Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Coke Club

By Neil Joiner

Although I’m too young to join the Coke Club, I had a delightful visit with those fellows one Friday afternoon. Ten were present for the full session. Two others stopped by.

Earlier that day, I’d asked Cecil McGraw when James Woodward would be presiding over a meeting. James is their CEO – Chief Entertainment Officer. A few hours later we were sipping sodas at McDonalds in Vienna.

When I expressed my certainty they had countless stories worth sharing, Cecil responded with a sly grin. “We have plenty that shouldn’t be told,” he confided. Joviality is essential for membership, but it comes easily. The laughter of old men is contagious. Fortunately, no restrictions are imposed on how many times a good tale can be repeated.

James had shared one of those dated stories with me several months ago. During a six-week Alaska adventure he and Charles Stephens undertook in 1992, they went to a small diner for supper one night. James asked the waitress about the stuffed jalapeno peppers on the menu, pronouncing jalapeno with a hard j. She smiled, asked where they were from, then politely explained, “In Alaska, we pronounce the j like an h. We say halapeno.”

“How long will you Georgia boys be in Alaska?” she inquired. “We’re not sure,” James said. “Probably until Hune or Huly.”

One of the members thought their club name was ROMEO, for Retired Old Men Eating Out. James, however, said that’s an Albany group his brother belongs to.

The Coke Club was established in 1998 but has no written documentation of organization or meetings. They don’t keep minutes for legal reasons. Cecil is approaching 30 years of retirement with Georgia Power and has been with them the whole time. James and Charles are also charter members. Kenny Calhoun wasn’t present but was acknowledged as a reliable source of local lore from days of yore. He reportedly has total recall plus remembers events that happened long before he was born.

The late James Pass was recognized for earlier contributions. While fishing at Lake Blackshear with David Brigman, also deceased, a flock of geese passed over and left a horrendous deposit on James’ head. He said David showed no sympathy — he was only worried about his boat.

When David Brown and Mike Joiner dropped by for a brief chat, the subject of age was raised. David, a retired educator, shared that a young lady recently told him he had taught her great-grandmother. That’s sobering, considering he’s younger than the club’s senior members.

Marion Hall brought up a long-ago prank coordinated by James Woodward and Jim Braxton. Their businesses were located across the street, providing each a clear view of a strategically placed empty barrel placed outdoors at Woodward Auto Parts. They would stare curiously into the barrel then jump back, like something struck at them. After they left, others would cautiously peer into the emptiness, mystified by what they had missed.

Someone mentioned crates filled with empty drink bottles being stolen from behind Woodward Service Station. James connected a big horn to a battery and set a tripwire. When the culprit unknowingly activated the horn, police happened to be nearby and caught the man. Such tales help demonstrate how James quickly attained the rank of CEO. 

Tidbits of quaint history are preserved by the group. James mentioned Sheriff’s Willie King’s checkerboard style display that included a small sample of wood from every type of locally grown tree. The family doesn’t know what happened to the unique collection. Sheriff H. C. Johnson was remembered for his success decades ago in capturing moonshiners. One still was found inside a sawdust pile. Sawdust remnants in a car trunk containing home brew had given him a clue.

As I was leaving, Charles Stephens told me about another Coke Club, which assigned numbers to their standard jokes to save time. Instead of retelling familiar stories, someone would call out a number. A new member at his first meeting looked over the list and found one he considered perfect. “Number seven!” he said enthusiastically, but no one laughed. “Don’t feel bad,” said a veteran club member. “Not everyone can tell a joke.”

It’s beyond my ability to capture the camaraderie of the Coke Club in a column. So, I’ll close by thanking those fellows for their friendship, a delightful visit and reminding me of a blessing easily taken for granted. The laughter of old men is contagious.

— Neil Joiner
Vienna, Georgia,

Cotton Farming’s back page is devoted to telling unusual “farm tales” or timely stories from across the Cotton Belt. Now it’s your turn. If you’ve got an interesting story to tell, send a short summary to We look forward to hearing from you.

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