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    The P&N became the Poor and Needy Railroad

The Editor Talks With You

A father’s legacy: The gift of laughter

My father could find humor in even the thinnest of life's material. 
He grew up in a south Georgia farm family of 10 children, a middle son. Only 8 of them made it to adulthood. 
Dad was shorter than I am and I’m not tall. He found humor in that, too, calling himself “the runt of the litter.”
Only years later did I learn that the runt had a fiery temper. His sister Christine - my favorite, fun-loving aunt - told me that my father may have been the smallest boy in the family but “You didn’t mess with Ed or you had a fight on your hands.”
I could imagine that but in all the years with him, I watched that temper get the best of him only once. But that’s another story for another time.
My father wanted to study engineering at Georgia Tech. Early in the last century the tuition, books, room and board cost the princely sum of $2,000 for 4 years. 
It might as well have been $2 million.
His family couldn’t afford it. 
My father walked and hitched wagon rides more than 300 miles to northwestern South Carolina for a job selling furniture and sweeping out the store for a kindly family friend who would hire a 15-year-old high school graduate and eventually make him the store manager.
People loved my father. He not only was fun. He was compassionate. He cared about others and they knew it.
My mother said that when they first met, she knew he was the one for her.
“He made me laugh,” she said.
Her father was an optometrist who encouraged his new son-in-law to go back to school, study optometry and join his thriving practice in Greenville. 
If he couldn’t become an engineer, my father figured, he could become a professional man in another field. He borrowed money from an uncle and went back to school.
My father found humor in odd places.
A friend of his ran a men’s clothing store in Greenville. He called it OPO for “One Price Only.” His business strategy was that all the coats were one price, all the pants another and all the shirt the same.
My father used to kid his friend, the owner, that OPO meant “One Pocket Only.”
His friend saw the humor in that.
My father’s humor was never malicious. His jokes, playful in spirit, even at your own expense, would make you laugh.
Another friend managed the Piedmont & Northern Railroad. It was a small regional line that ran through Greenville. People started calling it the P&N and soon the rail cars had P&N painted on their sides.
My father suggested to his friend that they start calling it the “Poor & Needy.” 
The man loved that joke so much he told it to all his employees and friends.
One of my fondest memories of my parents was going to bed on summer nights. All the windows were open  to catch what little night breeze might come our way.
I could hear my parents across the hall talking and laughing in bed in the dark. 
I realized then that I wanted a wife who would laugh and talk with me at night. 
I found her.
Next: Dealing with covid-19

Chronicle Editor Emeritus Jerry Bellune is the author of more than 15 books.

His next book, "The Art of Compelling Writing" is due in December. 

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