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Things Were Simpler Then

     We bought the old mill one evening in the lingering summer twilight, bought it on a handshake. No money changed hands, and nobody signed anything or offered to. We did what was to us mega-business with just a look in a man's eye and a promise to pay the price we agreed on. A handshake in the evening dusk and a man's word. Things were simpler then.


      We did have to hire Harold to record the deed in the Court House, but that was O.K. It was a small legal matter, and besides, he and Phebe had finished school at the same time. As a matter of fact, they had grown up together in a small town tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. And Harold had become one of the scions of our new community. When we moved into this ancient mill, with its dilapidated water wheel and solid walnut lintels, there were a lot of us. Betty Ann had two or three kids of different ages and sizes, and Phebe brought several with her - one or two off at a summer camp somewhere and subject to show up at the odd hour. And in need of the odd meal and the odd washing machine. I think I had one. And all of 'em by different marriages and nobody much had the same last name.


     The local preacher became confused by it all when he stopped by and must've decided we couldn't be moral enough to invite to his church. So he didn't. We were relieved. In spite of that tremendous crowd at the mill - or maybe because of it - we didn't have a great deal of money. We felt a bit like the old woman in the shoe. Phebe and I had escaped a small town to avoid the social outrage that came with her divorce, and Betty Ann was a good friend who came along to join us in our romantic search for an old mill, a pastoral setting, and, perhaps, truth and justice.


      My cabinet shop wasn't making any money to speak of yet, so I set out to visit some people - let them know I was there - sort of get my name out. The first place I went to was the bank. It was an old bank, way up in the mountain, right there at the foot of a great limestone cliff in a very small village. I walked in just as though I had some business there, and the first person I spoke to happened to be the man who ran the place. I found out later that everyone called him Smitty.


     "What can I do for you?" he asked.


     "Well," I said, "I just bought the old mill down there at Singing Springs and I'd like to establish some credit here at the bank. I'd like to borrow some money." You can probably tell I was new to the world of high finance. I didn't know that the way to establish credit was to deposit money - not to take out some that I didn't own.


     But the banker just looked at me with a kind of odd tilt to his head and said, "How much is some?" I told him - my idea of "some" was fairly vast to us but not likely to affect the stock market and he started asking me about the mill, real friendly like, who lived there, had we made any friends yet. That sort of thing.


     After this conversation, he counted out the money, slid it and a small piece of paper across to me and said "You might want to sign this."


     That's all there was to it. I put the spoils in my jeans and headed off to the General Store to buy supper fixin's for our crowd. While we were cookin', Harold ambled into the mill in search of company and an evening libation and sat there listening while I recounted the day's events., I finished up my little talk with the adventure at the bank - thinkin' I must have the world's most honest face - and said, "I didn't even need to give any credit references."


     Harold smiled and looked at Phebe. "Smitty called me at the office," he said, "after you left the bank. Wanted to know if you were respectable." Things were simpler then.

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