By Jimmy Reed
“Only fools think money can solve any problem,” my lifelong best friend and mentor, Jaybird, once told me.
As a boy I didn’t always pay attention to the old black man’s wisdom, but one day, while lolling with my pals on Uptown Avenue in our Mississippi Delta hometown, I learned the hard way to abide by his wise words about money. I didn’t have a cent, and was certain money could solve a problem I had: coming up with twenty-five cents to buy an All-Day Sucker at Peach-Eye’s Grocery.
As we meandered up and down Uptown, Billy Clyde Rakestraw, known as Mr. B.C., blared his truck horn, scattering us from a spot near the bank where he wanted to park.
Rakestraw was a scowling, ill-tempered old farmer. Rumor had it he once was a happy, fun-loving guy until Billie Beth, his raven-haired, blue-eyed bride, ran off with a city slicker. After that, he never socialized and took to drinking.
“Bet y’all won’t let the air out of one of Mr. B.C.’s tires,” some older boys dared.
“Put yo’ loot where yo’ lips is,” I sneered. Twenty-five cents, just what I needed to buy an All-Day Sucker, sealed the wicked wager.
I peeked in the bank, saw Mr. B.C. haggling with a teller, and calculated I had enough time to do the deed. The old rattletrap truck was easing down when I heard what sounded like Judgment Day thunder.
“Gotcha, you little brat!” Mr. B.C.’s vitriolic visage was so close I smelled his chewing tobacco. The quarter in my pocket weighed a ton.
Luckily, Aunt Murleen happened by and, seeing her nephew dangling from the handful of shirt collar Rakestraw had hold of, screeched, “B.C., put that boy down rat now!” The old reprobate obeyed.
A small crowd gathered, gawking and whispering, as Murleen and Billy Clyde discussed my fate. When the adults parted, Rakestraw did something no one had seen him do in years: He laughed.
“Junior, B.C.’s got some errands to run, says you better have that tire blown back up before he returns,” Auntie said.
“But I ain’t got no pump.”
“Don’t need one, boy,” she replied, struggling to maintain her composure. “Don’t you know you can blow up tires with yo’ mouth?”
Directly, Rakestraw ambled back and looked down at an exhausted boy, blue in the face, puffing with all his might.
A toothless grin broke across the old man’s unshaven, leathery face, as he reached behind the truck seat and fetched a hand pump.
“Here, boy,” he guffawed, “I ain’t got time to wait all day while you blow up that tire with yo’ mouth.”
Later that day, while sitting on Peach-Eye’s front porch, I told Jaybird how Billy Clyde fooled me.
“Boy, at one time or another all of us are fooled.”
Then, handing me an all-day sucker and giving me a hug, he said, “But only those who don’t learn from being fooled become what I know you will never be: a real fool.”
Editor’s Note: Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, and retired Mississippi Delta cotton farmer Jimmy Reed (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a newspaper columnist, author, and college teacher. His collections of short stories are available via Squarebooks.com <http://squarebooks.com/book/9780977377411> , telephone 662-236-2262.