Stutson Baggett, long deceased, has been bouncing around in my head for months, and now I’m reporting whatever it is that I have been mulling over about him. Stutson was a distant relative of my cousin by marriage, Cragon Baggett, about whom I have previously written in glowing, heroic terms.
Stutson was affected by some type of intellectual disability. He was middle-aged in my memories of him from my youth. Sometimes Daddy hired him to help us with farm work, but in recent years I have often wondered if this was Daddy’s way of helping Stutson financially without giving him money outright. I don’t remember Stutson being particularly helpful, but when Daddy hired him for short and simple jobs we treated him with kindness and respect.
Even though Stutson was always clean-shaven and well groomed, he had an odd, offensive body odor when he worked with us. Funny that I remember that a half century later. But in Stutson’s defense, my wife Ellen often says to me when I come in sweaty and dirty from pruning plants or doing other landscape work, “You don’t smell so good. Go take a shower.” She has a sensitive nose, and maybe I did as a kid.
Stutson lived about a mile north of our farmhouse along a gravel road that was similar to the one that ran in front of our house. Every time I saw Stutson he was dressed in bib overalls and a broad-brimmed hat. I have no memory of him without his hat, indoors or out. His only modes of transportation were walking, riding a bicycle, or riding with anyone who stopped to offer a ride. Cragon likes to tell me, always with a chuckle, whenever we reminisce about Stutson that if anyone offered him a ride while he was riding his bicycle that he would shove his bike off into some weeds or a thicket beside the road and get in the truck or car that stopped. He never wanted to load the bike, preferring to walk back later to retrieve it. Sometimes when we saw Stutson walking a good distance from his house, we gave him a ride, but we didn’t offer when he was riding his bike.
Stutson was someone I pitied. I wondered even as a child what Stutson thought about as he walked along the gravel roads. In my memory he walked far more often than he rode his bike. He walked with his head bent down slightly, never waving or acknowledging anyone who drove past him. He was kind and gentle when spoken to, but I don’t remember him showing any emotion, happy or sad.
Every time I return to Tennessee to visit family and drive along those roads near where I grew up, Stutson invariably comes into my mind. All the public roads around there are now paved with asphalt, but my memory of him walking or riding his bike along the old gravel roads is as clear as crystal. I wish I had made an effort to get to know Stutson better before I married and left home.
But I didn’t. And Stutson remains a mystery.