By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – Wilting violets won’t do at Hardee’s when the old men get together.
“If you don’t have a thick skin, don’t come in here,” said Judge James L. Roberts Jr., 66, a member in good standing of the coffee club group in Pontotoc.
That’s not to say the guys are mean, as they drink coffee and soft drinks and discuss the day’s events.
Laughter is routine, and smiles are nearly constant from about 3 to 5 p.m. each day, depending on who shows up and when. It’s a floating membership of 20 guys or so.
“We always tell newcomers to come in here and pull up a chair,” Roberts said. “Everybody’s welcome.”
It’s the kind of welcome any boy would recognize from the playground, where everyone gets his chance to be the butt of the joke.
At 89, James “Keister” Tutor is the oldest boy in the bunch, and he gets about as good as he gives.
“They don’t respect me,” he said with a smile.
Robert Pegues, 77, stirred the pot when he asked Larry Foster a question about Keister.
“Didn’t he promise to give you a gallon of corn whiskey?” Pegues said.
“Yes, he did,” Foster said.
“No. No,” Keister said, waving his hands.
“Tell the truth to these fellows,” Foster said. “They all know the truth.”
Three tables erupted in laughter, then Keister changed the subject.
“He’s 63,” Keister said of Foster. “He’s got his life ahead of him.”
“What are you?” Foster asked. “104?”
More laughter followed at Keister’s expense, and he was among the loudest to join in. Later, he said Pegues, who brought up the corn whiskey, “kind of agitates every now and then.”
The coffee club began about 40 years ago at the Coleman’s BBQ restaurant in Pontotoc, then the group moved to the Huddle House.
“One fellow got us evicted from there,” Pegues said. “They told him not to come back, so we all came here.”
“He went in the bathroom and smoked,” said Don Mallard, 86. “They ran us off.”
Roberts said there used to be a list of past members. It had about 100 names on it, but it was lost during one of the moves.
“It’s a shame we lost that,” Roberts said. “It had the names of good people on it.”
There’s no formal membership roll at the coffee club meetings. No one takes attendance, and you probably already guessed that Robert’s Rules of Order have no business around this group.
“When someone gets sick, the others keep up with them,” Judge Roberts said. “They look after each other.”
Beryl Ferguson, 86, helps everybody keep their lawn mowers going.
“Me and you are the best looking around here,” Keister told Ferguson.
“Smartest, too,” Ferguson said.
“You ought to see his yard,” Keister said.
“Lots of junk,” Ferguson said with a short nod.
“He’ll take three lawnmowers and put them together and try to make money on it,” Keister said.
“Yep,” Ferguson said.
Conversations occasionally turn toward the old times, when Keister, Ferguson and several of the others lived in shotgun shacks and picked cotton for 50 cents a day.
“Do you think you had a bad time then?” Keister said.
“No, I had a good time,” Ferguson replied. “My mama and daddy loved me. I went to church. I walked with the girls.”
“I didn’t remember you were that good with the girls,” Keister said.
The guys around the tables enjoyed that line, and maybe Ferguson regretted agreeing that Keister was as smart as he was.
During the election season, politicians come by to speak their piece. In addition, Mallard watches the news each day, and, with a shake of his head, reports on President Obama’s latest doings.
“He had a special speech today,” Mallard reported.
“He does that every day,” Pegues said.
Buster Tutor is a regular visitor. The 67-year-old owns Tutor Memorial Funeral Home, and nobody forgets it.
“He comes in each day and measures us,” said Billy Ferguson, 74.
“I’m just circling the tables,” Buster Tutor said.
“He’s wondering who he’s going to get next,” said Jim Gri-sham, 88. “Some of them fool him. Some of them fool him.”
You’ll find plenty of life at the Hardee’s tables each day, but death is there, too. Remember that missing list? It was filled with the names of good men who’ve gone on.
Pegues said Judge Roberts knows “more people than anybody I ever heard of,” and he’s often asked to speak at funerals.
“I do a lot of eulogizing,” Roberts said. “A lot of the stories that come out there came out of here first.”
Nobody’s going anywhere just yet. The coffee club guys have jokes to tell, politics to discuss and memories to pass back and forth.
Everybody’s welcome, but – fair warning – you’ll need that thick skin.
“He wants the rest of them around the table to think I don’t tell the truth,” Keister said of Foster.
“Let’s ask them,” Foster suggested.
“Well, no,” Keister said.
“Draw up a ballot,” Mallard said. “We’ll vote on it.”
With that, about 15 men sitting around tables shared another good laugh.