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Posted: February 15, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Lighthearted Covington memories

Every once in a while my lovely wife comments that she's wearied of contemplating the heavy, serious issues which proliferate everyday news. She then hints - rather strongly - that she'd appreciate a column that would make her chuckle, or at least feel good about life, for a moment.

Well, yesterday being Valentine's Day and all, I figured I would lighten up today for her special Valentine's Day gift.

Fret not. I may look stupid, but I'm not that stupid. I gave her chocolate, too.

So, today, for Louise...

First, let's see how long you've been a Covington resident.

Do you remember when one of the friendliest, funniest guys in the world ran a little hole-in-the-wall gas station on the northeast corner of the Highway 278 and Emory Street intersection? Luther "June Bug" McCart and his family ran a full-service gas station on that corner, and his customers always left laughing. He became so well-known for his good humor that he was once featured on a national television show.

There were subjects, however, about which "June Bug" considered off limits for joking. In the aftermath of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, Luther actually counted the days until he heard someone else make the first joke about it. According to our folksy humorist, 71 days lapsed before gallows humor appeared regarding the Challenger disaster.

That was a while ago. On the northwest corner of 278 and Emory stood a Burger King where today is located the QT station. No kidding. You could gas up your car at "June Bug's," then grab some BK onion rings and gas yourself up at the same intersection!

I learned another interesting tidbit about 278 and Emory from years of working crazy hours at the Atlanta airport. If you're headed north on Emory early in the morning and wanting to turn left on 278, if you'll flick your high beam headlights a couple of times as you cross the railroad, by the time you arrive at the intersection you'll have the green light.

That trick doesn't work on Sunday mornings, though. For reasons unknown, if you want to turn left early on a Sunday morning, you could run out of gas waiting for the light to change.

Speaking of traffic, has anyone a clue as to which century it'll be before the Interstate construction for two of Covington's I-20 interchanges is completed? I wrote about this way back in the 20th century, when I wearied of asking for football stadiums for each high school to alleviate the strain on poor, old, outmoded Sharp Stadium.

But wait! This is supposed to be light-hearted!

Last week it was my good pleasure to have my hair cut by one of Covington's legends in hair care, the ever cheerful and wise Lewis Mason. As Lewis did the maximum with the minimum, I noticed bunches of white hair collecting on the burgundy apron covering my burgeoning girth. Speaking to youthful Evan Posey about things, which just yesterday my boyhood barber had said would never happen to me, doggone if Lewis didn't start trimming little forests sprouting from both my ears!

Oh, well. Hair today, gone tomorrow!

Speaking of gone tomorrow, our longtime postal carrier, Tony Moon, is approaching retirement. Tony, a standout high school athlete, was talking just the other day about one of his teammates, Yogi Wilkerson. I'd seen Yogi not long ago and promised to visit, but to my chagrin haven't gotten there yet.

For years Yogi umpired baseball at City Pond Parks, where it was my privilege to call a few games with him. Yogi, a legendary Porterdale athlete, didn't hold much truck with any kid who stepped up to the plate looking for a walk, thus Yogi's strike zone would shrink dramatically.

Let me tell you, there's about a million kids around here now in their 20s and 30s who will vouch for this: when Yogi was behind the plate and there were two strikes on you, if the next pitch was close enough to see you'd better be swinging!

Finally, I want to share the greatest act of kindness I ever saw a kid make on a baseball field. Probate Judge Henry Baker's son, Matt, was catching one day when I was plate umpire. The opposing team sent a grossly overweight kid to bat, and he drew a walk. Amazingly, his coach called for the heavy kid to steal. As the roly-poly trundled toward second base, Matt removed his mask, casually tossed it aside, and arched a rainbow to his shortstop, thus creating a bang-bang tag play on the fat kid who ordinarily would have been, embarrassingly, out by a mile.

I asked Matt Baker, then just 11 years old, why he'd done that. Matt replaced his mask and turned to me so nobody could hear and said, "I just had to give him a sporting chance."

If you've been a Covington resident long, and if you're lucky enough to know Henry Baker, you know the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Much as I've tried to make this one light-hearted, I hope you'll fly the flag tomorrow for President's Day. Two guys named Washington and Lincoln pretty much deserve a little respect.

May God bless you, and may God bless America.

Nat Harwell is a resident of Newton County. His column appears in The Covington News on Sundays.


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