Sam “Handy” Haynes, Peanutman
I didn’t want my folks to count me a lazy man.
In his own way Sam “Handy” Haynes was a self-made man. “Uncle Raleigh Haynes built the big mills in Cliffside, Avondale, and Caroleen,” Sam piped shrilly, “and my Uncle Raleigh always said, ‘If’n you don’t have a job-then you make you one.’ Well, I made me one: sellin’ peanuts.” Sam stuck out his little chest.
Sam, eighty-two, became a permanent fixture around town as the bicycle-riding peanutman of Spindale. He’d been growing peanuts since 1921, but it wasn’t until he was eighty-one that Sam began roasting, bagging, and selling the peanuts from a red and green cart on Main Street. “I didn’t want my folks to count me a lazy man,” he said with a shy smile. “So I come up here. And besides, I see my friends. Oh, I might make fifty cents a day, but that’s better than not having fifty cents.”
Sam made his headquarters beneath one of the shade trees in front of the Methodist Church just before Main Street takes a dogleg across the railroad tracks that split Spindale clean down the middle like a giant zipper. His peanut cart was a merry mix of Yankee ingenuity and Southern spare parts. “Made that cart myself last year. It’s got a lantern under the drum there to keep the roasted peanuts warm,” he explained.
Sam sat on an overturned bucket sharing the shade with appleman Perry Guffey when a car pulled up along the curbside. Sam bolted from his seat with short, eager steps, bending over as he went so as to see in the window. “How many?” he demanded. A single finger was the response. Still bent like a question mark, Sam pivoted to his peanut cart, grabbed a bag, and wheeled back to the customer, stiff and precise as a wooden doll in a German wind-up clock. After the customer drove off Sam produced a ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket and deftly banged the pen’s backside on his forehead to click it open, and on a small notebook he studiously recorded the transaction. Today he had sold fourteen bags. Not bad for a Thursday, he announced sagely.
Appleman Guffey was seated on an upturned peach crate, peeling and then eating an apple with a pen knife. This he did by slicing the apple in half and then scraping the knife blade back and forth across the open apple, making sort of an instant apple sauce, which he ladled into his mouth carefully with the knife blade. Guffey watched as Sam went hobbling quickly to service another peanut customer. “That ol’ man’s been foolin with peanuts a long time,” he surmised. When Sam returned to his seat he said in consternation, “That feller wanted to know if I had any hot tamales, if I heard him right.” He shook his head and eased down slowly to his sitting bucket.
The peanutman of Spindale was born in 1890 in Pueblo, Colorado, or as he called it, “Pebble-oh.” His family lived there six months before coming to the big new mill at Cliffside where his uncle was in charge of the textile operation. Sam attended Simmons School at Ferry and went to high school-level boarding school in Westminster community north of Rutherfordton. “You know, schools have made rapid progress since I was a little boy. If I could, I’d go back and study arithmetic, history, and English, but I ain’t got the time. What’s that? Oh why, because then I’d be a smart man,” Sam beamed back through his scholarly looking gold-rimmed glasses.
But Sam hadn’t done poorly for himself. He and his wife had “raised seven children and I’m proud of it. One of my boys is a preacher up at Pleasant Hill this side of Morganton. Another daughter’s an English teacher at Central High-Mrs. Raymond Lyies.” And then there was the peanut business. “Built my own peanut roaster. Found an old oil stove I bought for two dollars. They said, ‘Sam, you’ll never roast peanuts on that,’ but I have.
“Put the peanuts in the winder and I just sit there and turn that crank so they get done right. Folks say, ‘Sam, that’ll take a long time.’ It does. Takes an hour. But I got nothin else better to do.”
During lulls in the conversation and between peanut sales, Sam liked to read. Under the tree lay the remains of a newspaper, and a book titled Life Begins at Death. Sam said he liked books, especially poetry. And with that, the old peanutman stood up and began reciting:
Under the spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands
The smith, a mighty man is he
With large and sinewy hands
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands . . .
Sam pulled back his sleeve and flexed his right arm in a little knot to illustrate the recitation, and he smiled at his performance. Perhaps “Handy” Haynes liked to envision himself as independent and self-reliant as Longfellow’s heroic figure, a valued and vital part of the community. He may have only been a peanutman, but he was proud just the same.
A large, black car pulled up before the peanut stand. Again, Sam rocketed off his pail and did his bent little dance routine over to the car’s window. “Haynes, I been missin you!” the driver called out.
“My wife’s been sick,” Sam responded apologetically. “You like them peanuts I sold you pretty well?” he asked hopefully.
“Yes indeed,” the customer responded, buying two bags and insisting that Sam take a whole quarter for the pair. When the big spender drove off, Sam stared at the quarter in his hand. “He tipped me a nickel,” he said happily. “Think he must be a big man over at the mill.”
Sam returned to his shady spot under the tree where he resumed the comfortable conversation with Guffey the appleman. Silhouetted against the glaring June sun and the Main Street traffic, the two old vendors looked like a montage from another age superimposed over a twentieth-century setting.
From “Runnin’ on Rims” by Jock Lauterer. Copyright 1986 by Jock Lauterer. Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
Sam Haynes, best known to Cliffside natives as having run the “dope wagon” in the mill for many years, as well as other enterprises in town, was the son of R. R. Haynes’ sister, Eva. This article was first a newspaper piece written about 1972. Sam died at age 91 in 1981.