When I was a skinny young 10th grader at Central High School, I needed a job.
One day in Social Studies, my teacher, Rosemary Henderson, asked if I might be interested in a part-time job working with her son, Richard, at his jewelry store on Broad Street downtown. Anything had to be better than pumping gas outside in the heat at Fox Morris' filling station, so why not?
It turned out that opportunity was one of the most rewarding I've had. Not so much because of the pay, although getting paid to work in air conditioning was a pretty good route to go, and not because I always wanted to be a jeweler, because I didn't.
It was rewarding mainly because I got to meet and get to know some of the legends of downtown Thomasville. Looking back on the experience, great men like Lawson Neel, Jim Pettigrew, Al Dixon, and Joe Rosolio made it priceless.
I’d run into Mr. Neel more times than not down at the pool room having a chili dog. I always valued his input on anything that was going on — political, social, it didn't matter. He was as close to a soothsayer as I have encountered in my time on this earth, wise in all subjects. I felt honored he didn't mind a teenage boy sitting down with him and taking part in his musings.
I'll never forget a conversation held between he and Eulon Hill, Thomasville's No. 1 Auburn fan.
Neel: Eulon, what is it the Auburn crowd says when their cheerleaders run onto the field?
Hill: I didn't know they said anything, Lawson.
Neel: I'd swear I've heard them say "How 'bout THEM dogs?"
It may be the only time I've ever seen Eulon Hill completely speechless. If Mr. Neel didn't accomplish anything else on this Earth, he at least accomplished that (and of course, so so much more).
Jim Pettigrew was a treasure all his own. I always loved to go into his little jewelry store, Jim's Jewelry, just to see what he was going to say. I loved hearing him answer the phone, "Jim's Jewry." If it was anything to do with watches or clocks, Jim was the man. Buying a watch battery for three bucks always got you the reply, "OK, that's three dollars and no cents, and if you've got the three dollars I've got the no sense."
Jim, by the way, was a heckuva volleyball player, and had a heckuva singing voice on top of it all.
Mr. Dixon was a quiet sort, but I was always engaged by his dry sense of humor and his razor-sharp intuition. Although it sometimes seemed he was introverted and unassuming, there wasn't much that happened that got by him. The main thing about him was his keen sense of style — hence, the still successful store downtown that bears his name.
It was always a pleasure to visit with Mr. Dixon and my uncle C.J. Rehberg whenever the opportunity arose.
And Joe Rosolio. Oh my goodness. The ultimate ladies man. Always in love but never married. When I met Mr. Joe, he was probably in his early 80s, but 90 percent of everything he ever talked about revolved around the fairer sex. The only one of the four not a Southern native, Mr. Joe loved, and I mean LOVED, Georgia peaches — and not the kind you find in a cobbler. Every time my girlfriend would come into the store, Mr. Joe would magically show up and get right in the middle of whatever conversation was going on.
But, the thing many people didn't know about Joe Rosolio was how deeply he was involved in the Shriners and how much money he regularly contributed money to help children who needed medical help, or how if he noticed a family or an individual for that matter who was down on their luck, he was the first one to reach in his pocket and offer help.
He's a Yankee locals were proud to call "one of us."
The main thing I got from all these great men collectively was a greatly heightened sense of pride in regard to downtown Thomasville and the great history that accompanies you when you step onto those brick-covered streets. I still can't go by any of the buildings downtown without thinking of those men, and also without realizing their part in the history of those streets is really rather recent when you think about it.
I know how much I learned from them, and how thankful I am I had the opportunity to know each of them and consider them friends. As a young man, the lessons learned from men who have been there, done that and lived to tell about it are priceless. I never got a chance to tell them how much I appreciated them putting up with me then, so I guess now is as good a time as any.
Yes, all are gone now, gone to a better place where they are probably meeting in their own heavenly version of The Plaza, sitting around a big table with grits, bacon, eggs, biscuits and coffee, solving all the problems of the day. I can imagine what they are saying, and it brings a smile to my face.
Then again, maybe when they were doing that much here in Thomasville, they were already in a little slice of heaven on earth.