Anna Maria Island, July 8, 1987

Ol’ Joe Byrd

By Gib Bergquist

Mr. Joe Byrd was a beloved and respected Cracker in my hometown of Pierce, Florida, and his widow still lives nearby. This good-ol’-boy grew up in the piney woods about eight miles south of Pierce, as did his daddy before him.

Joe Byrd spent most of his working life in the area’s phosphate mines and he raised a wonderful and well thought-of family. While not having the formal education of some, he possessed more than his share of good Cracker horse sense and could be counted on for colorful and witty comment on all local happenings.

Some years ago, one of his bosses at the mine where he worked was being considered for a substantial promotion. As a respected member of the local phosphate workers union, Joe was asked to give his sage opinion as to the character and qualifications of the boss under consideration.

“Is Mr. George Abercrombie a truthful man?” Asked the interviewing official.

Joe pondered the question for a moment and then inquired, “Truth . . . ful — that means full of truth, doesn't it?”

“Yes, you might say that,” replied the puzzled company man.

“Yep! He’s full of truth all right. That’s a fact!” Joe told him.

“Could you explain or expand on that statement, Mr. Byrd?” The company man probed.

“He’s gotta be plumb full of truth,” sez Joe, “cause he ain’t never used any of it around here.”

Joe drove a Model A Ford and he kept it fine-tuned and idled-down to where it would click along at a few miles per hour with his foot off the gas pedal. It sounded somewhat like an old treadle-powered Singer sewing machine idling down the road.

Now Joe also liked to drink a little corn whiskey on Saturday night, which was not uncommon among us Crackers — even though we lived in a “dry county” at the time. (Polk County has long since gone “wet.”)

He was a very careful driver when he was drinking. In fact, his speed of driving was in inverse proportion to the amount of his consumption. In other words, the more he consumed the slower he drove. This would be a real dangerous situation on today’s fast roads but on the old country roads around Pierce, before State Road 37 was constructed, it wasn’t.

Byrd’s fellow workers were ribbing him about his driving habits one day, when he replied, “Well I’ll tell you this, if anybody wants to have an accident with me while I’m drinking — they are going to have to wait ‘til I get there!”

And as ol’ Eli Whitney was wont to say, “keep your cotton-pickin’ hands off my gin.”

From Cracker's Crumbs, 1995 Gib Bergquist

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