It was a wonderful day, not too hot and not too cold—it was just as perfect as you can get. There were four of us on the Applewood Manor Rocking Chair Porch. Two men from Blue Bell Pennsylvania. One was named Parker and the other was Kevin. It seems their wives were best friends, and the two couples like to vacation together. Today the ladies had gone shopping at the Antique Tobacco Barn, so their husbands were just hanging out. The third person in one of the rocking chairs was Billy Ledford. Everyone just called him by his last name, Ledford. Most people do not even know his first name. Ledford is a native of Asheville—has an apple farm not too far away and knowns about all there is to know about taking care of apple trees. That is why he was at the Manor today. They hired him to check on their trees and to tell them what needs to be done to keep them healthy. He had done that earlier today and decided to enjoy the rest of the morning from the perspective of one of the rocking chairs. Of course, I was the fourth man.
When you put four old guys in rocking chairs, they invariably start speculating about something. Today was no different. Today’s speculation was all about wishes—if you could have anything in the world, what would you wish for? Kevin was a good Church of Christ fellow and sure enough he was quick to declare, “WORLD PEACE!” The rest of us poo-pooed that and said he was just showing off. So, he amended his wish to immortality, which we thought was a pretty good wish. Parker had been an executive in some big corporation, so I wasn’t surprised when he wished for unlimited wealth.
About that time, Ledford interjected that people needed to be careful what they wished for because things don’t always turn out like you expect. “In fact,” he said, “your wish could wind up ruining your life.”
Parker and Kevin stopped rocking and stared at Ledford who had just spoiled their fun. One of them asked, “How so?”
Ledford leaned back in his rocker, looked up at the ceiling of the porch like he was thinking. “Well,”, he said, “let me tell you the story my Aunt Lucy told me about a ruinous wish. Now you probably are not going to want to believe this story, but Aunt Lucy, a good Christian woman, swore on the family bible that it was true. And you fellows need to understand that strange things happen in these mountains. There is so much quartz in them hills that the natural laws you are used to in Pennsylvania just don’t apply here.”
Parker said, “Get on with it. Kevin and I are open-minded people.”
Ledford continued. “Lucy was waitressing in an old family restaurant in Flat Rock until she met her maker a couple of years back. One of her regular customers for breakfast was this fellow named Jack. Jack had come back from Vietnam and got himself an out-of-the-way place up in the mountains not too far from Flat Rock. After a few years, he started coming in her place for breakfast. When he did, there was this chicken that followed him right into the restaurant. Jack would sit in the same booth by the front window and the chicken would hop right up beside him in that booth. That chicken never left Jack’s side. If Jack got up to talk to someone else in the restaurant, that chicken would be right beside him.”
Kevin said, “I’m surprise the establishment allowed him to bring a chicken into the restaurant. Didn’t your aunt do something about it?”
“Well, sir, she did not do a thing. She figured Jack was just a mountain boy, and they were always up to foolery. If it was a trick or joke, she wasn’t going to fall for it. So, she just treated a chicken in the booth as if it were perfectly normal. Jack ordered the country breakfast. That is a slice of ham, two eggs sunny side up and grits, with biscuits and coffee, of course. Lucy said after she had taken Jack’s order, she said to him, ‘And the chicken, what will she have?’ The man acted like her question was perfectly normal and he told her to just to bring a little bowl because he had a few pieces of dried corn in his pocket for the chicken.
“She said things got even stranger. When he finished his breakfast and went to pay, Jack reached in his pocket and pulled out the exact amount of his bill including the customary 10% tip.”
“It seems to me that having a chicken with you is strange enough,” said Parker.
Apparently, Ledford was just getting warmed up. “Fellows,” he said, “that wasn’t the end of it. No sir. Jack was having that same country breakfast every day, except Sunday when the restaurant was closed until after church. Jack was regular as clockwork and the chicken was always with him. One morning, there had been a terrible ice and snowstorm during the night. The roads outside of town were impassable. Nothing was moving on those steep winding mountain roads. Nevertheless, Jack and his chicken showed up for breakfast as usual—right on time.
“When Jack went to pay his bill, Lucy just couldn’t stand it anymore. Particularly because when Jack reached in his pocket and came out with the exact change, it included the increased price that the manager had made just that morning due to higher pork prices. So, she asked Jack how come he always had the exact amount of the bill in his pocket. That is when Jack told his story.”
Ledford decided it was a good place to stop talking and take a long swig from the water bottle he had with him. When he didn’t seem in a hurry to get back to telling us Jack’s story, our Pennsylvania guest looked like there were about to burst a seam in anticipation, so I prodded Ledford to get on with it. “Come on, Billy Ledford,” I said. “Get on with the story, we don’t have all day.” Right after I said it, I thought to myself—actually we do.
Ledford put down the water bottle and went back to the story. “Jack said he was out in the woods hunting when he had come across the biggest crystal rock he had ever seen. It was as big as a bolder and clear as a mountain stream except for something dark green in its center. It was too big to haul back to his place, so Jack hit it with his pickaxe and it split right down the middle. According to Lucy, Jack said, that when the rock opened a tiny little man in a green suit and hat jumped out of that hunk of quartz. The little man started dancing a jig and singing apparently because he was so happy to have been freed from that big rock. Finally, he wound down and told Jack that for freeing him, he would grant him three wishes, but Jack must make them before the sun sets. Since it was already late in the day, Jack didn’t have a lot of time for studying on it. He tried to think of what to wish as fast as he could.
“Well, I probably do not have to tell you, but by this time everyone in the old restaurant had giving up eating and were gathered around Jack and his chicken to hear his story. Someone shouted out, ‘What did you wish for first, Jack?’ Jack, replied, ‘For money, of course, but I didn’t want to deal with lawyers, accountants and so forth, so I wished that I would always have in my pocket exactly amount of money I needed when I bought anything.’ Almost everyone agreed that was a really smart wish. But there was one doubting Thomas in the crowd. That fellow said, ‘Just hold on a minute. If you are telling the god’s truth, why are you still driving that beat up old pickup in the parking place. Why don’t you have a fancy new Ford-150.’
“Jack explained that it was because of his second wish. ‘I wished that my truck would always get me where I wanted to go no matter the weather or conditions of the roads. That why I do not have one of them new Ford or Dodge trucks. You see anyone else driving down from the mountain? No sir, you do not. But I’m here with my chicken, and it was my old pickup truck that got us here.’
“Well now, that won the restaurant crowd over. Jack had made very good and clever wishes. Several people commented that he was the luckiest person they had ever met, and they started talking about what kind of wishes they would of made. That is when Jack, said, ‘Fellows, wishes don’t always turn out the way you want. My advice is to be mighty careful what you wish for lest they turn out to be ruinous! That is what happened to me.’
“The crowd couldn’t believe what Jack was saying. They wanted to know how— having all the money he needed and having a truck that would get him where he wanted to go—that could have ruined his life.
“Jack said, ‘Those were good, but it was my last wish that was ruinous. You see, I made a misstate. I wasn’t careful. I had been terribly lonely, and I wanted a good woman who would love me just the way I am and always be at my side.’
“Everyone agreed that was a good wish. How could that have ruined his life they wanted to know?
“Jack tried to explain it to them. He said, ‘I was getting cocky, and the sun was about to set. I slipped back into my army days—the way we talked as soldiers. That’s when I made my mistake.’
“Everybody was on pins and needles. Someone shouted, ‘Spit it out, man. What did you do?’
“Jack broke down and cried in front of everyone as he said, ‘I asked for a cute little chick to love me and always be at my side.’ “
“Well, if that don’t beat all,” said Kevin. Parker just muttered something, stood up and said, “Kevin, I think it’s time we got some lunch.”
I looked over at Ledford who was rocking away with a satisfied grin on his face as he said to the departing men—”Yes sir, one’s got to be careful what they wish for.”
I’ll tell you this, I do not know for sure if Billy Ledford really had an Aunt Lucy. But strange things really do happen in these quartz laden mountains. So, who am I to say if Ledford’s story was true, half true or just plain Tom Foolery?