted to hear all about it.
He said “I was waitin’ for it to get closer so I could get a really good look at it.” He said “I sat here and waited and waited for it to come to the top of the hill but it never did so I got to thinkin’ and reckoned that maybe it had stopped on the way. Directly, I got up and looked down the hill but it wasn’t there.” Old Joe said he never did figure out what happened to that automóbile and reckoned that it was just “one of those things.”
Old Joe had a donkey he called “Myrtle.” He said “she’s an ornery old cuss but she’s the only company I got besides Squeak. Squeak was a squirrel that lived in an old oak tree beside the house. Old Joe would give him a few peanuts every afternoon and Squeak was so used to him that he would come up to him and take the peanuts right out of his hand.
One day, I drew old Joe a picture of Myrtle and Squeak. At the top, I wrote “to my best friend, old Joe.” Old Joe said “thank you Miss Abby. This is beautiful.” When he asked me what the writin’ said, I asked, “can’t you read it?” He said “no. I ain’t never learned how to read.”
I told him I could teach him but he said “no, I reckinspect I’m too old now.”
I asked old Joe how come he never learned to read. He said “well, I was my mama and daddys’ only young’un and I had to help run the farm so there wasn’t never any time for schoolin’.”
Old Joe walked with a limp and had a walking stick he had carved out of a tree limb. He told me that when he was just a little boy, a stray dog had bitten him. He said “that darned mutt took almost half my leg off and to this day, it still pains me a right smart.”
I asked him what happened to the dog. He said “we ate him for dinner that night.”
There was a twinkle in his eye and he started laughing when he saw the expression on my face. I said “old Joe. You are tricking me!”
One day I asked old Joe if he had any friends. He said “why, you’re my friend.” I giggled and said “but do you have any other friends.” He said “no. They’ve all gone away.”
I said “my mama and daddy have gone away, too. Do you reckon they’ve all gone to the same place?” Old Joe said “you know what, Miss Abby, I just bet they have.”
To be continued……………………..