Lee and Whit
My father was a consummate furniture dealer and salesman. In 1963, he established his own furniture store after having managed Fairway Furniture Store for several years and then owning part interest in another company, Turner-Harrell Furniture Company. So, he procured a storefront on Love Avenue in Tifton, Ga. and formed his own company, Frank Harrell and Sons, Home Furnishings. I was working in radio with WWGS at the time and so I left them to join my father in the family business. It was some of the hardest work I have ever done. As the old saying goes, "it was from can to caint."
During those days my father hired a black fellow named Lee Ferguson. Lee became one of the best friends my father and I ever had. He was a good looking fellow and always looked like he had stepped out of a men's magazine. I remember those starched shirts and khaki pants along with highly polished shoes. He also wore a light colored straw hat slightly cocked on this head. With those perfect teeth shining light headlights, he posed a striking figure. He as also just a good guy. He loved to laugh and joke but when it came time to work, Lee worked! He was one of the strongest people I have ever known. He could bear hug a refrigerator and pick it up by himself and carry it through the door of a house. If I tried to help him with it he would say: "Bill, just let me have it." And that's exactly what I would do.
I remember one of the funniest events of those years. We were taking a refrigerator to a man's house named Marion Barr. Marion was the man who owned the Tift County Drug Store and made those wonderful hot dogs I referenced in another "Recollections" article. My dad and Mr. Barr were good friends. Well, anyway, we were at Mr. Barr's house to deliver this appliance. Now, Mr. Barr loved cats. He would get a male cat, have him "fixed" and feed him a lot. Those cats would grow to huge proportions. In fact, he had two cats in the house the day we went to make our delivery. One of those cats was tiger striped in color. He looked like a small tiger and after his "fixing" and feeding, he had gained to about 25 pounds. There was another cat in the house that day which was jet black and he was larger than the tiger striped one. That cat weighed about thirty five or forty pounds according to Mr. Barr. It looked like a panther with big golden eyes about as big as a fifty cent piece. Tail and all, that cat was probably four feet long. Anyway, we were trying to the refrigerator in the back door and into the kitchen and it was a tight fit. Lee said for me to step aside and let him get it in the house. So, I went on in to the kitchen. The big black cat startled me when I saw it sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. He was just sitting there looking at us as we invaded his territory. We were not told about these cats so they were a complete surprise to us. Well, anyway, Lee had the refrigerator "bear hugged" and he was backing into the kitchen. Suddenly, he looked to his left as he struggled with that appliance and his eye caught sight of that huge black cat sitting up in the middle of that kitchen table. Is stood about two feet high as it sat there silently observing these strangers who were invading its space. When Lee saw that big black cat, he didn't know what to do with that refrigerator. He couldn't just drop it. He couldn't run and let it fall. But I have never seen anyone sit a refrigerator down and vacate the premises as quickly as Lee Ferguson did that day. He was hollering all the while. I tell you that Lee Ferguson looked pale. He was already a light skinned man but he looked pale that day. I have never seen anyone move that fast in my life. That black cat scared Lee Ferguson out of his wits. It was hilarious. He didn't want to come back into the house but I finally calmed him down and he entered the home again and we installed the new refrigerator. But, Lee never took his eye off that panther looking cat again and talked about the experience for a long time. He would tell his friends: "Man, you ain't never seen a cat like this one before! It's big as a Panther!! It weighs 50-60 pounds and is five feet long! Eyes as big as saucers! It moves toward you like it's gonna eat you up! Don't want no more of that!"
Once Lee and I were delivering some furniture to a country home near Omega. It was a hot summer day in South Georgia and the truck had no air conditioning. Lee was driving and we were moving down that county maintained gravel paved road at about 60 mph. We had turned the little triangular shaped windows out as far as they would go in order to throw as much cooler air into the truck cab as possible. Man!! was it hot. All of a sudden there was a loud sound that sounded like a big rock or something had hit our windshield. But it also had a sort of "SPLAT" sound to it. At the same instant I felt something hit me on my left cheek and the side of my head. It wasn't hard but soft and mushy. Lee heard me exclaim my shock and he quickly looked over at me and immediately started laughing so hard he had to slow down to a crawl. All we could figure is that the thing that hit that little triangular window was a huge bug of some sort. The window deflected it into the cab of the truck and it was aimed right at me sitting in the passenger seat. The stuff that hit me was the emerald green "guts" of that huge bug. It HAD to be huge because of the amount of insect guts all over my face, as well as the side of my head and generously scattered all over my chest. I was a sight to behold. Not only was the stuff gooey, slimey and grimey. It stunk to high heaven. I haven't figured out to this day what kind of bug it might have been but it sure was a mess!
Now, Lee had several brothers but the one my family liked very much and became really familiar with was Whit. Whit Ferguson was quite a character. We all called him "Rat," Everyone did. Rat would come by the furniture store to see Lee and we would all go out back across the alley and sit in the wide doorway of the store warehouse. Sometimes he would have some friends with him and we would all have a great time laughing and having fun generally. They were all good guys but Whit stood out from the crowd. There were times when we needed some extra help and Whit was always willing to help us in any way possible. Of course, he was paid for his time but when Lee and Whit were out delivering furniture or doing some other needed work, daddy and I would never worry about it at all because they both were close friends and responsible people. I can hear Lee calling Whit now....."hey, Rat." "Com mere" boy. Help me carry this sofa!! "Com mere" is South Georgia for "come here." Lee and the others used to kid Whit about his tennis shoes. They were not the kind of tennis shoes the kids have today that cost a hundred dollars and more for a pair. They were not constructed of advanced materials and they certainly didn't have all the wild colors of today. No one would have robbed Whit of his tennis shoes as is done today. Those shoes were the old fashioned Converse tennis shoes that were black with high tops and white soles. The round Converse insignia was placed right over the ankle bone on the high top. Rain or shine, Whit had those tennis shoes on. It appeared that he never took them off. We used to kid him about his toes rotting off but they never did I assume. Whit was a good fellow and quite a comic. He was good to have around especially if you needed your spirits lifted.
A few years later, my father closed his furniture store after a really long and bad season of bad business associated with a recession in those days. With the closing, Lee and Whit seemed to vanish from my life. I went on to college and then seminary. I thought of Lee and Whit often but never saw them again. Lee passed away a few years ago. He lived at Omega, GA. I used to call him when I would be in Tifton and the moment he heard my voice, even after nearly forty years, he said: "Bill Harrell". I watch you every week on television. I never miss it. I never knew Lee kept up with me at all. He became famous in the area for his BBQ and Brunswick Stew which he served at the Georgia capitol once a year when they had some special occasion there. And, even though we talked about seeing each other, it never worked out and I never saw Lee again. I wish I had. Good friend. Years after my father closed his store, I learned that after my father died in 1970, Lee carried a picture of him in his wallet for years. They were really close good friends.
But Whit was a little different. I got a chance to see him when my mother passed away and he came to the viewing at the funeral home along with about half of Tifton. I was standing there greeting people when I looked up and saw a very distinguished looking black man. I thought he must have been a professor at Abraham Baldwin College or some highly placed executive. I asked my sister who that man was and she informed me that it was Whit Ferguson! There he was, dignified looking as he could be. Dressed fit to kill and looking good. When she told me who this distinguished man was I immediately saw that it was my old friend. I went to him. He grabbed me and hugged me like a long lost brother, and I hugged him the same way. We talked for a while and then he had to leave so we parted ways. I found out Whit's phone number recently and called him like I used to do with Lee. We had a wonderful time remembering things and talking on the phone. It was a great time we shared as we remembered how things were back in the early sixties when my friendship began with Lee and Whit.
William F. Harrell