Follow by Email

Saturday, January 5, 2013

No. 119 Archie Fulford, "You look enough alike ..."

Archie Fulford was loved by everybody. I mean exactly that! He was loved by everybody who knew him. Although in another place or at another time he might have been known as the "town drunk," he was loved way too much to ever have been called that here. Besides, when Archie drank he became even more lovable and was never a problem for anyone - that is, anyone other than himself. He was die-hard fan of the New York Yankees, but that was about the only other bad thing you might ever say about him.

Archie Fulford (left) with Donald Guthrie & Ronald Davis
The youngest son of one of the Island’s longest standing families, one that had been here for more than a century before the exodus from the Banks, he never had children of his own. By the time I came to know him he was an old man, hardly more than five feet tall, with a face that evidenced the life he had lived with heavy wrinkles and a ruddy complexion. But that same face always had a smile, and when he passed his time telling boys like me his farcical stories, his grin was often a hardy laugh.

Near the end of his life he was all but adopted by Billy Best who ran the biggest grocery story on the Island. By then he had given up the bottle, and he was used by Billy as a combination stock boy and night watchman. He even spent most nights sleeping on a small cot, what we called a "day bed," in the office enclosure hidden in the very back of the store.

It was around the store as he discussed the latest news and sports, and shared his yarns with other old-timers that I came to know him. Billy’s son, Alton, was one of my best friends, and his father’s store was just across the road from ball field that lay behind out church. So, part of every day was meeting him and others at the store to organize a game, and going back to the same place to get a soft-drink and nabs when the game was over. Archie grew so used to seeing the two of us together that he once grabbed us both by our arms and stated, "You boys look enough alike that you could be neighbors!" It was years later before I realized the full irony of how we had interpreted his statement.

Archie seemed to have a particular affection for Alton, and he was always picking on him in one way or another. He seemed especially to enjoy commenting on Alton’s hair after it was tousled by swimming in the sound or playing in the woods. "Your hair is just like fine marsh grass," he once observed as my friend removed his cap after a playing ball on a hot summer day.

But the remark I remember most is from one day when we were a little older, and were dressed to go out in Al’s car on a Friday night. As Alton walked into the store, probably to get some gas money from his father, Archie commented on his good looks, and then feigned an added compliment as he expressed that Alton had really "kind hair." When my friend smiled in response, the old man added, "the kind that grows on a dog’s tail." (Actually he was even more explicit than that.)

Any use of the adjective "kind" to describe a person or object has had another connotation for me ever since.