The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Quick Thinking Carson

By Mel Tharp © 1991

Issue: March, 1991

It has been said that mountain men speak slow, but think fast. Thinking fast is an inherent part of their survival instinct. Their pioneer ancestors lived in an environment where life-threatening dangers constantly stalked their everyday lives.

Mr. Carson Norris, of Crossville, Tennessee, during his years of operating a small country grocery store, gave new resonance to the term, "quick-thinker."

For several years Carson, and his wife, Kay, operated a small store in a rural community in Cumberland County, Tennessee. Though the store was small, it was well stocked. In addition to staple goods, meats and produce, Carson stocked items which he knew would be needed in a farming community.

The store had the double advantage of being located in a farming area, and at the same time, situated on a main highway. You could get anything at Carson's store from a cup of coffee to a full line of groceries. More important, however, at least from the viewpoint of the local people, you could hear all the neighborhood news.

The store was also a sort of showcase for local culture and traditions. You could become an expert on folk remedies by listening to some of the "cures" expounded by local practitioners.

Many of them exemplified common sense and employed the principle that, "If they do not cure you, they will not harm you."

Sassafras tea is a good spring tonic. (In fact, it has a delicious taste).

Bruised peach tree leaves tied on a toe will relieve the pain of a corn.

Peach tree limb tea was also considered a good remedy for unruly children. How do you make peach tree limb tea? You simply break off a peach tree limb and apply it to the bare legs.

There was, on the other hand, a negative side to being located on a main highway. There was the occasional obnoxious tourist. Carson admits to having an ample quota of these offensive "flatlanders."

It wasn't that Carson bore any xenophobic animosity to out-of-staters. He appreciated the tourists stopping by his place for gas or refreshments and genuinely enjoyed passing the time of day with these transit motorists. "After all," he says, "a stranger is just someone you haven't met."

Carson especially remembers one motorist who stopped by his store one afternoon. This gentleman not only went out of his way to be abrasive, but carried parsimony to the nth degree.

The man walked about the store making critical comments and haggled like a Bedouin in a Middle Eastern bazaar.

"Do you sell half-heads of lettuce?" the man finally asked.

"Well, not usually," Carson hedged. "We clean and wrap the heads individually in cellophane, and besides, I don't know what I would do with the remaining half-head."

"But I don't need a whole head," the man insisted. "I just need enough to make some sandwiches. I'm traveling and I don't have refrigeration. I don't want to buy a whole head of lettuce and have to waste half of it."

Carson was tempted to send this wretched miser packing, but he always prided himself in pleasing his customers.

Coincidentally, at that particular time, Kay was cleaning and wrapping produce. Walking back to the produce counter where his wife was at work, Carson gave her the unusual order.

"What do you want with a half-head of lettuce?" she demanded.

Meanwhile, Carson was unaware that his customer had followed him to the rear of the store and was standing directly behind him.

"This Jackass wants a half-head of lettuce." Then, belatedly, he sensed the customer's presence. The man was looking directly over his right shoulder. It was time for some quick thinking, and Carson threw his brain into overdrive. "And this gentleman here wants the other half. Wrap it to go."

"I must have covered my blunder well," Carson observed later. "The man didn't seem to be offended, and even said he would stop again on his next trip through. I never saw him again though, and it was one customer whose coattails I was glad to see."

Tact is a skill, and like any skill, it must be practiced to gain proficiency. "I always tried to use tact in dealing with the public," Carson says. "I tried to make an obnoxious customer feel at home, even though I might wish he was."