I like him. He doesn’t talk much nor does he offer a lot of information unsolicited. Since I don’t ask many questions, we really don’t know one another very well. He is like the road maps I study before making my long Friday rides. I see the signs, the lines, the scars on the page, but until I actually pedal my bicycle there, they remain a mystery.
If he has siblings or living parents, I don’t know. Neither do I know if he ever had grand plans or accomplished heroic feats. If he ever made good grades in school, played sports, played in the band, or killed animals, I have no clue. If he’s traveled to exotic places, loved beautiful women, or fought with rugged men, I know not.
I do know he once had a wife, a job, good knees. Now he runs a store at Cascilla, Mississippi in a decaying country blue Jim Walter home on the outskirts of town. Inside the store, a few beer coolers decorate the living room. A counter, a cash register, and a few shelves of candy, sardines, and potted meat make up his business. James lives in the rest of the house, and once when I used the bathroom there, I placed my left hand firmly on the windowsill and my right one on the lavatory for fear of falling through the floor. Dust and dead insects covered the bottom of the bathtub.
It was the summer of 2009 when I first rode into Cascilla. Generally I have a prejudice against riding past stores since often I am hungry, lost, and dehydrated when I find them. I was hungry, lost, and dehydrated the day I unclipped and pushed my Trek up the gravel drive and leaned it against his front porch.
I met his dog, a mutt named Jim Brown after the man who dumped him on the road in front of the store. Inside I bought and ate sardines, drank a Coke, and cooled off. He didn’t seem to mind me licking my fingers, smacking, and burping. His dark skin and eyes reminded me of a cousin of mine. His shoulder length dark hair reminded me of no one in particular. He smoked constantly while we chatted mostly about nothing I can remember.
I do remember once he warned me of the dangers of riding a bicycle in Tallahatchie County. Those dangers have never materialized, and for two full years “the Free State of Tallahatchie” has been my playground. Every time I think I’ve ridden all the roads, I find a new one, or I want to revisit and old one or see James again or eat a greasy Philly Cheese Steak at the store in Tillatoba.
He opens at 2:30 in the afternoon which means sometimes I miss him. At his place I am forty-one miles from home, and often I get there with eighty or more miles on my legs. If he’s not open, I feel comfortable enough to take a nap on the old church pew that adorns his front porch. Sometimes Jim Brown, after first ferociously barking at me, curls up on the floor below me. He’s a good napper, Jim Brown, and sometimes James will wake us both when he drives up and begins unloading cases of beer from the back of his pickup. If he does wake us, I’ll buy a Snickers Bar from him before beginning the next leg of my journey home. If he doesn’t break our nap before I need to leave to get home when my wife says, I’ll say goodbye to Jim Brown and ride away regretting my lack of chocolate.
I never remember him calling me by name, but he offered me a free Coke the day I got too hot and was confused, trying to count out the change to buy one. The same man, whom I once saw throw out two drunks when one had the temerity to ask for a small loan, also gave me a shirt the day I got rained on and chilled.
The first time I pedaled to his place in 2010, I saw a blond haired person unloading beer and I thought, James has a girlfriend. But when I got closer, I noticed the hair was not blond but white and the person was not a woman but a man. Over the winter, his hair had changed, his dog had died, and once more he looked like a man who had been chasing a cow.
His front yard fills with pickup trucks on Friday and Saturday nights, I am told. Most of his costumers never open their doors except to pee on the lawn. James collects their money and delivers the beer while country music from a dozen or more radios competes with the tree frogs and katydids. To me it sounds like a recipe for robbery, and every time I read the paper I check the obituary section for his name. I don’t know if it would show up in the Greenwood Commonwealth, but I always look.
Anyway, if you ever go to Cascilla stop by and see him. There’s no sign but you really can’t miss it. His store is on the south side of Cascilla Road on the west side of town. Town consists of two closed buildings, a Baptist church, a small post office, and three or four houses. Tell him Zane sent you, and I said hello. If he doesn’t recognize the name, tell him I’m the Biker Guy who naps on the porch and buys his Snickers Bars. Let him know I’ll be back when the weather warms. A nap always makes me feel better, and a Snickers Bar from Grammar’s Old School Store is as good as any I’ve had anywhere.