"That was thoughtful."
"I took to lookin' for Elvis ever'where I went, 'specially at th' barbecue place, they all said he was a fool for barbecue. My sister, when she heard I was lookin' to sight Elvis, she started pourin' my brandy down th' toilet. A man can't hardly live with somebody as pours 'is brandy down th' toilet."
"That would create tension, all right." Heaven knows, he'd tried for years to get Joe to quit sucking down alcohol, but Joe had told him to mind his own business. Something, however, had happened in Memphis that sent his barber home dry as a bone.
"Then one night I was drivin' around, I said to myself, I said, Joe, Elvis wouldn't be cruisin' through a drive-in pickin' up a chopped pork with hot sauce, he'd send somebody. So I said, if I was Elvis, where would I be at?
"Seem like somethin' told me to go back to Graceland, it was about eleven o'clock at night, so I drove on over there and parked across th' street with my lights off. I hate to tell you, but I had a pint in the glove department, and I was takin' a little pull now and again."
Joe took a bottle off the cabinet and held it above his customer's head. "You want Sea Breeze?"
"Is the Pope a Catholic?"
"First thing you know, I seen somethin' at th' top of the yard. There's this big yard, you know, that spreads out behind th' gate an' all. It was somethin' white, and it ..." -- Joe cleared his throat -- "it was movin' around."
Joe blasted his scalp with Sea Breeze and vigorously rubbed it in. "You ain't goin' to believe this."
Joe's hands stopped massaging his head. In the mirror, Father Tim could see his barber's chin quivering.
"It was Elvis ... in a white suit."
"Mowin' 'is yard."
"I said you wouldn't believe it."
"Why would he mow his yard when he could pay somebody else to do it? And why would he do it in a suit, much less a white suit? And why would he do it at night?"
Joe's eyes were misty. He shook his head, marveling. "I never have figured it out."
"Well, well." What could he say?
"I set there watchin'. He'd mow a strip one way, then mow a strip th' other way."
"Gas or push?"
"How could he see?" Father Tim asked, mildly impatient.
"There was this ... glow all around him."
"Then, first thing you know ..." -- Joe's voice grew hushed -- "he th'owed up 'is hand and waved at me."
Father Tim was speechless.
"Here I'd been lookin' to see 'im for I don't know how long, and it scared me s' bad when I finally done it, I slung th' bottle in th' bushes and quit drinkin' on th' spot."
His barber drew a deep breath and stood tall. "I ain't touched a drop since, and ain't wanted to."
Father Tim was convinced this was the gospel truth. Still, he had a question.
"So, Joe, what's that, ah ... bottle sitting over there by the hair tonic?"
"I keep that for my customers. You don't want a little snort, do you?"
"I pass. But tell me this ... any regrets about coming back to Mitford?"
"Not ary one, as my daddy used to say. It's been a year, now, since I hauled out of Memphis and come home to Mitford, and my old trade has flocked back like a drove of guineas. Winnie gave me this nice room to set my chair in, and th' Lord's give me back my health."
Joe took the cape from his customer's shoulders and shook it out. "Yessir, you're lookin' at a happy man."
Text © 1999 Jan Karon. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Viking.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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