It’s hard to explain that while I sit in one of the coffee shops I frequent near my home in Los Angeles, I find myself occupied with the thoughts that motive this piece.
It’s a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time, and rather than a subject, it’s a man which to me embodies the essence of true Southern Grit and Hospitality, and the reason I’m so proud to be Southern by birth and by blood.
“They sure don’t make ‘em like Gran Turn anymore!”, is the first thought that comes to mind. Turner Suter is a throwback to the days when a man could build and fix anything with his hands and drove a truck because he needed it. A day when family was number one and providing for them was always the priority, no matter how back breaking the work. A time when men shot guns, worked the land, hunted, smoked a pipe, and drank whiskey, not because it made them cool, but because it served a purpose in the world in which they lived. Their bodies tuff and hands callused, and if they didn’t have anything nice to tell you, they wouldn’t tell you anything at all. And if there was a problem that needed to be solved, they solved it like men, mano a mano, and went on about their business.
Gran Turn isn’t quite the same man he was in years past. He doesn’t enjoy his Wild Turkey and he’s long since stopped smoking his pipe: Doctor’s orders. His grey GMC pickup’s been sold because he doesn’t do much driving these days and the most pressing issue on his agenda is “what’s for supper”. Time has inevitably taken it’s toll on the man I’ve always felt a tremendous amount of admiration for, but no matter the effects on his body, his mind and the constant recounting of stories from times past remain the same.
He lives in a barn he’s converted into a house on property his family has owned for the better part of a century in Joelton, Tennessee. It’s acres upon acres of untouched land, minus the barn Turner lives in with his eldest daughter, Aunt Suzanne, who looks after him; And a somewhat suburban looking home his middle daughter, Lauren, built across the way and moved into, and has since moved out of, some years back. There are a few four wheelers for riding around the property and both homes are accompanied by above ground pools. And you have to admit, nothing says the South like an above ground pool. There’s a horseshoe pit, beanbag toss, and a few clubs and golf balls lying around for killing time. But I’d have to say, my favorite part of the property is the pond and the rickety dock we sit on for hours at a time and cast aimlessly. Not really saying much and mostly catching the same fish over and over again.
I made my most recent trip to Joelton this past Christmas day. It was cold as all get out, and fishing was absolutely not on the agenda. What was on the agenda, was a surprise visit to Gran Turn’s.
There’s always something captivating to me about the drive up 65 to the Joelton exit. It’s ethereal and majestic, with rolling hills, rock lined highways, grey sky’s and forests of barren trees as far as the eye can see. It paint’s a vivid picture that I can only describe as Winter’s Bone.
It’s not often I get a chance to visit with Gran Turner, but when I do he greets me with the same warmth and excitement as the time before. I can’t say I’ve ever seen another human being express a calmer, more contained excitement than Turner. He doesn’t bat an eye and doesn’t flinch a muscle, but the look in his eyes lets you know exactly what he’s feeling without saying a word, and just another example of his classic and timeless cool.
He’s sitting in his cubby as usual. Rocking slowly in his recliner with his dog Max running back and forth from the living room, to Turners lap, out the doggy door and back. Turner’s cubby has all a southern man could desire: a toilet, a bunk for sleeping, a TV, a guitar, pictures of his grandkids and great grand kids, a jar full of peanut butter crackers, a homemade shotgun that he’s converted into a hand gun I call “the hand cannon”, a collection of amazingly dapper hats, a few canes, a small collection of ornate stained glass window hangings and an oddly placed wooden Pelican that Gran Turn carved himself out of one solid piece of wood he picked up one day while taking a walk. That Pelican now sits on the edge of the TV stand in my living room and is one of my most prized possessions.
No matter how far apart my visits are, as soon as I take a seat next to him, like clockwork, he points to a bookshelf to his right and says “ there’s something over there for ya boy”. It never fails he’s got an assortment of gas station cigars waiting for me. It’s one of the vices I still maintain, and one of the little things I look forward to most when seeing Turner and just a little something that only we share.
I can’t say I talk very much when visiting Turner; mostly what I do is listen. I listen to the way he talks, the straight forward manner in which he thinks, observes and addresses any number of topics. But more than that, I listen to him tell me stories about his life. Stories that remind me men like Turner knew a little something about everything and almost everything they learned was self taught or just plain common sense. There’s no preoccupation with status or material possessions, but rather being happy and spending time with your family and friends. Luxury to him was the day they got electricity.
I guess you could consider Gran Turn’s an escape for me. A place I can go and not get lost in the constant ringing, buzzing and dinging of my iPhone and Laptop; a place without all the big city distractions. But more than an escape, it’s a reminder in who I am and where I’m from, what really matters, and what I can do without. A reminder that the type a man I strive to be doesn’t really exist anymore, that it’s ok to turn off my phone and enjoy doing absolutely nothing with my family, and most importantly, that cool isn’t something you strive to be, its just something you are when you’re being yourself.
Turner Suter is one of my idol’s, and if there’s anyone you’d ever want to be like, its him…..