Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Caring and concern are alive in well in small, southern towns

I was leaving a local restaurant after lunchtime a few weeks ago, and as I got to the door, it opened and a couple stepped in, looking around.  Since they obviously had never been in the place, I asked, “Can I help you?” even though I wasn’t connected to the eatery. “They have great food here, and I especially recommend the Crawfish Alfredo,” I declared.

“Oh, we’re not here to eat,” the lady responded, “We just want to come in and thank the owner. He saved my daddy’s life.”

Carl was right behind me, so I indicated him as the right man to talk to, and the couple moved by me, but I remained within earshot. This promised to be a good story: had her dad choked on a hot tamale, and Carl used the Heimlich Maneuver on him? My writer’s side clicked in.

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“Ryan isn’t here right now,” Carl said, “but I’m his daddy, and we appreciate your coming by. Can I fix y’all a plate or something?”

Here’s what happened, and if I get some of the facts wrong in the telling of the story, please forgive me. The couple was from somewhere over around Atlanta, and her sister was married and living somewhere around Nashville. Their father, a retired widower, owned an RV and pretty well lived therein, traveling whenever and wherever he wished.  

He had rented an empty former plantation shop at Stoneville to park his RV inside and live for the winter, sort of a snow-free hibernation out of the chilling winds of the Mississippi Delta, but close to good hunting and fishing – and good people!

The daughters kept up with Dad by calling every day or so and chatting on his cell phone. But the Atlanta sister failed to connect with him for two or three days, and got worried. She called Sis in Nashville, to find that she had had similar luck. Worse, at times the phone would be answered unintelligibly. They had no idea of whom to contact, for Stoneville is mainly a business and agricultural community.  But one daughter remembered that Dad had mentioned a nearby restaurant where he ate often.

“It has a kind of unusual name,” she recalled.

Husbands were called in, though a man’s memory is usually discounted.  Finally, someone came up with it: “Cicero’s!  That’s right!”

They called information, got a number, and dialed. The young owner, Ryan Moore, answered the phone and was told the problem.

“We just need someone to check on Daddy, to see if anything has happened to him,” the daughter pleaded.

“Yes Ma’am, I know him, and the shop is just down the road.  I’ll run down there and check on him right away.”  

Ryan’s dad, Carl, motioned him to go ahead, that he would handle the lunchtime crowd until he returned. Ryan reassured him, “Daddy, what if it was you?  I’ll be back quick as I can.”

He called for an ambulance and rushed out; the shop was walking distance, and was locked from the inside. He beat on the roll-down metal door and yelled, but there was no response. However, volunteer fireman Sanfrid Shaifer heard the ambulance call, and worked right across the creek at the Experiment Station, so he drove over right away and came up with a tool to force the lock.

Inside, they found the daddy on the floor, the victim of a stroke, but still alive. He was holding his cell phone, but had been unable to answer it, or to dial a number.

Ryan and Sanfrid got him into the ambulance, and the doctors managed to bring him around, and recovery is expected. The daughters had come to visit him in the hospital, and drove to Stoneville to thank their young rescuer, filling his dad and this writer in on the story.  

The point was made that this might not have happened in one of the large cities where they now live. However, in a small town, especially in the South, everyone knows everyone else, and a daughter concerned about her missing daddy is matter of concern to even busy restaurant owners.

It’s called caring. It’s called The Golden Rule. How’s YOUR Daddy?!