Mickey called.

He said I’d lost it.

According to the Yankee who stumbled upon Lumber City and couldn’t find his way back home, rabbit tobacco is more important than hickory nuts.

Mickey is not a pure Yankee. He sprang from a line of timber-man grand-daddies who harvested pond cypress trees in the Okefenokee Swamp.

His daddy was a sailor before WWII broke out but was too old to stay in the Navy. He was turned into a Merchant Marine.

“Daddy met this New Jersey gal who talked funny and he said he went out with her to hear her talk. I guess she talked him in to marrying her.”

Mickey was born in 1942 while his dad was on a cruise. His father made multiple crossings of the north Atlantic delivering supplies to England.

Crews left and never returned. The casualty rate among Merchant Marines was inordinately high and the pressure got to his mom.

“Dad’s ship was never touched. Ships around him were sunk but he never got a scratch.”

His mom took a train to Waycross and dropped him and his brother off with his grandparents.

After high school he took off to look for his mom’s family but never found any. He stayed and worked, married and ruined that.

Sometime in his forties he faced the fact that he was a “swamp rabbit” and headed back south.

“I’m the only swamp rabbit with a Yankee accent,” he said long ago. “I didn’t fit in up there and the first question people here ask is where I’m from. Guess I’m a brown water Yankee.”

He described the grandparent’s house where scared dogs whined at the door at night, and his grandmother’s love of rabbit tobacco.

“Her sister moved up to Euharlee and introduced her to rabbit tobacco. She walked through fields stripping the rabbit tobacco until her basket was full.”

Mickey said that his family used it to treat colds by setting a saucer of it smoldering in the house, drinking a tea from the leaves or having it sewn into sachets and left under pillows.

I was introduced to it by North Georgia cousins who smoked it. That wasn’t a grown-up thing.

Mickey enjoyed telling the story of the day I met a tractor-trailer rig on the narrow old steel bridge over the Ocmulgee River on the day WVOH in Hazlehurst signed on the air.

He wheezed a hard laugh at my terror and asked if I am still scared of old steel bridges.

Yep. I still am.

Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at joenphillips@hotmail.com.

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