One of my favorite characters ever and one readers have unfailingly enjoyed is my friend, Poet, the scion of a cotton family who speaks in lyrical tones and has always been interestingly unconventional.
For Poet, life has never held rules. Let me clarify. He is honorable, kind, smart and filled with integrity. He doesn’t cheat or lie, and he takes pride in his word.
But for years, I have watched with fascination as Poet colored outside the lines and took his cue from no one but himself. Perhaps I even lived vicariously through him. He was brave about his choices and obedient to his restlessness. He did what he wanted when he wanted. Often were the days that he’d climb into his truck, take off with a trail of farm dust scattering behind him and wind up wherever he took a notion. He answered to no one. He always made sure he owed nary a soul, though he does like for others to owe him either in money or favors.
Some of my most enjoyable times have been the adventures with Poet for he’s always game for anything. And he has a beautiful way of expressing himself in rich Southern language, so he’s terrifically entertaining. His observations are wise and summed up in wit.
One night out at dinner, the conversation turned to a Southern politician whom I hold in admiration while Poet teeters, skeptically, on the center line. We debated, and I defended. We were sitting in a booth that didn’t have a partition between us and the adjoining booths. The group of four dining behind us got up to leave and one of the men came over and introduced himself to Poet, reminding him they had met previously.
He said, “I couldn’t help but overhear your discussion. You know that I’m his nephew, right?”
Cool as cucumber, Poet drawled beautifully, “Yes, indeed, I am well aware of that. And a fine man he is. We’re all the better for him having served so honorably. Please, relay my kindest regards to him. And tell him my contribution is in the mail.”
As he walked away, Poet’s eyes widened.
“Did I say anything that would have sounded disparaging to such a fine man and humble civil servant?” he asked.
I nearly went under the table, laughing.
Another time, he showed up at a conference I was attending in a hotel/casino. Poet wanted to play blackjack, so I followed him to the table and watched in admiration as he coolly, assuredly played the game. I have no card sense. I don’t understand cards, so I can’t play them, though he tried to explain. After a while, he laid his hand on the table and, with nonchalant panache, instructed the dealer, “Color me out.”
“Color me out? What does that mean?” I asked as we left the casino.
“Just another way of saying ‘deal me out,’” he said.
See, Poet has a way with words that makes him memorable.
Because of his answer-to-no-one style and penchant for living life on his own terms, I have considered him to be one of the South’s greatest characters in modern times and he has given me lots of material.
Then, without a word to anyone, he up and married. Tink laughed as he watched the conversation between Poet and me for I was taken aback. It felt like my favorite character in my favorite book had been killed off. He’d never have that same devil-may-care attitude again.
“Be happy for him,” Tink said.
“The Tarleton twins have died,” I responded glumly.
“Gone With The Wind. Killed in battle. Characters I loved.”
Tink rolled his eyes and Poet laughed. I slumped lower in my chair.
“Now, he’s just like the rest of us. He’s ordinary. He used to be exciting.”
So, I’m in mourning. The rambling, adventurous Poet has been colored out.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.