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The Gentle Man

     La Donna Harrell Martin

Mr. Charlie Harris was the first man to kiss my hand. I was about thirteen.

Charlie lifted my hand off the accordion keyboard, looked at me with those eyes, kissed my fingertips, and softly said, "You are a lovely, talented little girl. "

Then he turned, walked back to his square-dance set, ready for our fiddler to start the next break-down.

Then whirling and swinging in his dark, pin-stripe suit, starched white shirt and satin tie but this minute elegance of Charlie Harris never disturbed those other men in their best Saturday-night overalls or khaki. Charlie fit.

The country women, escaping from a week of hoeing in hard, dry gardens, from canning green beans on hot wood cook-stoves, from carrying gallons of water from wells or creeks delightedly joined hands in an allemande with Charlie Harris on Saturday night.

He was our best spirit of grace in elegance and good manners. He made us feel better than we thought we were. It was such a pleasure.

I would never have met Charlie had I not played music in a little hillbilly band. The band went all around playing for parties on Saturday nights.

The families who gave the parties would clean out their downstairs rooms. Straight chairs and benches were lined up in rows against the walls.

People would dance all over the house except for the kitchen. There, every flat surface was crowded with platters of hams and chicken, dishes of potato salad and bean salads, compotes of fresh fruit salads. Twenty or thirty pies and tall, luscious cakes of every color covered other makeshift plank tables.

But I never saw Charlie eating. At "breaktime," Charlie sat in a quiet comer, drank lemonade and talked easy with everyone who ambled over.

He sat up straight, knees crossed, suit pants creased to a knife edge, black high-polished shoes glistening on the worn linoleum floors.

But, during those dance breaks, he always watched me if I sang...just sat with his lemonade, didn't talk... and watched.

So, I always watched for Charlie. If he was there, I played and sang more carefully. I knew he would catch those special key-changes, the extra clean, high yodel ending...the special tenderness I tried to give the low tones for a sweet ballad.

Charlie was my first really sincere gentleman and, sometimes I think, maybe my last.

gentle1.jpg (28347 bytes)Charles Harris reads trial bulletins on Wayne County Press window as he was being tried for the murder of H.S. Taylor, the "Mayor" of Pond Creek, southeast of Fairfield. Photograph by Jack Vertrees.






gentle2.jpg (31921 bytes)Charles Harris in Wayne County jail, awaiting trial for the muder of H.S.Taylor. Harris asked T.O. Matthews, publisher of The Wayne County Press, to take this photograph.





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