Copyright 1994
Sam Elmore

MR. PARMALEE'S TURN


The location for this tale could be "Anyplace" in the rural South, in prime timber country. In the early 1920's, the Parmalee family owned and operated a little "ground-hog" saw-mill, situated within a vast belt of virgin timber. This was at a time when the lumber business was the "gold mine" of the future.

Young Tom Parmalee, the only boy in the family, knew little (and cared less) about the world outside his immediate surroundings. An occasional trip to town was the extent of his travels. As a boy, he worked in the sawmill before and after school, and on weekends.

When he started school, his best friend was a local share-cropper's son, named Ed Earl Buford. When they finished the seventh grade, their formal education was considered complete. They were big enough to handle a man's chores, so school was over and done with; a common practice in those days.

Ed Earl went to work full time on the family farm, as Tom did in the family saw-mill. They continued to spend their spare time together, primarily hunting and fishing, as they grew through their teens. Occasionally, they'd show up at the Saturday night dance at the local American Legion Hall.

The years passed, and the Buford family quit the farm and moved to another state. Ed Earl, now in his twenties, stayed behind and took a job at the sawmill, driving a log-truck for Tom, who was already straw-boss at the mill. They remained the best of friends, even though they were now in a position of employer and hired hand.

When the elder Parmalees passed on, after a long and happy life, the profitable saw-mill empire came fully into Tom's capable hands. Now Tom was "Mr. Parmalee". He operated the business the same way his father had, and continued to invest in, and support, the community.

Tom was now a wealthy man, by any standard. No needy person in the community went without, especially at Christmas time. His good deeds were numerous, and accomplished without fanfare. When he helped somebody out, he fully believed in the Biblical concept of "right hand never knowing what the left hand was doing".

As a result of a serious accident with a load of logs, Ed Earl was no longer able to drive a log truck for a living. The saw-mill provided him with a modest check each month. With the support and urging of Mr. Parmalee, he was appointed Constable in the little town. His tenure in that position was now in it's second decade.

When he was well past middle-age, Mr. Parmalee's reputation was not adversely affected when, one day, he and Ed Earl took the Trailways bus to the nearest big city. When they returned, Tom was riding in the back seat of a big, shiny Cadillac, with Ed Earl doin' the drivin.' The local folks were downright pleased to see him in a fancy car, and viewed it as an enhancement of their own status.

However, ever'body gave him a WIDE berth each Saturday, when he drove the car to town for his weekly haircut...Mr. Parmalee was a terribly bad driver! He'd never experienced a proper driving lesson, except for what Ed Earl had tried to show him years ago, on the back roads, with an empty pulp-wood truck. Tom had been the butt of many a joke when he was a lad, because the only thing his Daddy would let him "drive" was a log-peeler; and it wasn't even self-propelled.

However, because of his standing in the community, Mr. Parmalee could do no wrong; people just "got out of his way". Ed Earl, as the only law in the area, turned a blind eye to the no-signal turns, sudden stops, dented fenders, and terrified chickens when Tom came to town. Everything and everyone was geared to his ineptness as a driver....until the morning of the tourist.

That Saturday morning, after his usual haircut and generous splash of witch hazel, Mr. Parmalee left the barber shop and got into his Cadillac. He looked neither left nor right; just backed into the street and started home.

Anyone paying attention could have seen grown-ups grabbing their kid's by the arm and yanking them inside the stores. There was a sudden "clearing of the sidewalks" ahead of him, just like in western movies when the bad guy faces Randolph Scott in the street for a gunfight.

As Mr. Parmalee neared Saw-Mill Road, he slammed on the brakes and veered left without signalling. The out-of-state driver behind him didn't stand a chance; he banged into the rear fender of the Cadillac, smashing the tail-light. His own car suffered little damage.

After both vehicles came to rest, the tourist jumped out and ran over to the Cadillac. It was obvious that no one had been injured, although the noise of the collision was heard clean across town. Mr. Parmalee just sat there behind the wheel, seemingly amazed that someone had collided with him.

Ed Earl, a big-bellied giant of a man, arrived at the scene in what he considered a "dead run". However, his forward progress could easily have been measured by a sun-dial, due to the sixty-odd pounds of over-weight he carried; precariously supported by his wide gun-belt.

The tourist stood outside the Cadillac, shouting for Mr. Parmalee to "come out". Ed Earl silenced him with a steely-eyed look, and reached out to open the door of the Cadillac.

"Air you aw-right, Tom?", he asked.

"I b'lieve I am, Ed Earl. Who was it run me over?"

"I don' know, sir; but I'm fixin' to find out", the Constable avowed, as he turned his undivided attention to the tourist.

"Boy, what'n tarnation you think ye' doin', come tearin' down through town like at? Hanh?"

"Now, hold ON a minute, sheriff. I was NOT speeding. This man slammed on the brakes and turned without making a signal---I couldn't do anything BUT hit him. Im NOT at fault here."

Ed Earl took the tourist by the elbow and gently edged him away from the crowd of local folks who had gathered to gawk at the only exciting thing that had happened lately. He thumbed his Stetson to the back of his head and said, in a somewhat kindly voice:

"Boy....list'n to me close't now, ye' hear?. Today is Saturday. Mr. Parmalee comes to town for a haircut ever' Saturday. He goes home the same way ever' time. He makes a lef' turn here, at the same time, ever' Saturday. Aw-right, now....mebbe you wasn't speedin'. But you definitely at fault, son...this-here corner is Mister PAR-ma-lee's turn."