Southern Folks: Old-timers and the twins

Bill Stamps

In the mid-1950s, when I was 9 years old, I lived in a small farming town in Middle Tennessee. It was so small that they used to say the "Welcome To" and the "Y'all Come Back" signs were on the same pole. With a population of just over a hundred, there were no secrets. Everybody knew everything about everybody. Anything out of the very ordinary, up to salacious, was discussed in detail right outside in front of the big picture window of Whiteside Drug Store.

A select crew of old-timers, leaned back against the wall, sitting on nail kegs and stacked-up wooden Coca-Cola cases, would discuss a range of local nuggets of interest. Nothing was off-limits, though hardly any politics spoken. Mostly who dropped dead, who got caught foolin' around with another woman, how much things cost and some very colorful local folklore. They drew an appreciative audience of some of the younger men who were there to listen, learn and have a few laughs.

Southern Folks

After a while, one of the old men would get up and go home. That was the chance for one of the young bucks to push through the crowd and sit down with "country royalty." It was understood that he'd be allowed to sit there, but the only time he could speak was when one of the elders called on him.

When the weather got bad, they took it to the back of the drugstore and sat around a black potbelly stove. They sharpened their knives, whittled cedar sticks and precision-spit Bull of the Woods chewing tobacco at a coffee can next to the stove. Sometimes, they'd miss and hit the stove and it would make a phsssssst sound. Mr. Jenkins, the town's war hero, was by far the best spitter of the bunch. He'd had more practice.

Other than Mr. Jenkins, all the other men were pretty much the same age. The decades of dealing with the elements showed in their hard-lived, deep-wrinkled, sun-singed faces. Their swollen hands were strong and worn, like cowboy leather. Every one of them wore bib overalls, khaki or pale blue work shirts with the sleeves rolled up, lace-up boots and straw hats or International Harvester or John Deere baseball caps.

There was not one uttering of a personal complaint. The only medicine they took might be an occasional aspirin. Maybe some axle grease for their hands. Most of their pain was better cured with a fermented swig or two. Men, plainspoken and uncomplicated. It was easy that way. All of them worked the land. It was a full-time job.

Through the week, it was the same old men, telling those same old stories till a new scandal broke. If you came back a few days later and after they'd told the stories more than a few times, the rumors had turned to fact and the stories became more colorful and took twice as long to tell.

About the time the leaves started falling and the temperature dropped, two seasons began: fall and basketball. The little town only had one school. They didn't have a football team, no baseball or track. But they did, by God, have a basketball team. Five players on the floor and only one extra kid on the bench. They had a girls team, but it was all about the boys games.

The team was hardly ever in the winner's circle. They could shoot all right, but their defense was just plain lousy. There was a reason for that. If just two players fouled out, there wouldn't be enough players to finish the game. If the opposing team won and the final score was close - and we could have afforded a few more fouls - we would have won. At least, that's what the old-timers used to say.

All agreed that the standout players were a red-headed kid named Larry and the Carter twins, Jerry and Gerald. The twins were almost 20. Even though they'd been held back a grade or two, the little school's board of directors looked the other way and the twins were made eligible to play.

The twins' parents were distant cousins who got hitched right out of high school, Gerald and Geraldine Carter. They named their boys after themselves. One of them was named Gerald, after his mother, and the other boy went by Jerry, after his dad. It could have been confusing, but everybody just called them the two Jerrys. When the boys got talked about, everybody would say, "Jerry, not Gerald" or vice versa.

The two Jerrys were identical. Both had Elvis haircuts - slicked-back black hair with a C-shaped swoop that fell down and to the left across their foreheads - and long sideburns. All the girls thought they looked a lot like Elvis. Especially Jerry. Plus, he could sing, sorta.

Jerry and Gerald kept their hair in place with Royal Crown petroleum jelly, goopy stuff that the black guys used on their hair to straighten it out and make it wavy. All us white country boys used it as well. It was just as good and half the price of that Brylcreem stuff the city slickers used.

"Brylcreem, a little dab'll do ya'. Use more, only if ya' dare. Brylcreem, the gals will all pursue ya. They love to get their fingers in your hair." If you know that jingle, you've been around for a while.

In the summer or at a school dance, it was advisable to carry yourself a handkerchief. After two dances or a few minutes in the sun, your hair started dripping. I used to wonder what Elvis used in his hair. When he was first coming up, seems like he dripped some.

The Carter twins were both about 6 feet tall, a respectable basketball height back then. At halftime, Jerry, not Gerald, came out from the team locker room with his guitar, stood at half court in the jam-packed gymnasium and belted out "Love Me Tender" or "Hound Dog" or 'Heartbreak Hotel." He didn't sound much like Elvis, but he had the moves down pat, and he knew all the words. He was good enough to make the girls in the stands scream.

Some of the fuddy-duddies, who were convinced that Elvis Presley was out to dismantle religion and impregnate their daughters, stepped outside until the third period of the game began.

The twins' dad, Mr. Carter, was a mechanic who ran his business out of the garage at their home. When he came to the games, he smelled of motor oil and whiskey and always had black grease under his fingernails. He, too, kinda looked like Elvis. His wife, Geraldine, was platinum-blond and top-heavy. She used an eyebrow pencil to apply a fake beauty mark to the side of her mouth. She kinda looked like Jayne Mansfield.

The two Jerrys shared a car. It had been a hardtop Studebaker till they took their dad's blowtorch to it and made it into a convertible. Not very well thought out. There are just as many cold days as warm. But they were the cat's meow in the summer.

They hand-painted the car red. It looked good, from a distance. When it rained hard or when they washed it, some of the paint would peel off. No problem. They carried a half-full can of red house paint in the trunk. Simply wait for the convertible to dry off, touch it up a little bit, and they were good to go!

When I got out of the Marine Corps and moved back to Tennessee, I drove down to the little town and ran across a buddy of theirs and mine, Ray Vaughn, who everyone called Catfish. He said the twins finally graduated, and he'd heard that they both got married to blond-headed girls, out of Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, and had some kids. He wasn't sure which one, but one of them had twin daughters. Catfish told me that Jerry, not Gerald, had moved to Nashville to pursue a singing career. I don't think he made it.

Nevertheless, I'll bet you if they had a Walk of Fame in that little town, the two Jerrys' stars would be cemented in the sidewalk right outside the big picture window in front of Whiteside Drug Store.

Bill Stamps' new book, "Miz Lena," is now available in a limited-edition, signed and numbered hardcover. Contact him at or through Facebook.