We sat in the old Scout, the engine idling smoothly for a change, waiting for a break in the traffic. The old man, tan and lean, one hand on the steering wheel, spat through his open window and slowly said, “I don’t think these fools know this road is a dead end.” He coughed and spat again as the next in a line of cars came over the hill and into view. Fishing his Zippo out of his pocket, he re-lit his pipe and quietly waited.
“I ought to get this exhaust fixed someday,” he said. Leaving the cab windows open was a temporary but useful option in the meantime.
We had been at this stop sign only 15 or 20 seconds, waiting for an opportunity to turn right. Where I lived at that time, three states away, this little wait was nothing. At home one could make a sandwich, eat it, bust open a beer and, munching on a bag of Cheetos, listen to the entire Side 1 of the Beatles’ “White Album” on the cassette player in my Ranch Wagon while waiting for the light at the end of my street to change.
“Maybe the town ought to put up a ‘dead end’ sign on the bridge,” I offered.
“I’ll help if they want to blow it up,” he said.
“No, the bridge.”
The big knuckles on the steering wheel had gone white and I wondered if he was serious. He looked across me for oncoming traffic, looked to his left and saw an opening, and we slipped onto the main road, making a leisurely trip to the candy store.
As we crested the hill by the tower, I pulled down the sun visor on my side and as I did, two Hershey bars (no nuts) fell down on my lap. He looked at me and laughed and said, “For emergencies.” He explained that the work crew on his job had nailed his candy bar stash to the wall of the building, so he had taken to hiding some here and there. I knew well not to mess with his candy stash and put the two bars on the seat between us. By this time, the old man had been sober for 10 years and Hershey bars were still his substitute for booze. They always would be.
At the candy store he would not find Hershey bars. No, something more delicious could be had in this place. Among all the choices in the store, there was one that he coveted. It was a wondrous chocolate experience like I had never before encountered: dark chocolate-covered fudge. The fudge by itself was enough to make me weep, but this concoction was very nearly a religious experience and I have no doubt that there was divine guidance in the making of this sweet, dark-brown wonder. For the old man, there was nothing more satisfying, more welcomed, more deserved than a few pieces of chocolate-covered fudge when he found a quiet moment to relax.
They’re all gone now: the fudge, the Scout and the old man. But I can still smell his pipe, his chocolate, the exhaust in the cab of the Scout. And I’m pretty sure he’ll get even with the guys who nailed his Hershey bars to the wall.
Butch Lawson lives on Bailey Island and is an observer of life.