Will Woods was our milk man when I was a little bitty squirt. And by milk man, I don’t mean he picked up those small 5 gallon milk cans. He drove a milk tanker and transported a gazillion gallons of milk every day.We lived down a long dead-end country road, and I could hear a car comin’ from a mile away. So it was no wonder that I could hear Will coming long, long before he got there.
Will gave me my first tricycle. Mama said Will didn’t have kids at that time, so I don’t know where he got the tricycle, but I distinctly remember that he brought it to me in the cab of his tractor-trailer for my birthday. I loved Will with all the passion of a pre-schooler who didn’t see anybody other than my parents and two older brothers all week. Since my parents both worked on the farm, I didn’t go to pre-school or daycare: the dairy was my daycare; my brother, the dogs, cats, and newborn calves my playmates.
Will picked up our milk every other day, but I was too young to process how often “tomorrow” really meant, so I’m sure I drove Mama crazy asking when Will would be there. But I was old enough to know that if Mama and Daddy were done with the milking, it shouldn’t be long before Will showed up.
I have a good imagination (I’m a writer, after all), and this is kind of hazy, but I seem to recall sitting on the steps at the barn many a morning on those off days, and then trudging to the house when I realized Will wasn’t going to show.
One Sunday morning, Mama was getting us all ready for church, rushing around as only a farm wife and mother can do after getting up at five am to milk a herd of Holsteins. The next thing she knew, I came flying out of the back room like a wild cat. She made a grab for me, but I tore out of the house toward the barn, yelling “Will’s comin’! Will’s comin’!”
He was still half a mile away, and she hadn’t heard a thing. But I had.
I’d heard that big motor, and those big wheels bringing my friend to me. And church was just going to have to wait. It didn’t matter that on some days all he brought was a tootsie roll or a piece of gum. He’d remembered me, and I was happy.
While I had a loving, Christian family with roots deep in the red clay hills of Mississippi, my friendship with Will reminds me of Jimmy Denton’s relationship with Slade and Buck Donovan in Claiming Mariah.
Jimmy’s home situation isn’t the best: His pa is a drunkard, and they live in a shack that is falling down around their ears. Slade and Buck Donovan see a bit of themselves in the little boy, and they befriend Jimmy. Eventually, the caring and acceptance of the Donovans touch the entire Denton family, allowing healing and family to mend. Jimmy’s story is not the main thread in Claiming Mariah, but it is an important part. Jimmy weaves himself into Slade and Mariah’s story and finds a home there. Right where he belongs.
Back to my friend, Will. In my young mind, I assumed Will lived far, far away. As I wrote this blog post, I couldn’t remember his last name: to me, he was just Will, my friend. So I called my mother. Mama told me she’d recently seen Will at the local Wildlife Jamboree a nearby town hosts every year. Over forty years after he ran the route as our milk man, some little nugget prompted me to write an article to honor the attention a man showed a little girl who lived on the back side of nowhere, only to find out he lives right here in my community, and not far, far away as I’d always thought.
Soon after learning that Will lived close by, my husband and I attended another farming event and Will was there. When I heard his name, I got all excited. My ever-patient Cowboy pointed him out to me. The minute I told him who my parents were, he said, “Of course I remember you. You’re Pam.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. He’d remembered the little girl who idolized him so many years ago. My no-so-patient Cowboy took our picture with my iphone. It’s a little fuzzy, but I didn’t have the heart to ask him to take several…just in case.
Will doesn’t wear a six-shooter, and he doesn’t race his horse across the big screen like John Wayne, but he’s a real Cowboy with a good, kind heart.
A Cowboy who rode in on a big rig and took the time to be my friend.
GIVEAWAY: Ms. Hillman is graciously giving away a copy of Claiming Mariah today. U.S. winner – print or ebook. International winner – ebook only. Please like Pam’s Facebook Author Page or subscribe to her newsletter and let us know in your comment.