Good Lord Willing
BY DRAKE FARMER
The engine of my boss’ pickup truck, a faded blue Chevrolet 1500, roared to life and we set out towards Deck’s Glassware. I’d never been. After a few minutes of driving through town, we made the right turn from East 23rd onto Dodds Avenue. We headed farther east, deeper into Chattanooga’s neglected neighborhoods. Homes with bowed front porches sit beside industrial warehouses, some abandoned and some in use. Slowly, the streets became more residential, the clusters of houses denser, and I was filled with excitement—a strange sensation given we were on our way to a glassware salvage yard. Still, the odd stories I’d heard of Deck’s were told with such reverence that I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself. About fifteen minutes after setting out, we pulled off the road and parked in front of a moderately sized brick building. In the summer months, the front door is left open, which helps circulate the stale, cigarette-laden air. Inside, vaguely organized dishes of all shapes and sizes fill every available surface, making the space feel more like a roadside yard sale than a business. A few steps deeper and the room opens up to reveal more shelves, again overflowing with vintage mugs, Pyrex, and beer glasses. From behind a desk covered by papers, coffee cups, and an ashtray comes the voice of Chester, the store’s owner. “Hey, dad,” he smiles. An American flag covers the window behind his desk. I’ve been going back since.
Off the building’s left side extends a pitched roof warehouse—watermarks drip down the front, causing the white paint to chip and gray. Entering the dark, cool space generally excites the pigeons who have found their way in through gaps in the walls and ceiling. In a back corner of the warehouse, sunlight spills onto a labyrinth of broken plates and bowls. “The roof fell in the back; you saw that,” he asks. I nod that I did. “What am I going to do about that? I’ve got a guy coming to look at it soon. The trusses are still good, though.” Milling through the stacks of plates and bowls, it’s likely you’d find a something that catches your eye; far less likely, though, that the others like it will be nearby. Thankfully, Chester has a pretty good sense of what’s back there, so in the (very) likely event the other dishes in the set aren’t immediately apparent, he can point you in the right direction.
A few days before our interview, I went to ask Chester if he had some free time to chat. He said he was free the following Monday. Before leaving, two small bowls for myself and a tall, cream colored vase—just wide enough to fit the stems of one or two flowers and a good gift, I thought. It’s difficult to leave Deck’s empty handed. Realizing I didn’t have any cash with me, I turned to put the items back. He casually urged me to go ahead and take them, saying, “Shit, three dollars ain’t going to make or break me, and I ain’t about to run a card for three bucks.” I told him I would bring him cash when I came back Monday. “I know you will, dad,” he smiled.
After talking with Chester for any amount of time, it becomes apparent that he believes greed to be a major problem in America. As a way of combatting this, he makes sure to work hard and wait patiently for opportunities to come his way. He’s never quite sure who will walk through the door. Chester is a man with a “good Lord willing” attitude who wishes to do right by everyone he encounters.
At sixty-two, Chester is weathered but not calloused. His bright blue eyes light up as he launches into sprawling, tangent filled narratives to answer each question I ask.
Chester works mornings (7:30–11:30 a.m.) at a nearby horse farm to make a little extra money. It was the first job he ever had, actually. Chester tells me about his job, then and now. “I just take care of the horses,” he explains. A pair of mud covered work boots sit behind him. “I get the horses ready, I put them up,” he says. The phone rings and Chester answers. “This guy’s a horse trainer, and he’s out of Michigan,” Chester tells me, looking up from the phone. He was negotiating feed prices. “I like him,” Chester mentions, “really good with a horse.” For Chester, being good with a horse is synonymous to being good with people. With no explanation, Chester told me that, in his opinion, people and horses aren’t so different.
In 1980, Chester, a Rossville, GA, native, was living in Santa Cruz, California when got he a phone call from his father saying he needed help at his store. Business at Deck’s was going well, and Chester was needed to help manage wholesale accounts and tend to the store. Chester’s father built the business by word of mouth, a tactic that Chester still values highly. “You never know—in business you never know what the good Lord is going to send you,” Chester explains, taking a drag off his cigarette. “We’d trade anything,” Chester explained as he told me how his father would salvage and sell anything, from overstock candy to woolen blankets, “My old man was smart. I’m dumb as hell.” Eventually, Deck’s landed on dishware because of a connection built with a factory in New York that sold silver tray sets. From there, the business grew to sell other salvage dishes. Five years after Chester returned home to work his father died, leaving him the business. Things went well until the past few years, when the factory in New York shut down. Now, times are tougher. Chester’s making it work, though. He has adopted a peaceful attitude about his situation. When asked if he feels like giving up, he responds emphatically, “Hell, no… I’ll let the good Lord take me.”
After a couple of hours of walking around and talking with Chester, I tell him that I appreciate his time and that I feel like his place has a story—a special kind of history. “Story? Where’s it at?” he questions. I clarify, telling him that he is the story. “Oh, shit, dad. I thought you meant there was one out there already.” Laughing, he offers a suggestion for the theme: “From having somethin’ to not having nothing,” following it with, “that’s a hell of a damn way to go.”
Chester isn’t worried about what the future holds. Whether it’s china, or happiness, he can salvage it. “Good Lord willing I’ll make it. I’ll make it with or without this place. If I lose it all, it’s no problem. If I’ve still got my health, I’ve got it all.”
Drake is a first-year graduate student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he studies English Rhetoric and Composition. A Southerner by birth, he has spent the majority of his years rambling around the Southeast, hiking, camping, and enjoying all it has to offer.He is proud to be a part of Catalpa’s inaugural issue.