They say he was a storyteller. A genuine Br’er Rabbit Man. And these days, it’s hard to find good storytellers. They keep dying from old age.
When he opened his mouth, you could hear rural Georgia in him. He was lean, tan, with gaunt features.
He grew up on a big-tired Farmall. His father died when he was ten. His brother died when he was thirteen. His mother got sick when he was sixteen—it made her blind. He cared for her until she died.
Saying his life was hard is like saying vinegar tastes like molasses.
He worked as a farmhand, a cotton-picker, and a logger. But most folks remember him as a school custodian. That’s the job he held the longest. He got along with the kids. And he’d seen hundreds turn into seniors.
During an English class long ago, a teacher invited him into the fourth-grade classroom. Students were learning how to interview. He was their first victim.
As it happened, he had more to say than they did. He began telling stories about the Br’er Rabbit and Tar Baby—the way his mother had once done. And Bible parables.
“It became a weekly thing,” one teacher said. “He’d stop in on Fridays and talk for ten or fifteen minutes. It was the highlight of my day. He was so gentle.”
And then he got sick.
Teachers noticed he lost weight. He was having a hard time walking from his diabetic foot pain. His work started suffering, easy tasks took hours to finish.
They fired him. And because insulin isn’t cheap, he went downhill. He quit shaving, started spending days in bed.
“Not working broke his heart,” said a teacher. “He loved being around those kids.”
He got sicker. His sister in South Florida offered to let him move in, so she could take care of him. He didn’t have the money to make the trip.
So, the kids took up a collection. They raised six hundred dollars through bake sales and car washes. And on one sunny Friday, a handful of children appeared on his lawn to present him with a jingling coffee tin, and one handmade book.
“The book,” the teacher said. “Had all sorts of notes from students, teachers, and others in it, lotta good memories. He was here a long time. People loved him.”
That day, I understand the kids hollered at once: “We love you Mister Slocumb!” They almost stunned him to death. His face started leaking.
Then they asked for a story. But he couldn’t talk, let alone tell tales. So the kids read their book aloud to him.
Anyway, every story needs an ending. So here’s one: as of yesterday, he met his hero.
The greatest parable-teller of all time.