Wheel: An essential part…..necessary to keep things turning smoothly
“I was the Wheel,” the gentleman in the pale lavender golf shirt and khakis with the oversized turquoise belt buckle stated. “I was the Whee-eel.” Which means, I think, that this is a person who gets things done and keeps things on the right track. Whatever. Mr. Emmett Baker, age 89, veteran of the Flying Tigers, best darn records clerk in the U.S. Air Force, and dearest husband to still radiant bride of 67 years Betty Chalkley Baker, best dad ever to sons Ronny and Ricky, musical director of countless choirs and revivals for over 30 years, sell-out gospel artist on two record albums, a salesman by trade, and one of the best raconteurs I have ever met is undeniably Emmett “The Wheel” Baker!
Born in 1929 and raised on his daddy’s farm, one of seven siblings, who like so many country folk in the years of the Great Depression and throughout the period of the Second World War, were used to hard work and to doing without. Not that they paid much mind to their circumstances. Heck, everybody just about lived from crop to crop, praying for good weather, going to church, and playing the All-American pastime, baseball. And, of course, nobody had a proper “bat” in those days. Emmett used a plank. And the ball, well . . . .
One sunny day, he and his sister Opal were free of chores and were playing Town Ball in the front yard. To hear him tell it, she was awfully slow to pitch and he was hollering, “Come on, just throw the ball! Throw the darned ball.” Well, she let loose and before he knew it, his hands and his face were dripping with…egg. Rotten egg. I imagine that game of baseball turned into a game of Chase.
The Baker kids mostly stayed out of trouble, but it was hard for him and his brothers to resist tying the tails of two milk cows together just for fun, or jumping—flying—out of the barn loft pretending to be comic book heroes Batman and Robin. Emmett, along with Walter and William, would damn up the “branch,” which is just a little stream, and wait for it to make a fine swimmin’ hole…there might be a snake or two in there to scare the girls, but mostly everybody enjoyed cooling off in the pool on a hot, Georgia summer day.
My visit with Emmett and with his wife Betty was full of funny stories and some of the sadness that is part of every long life. Betty, raised right here on Pylant Street in Senoia after her momma ‘s death when Betty was 13, grew up fast with the responsibility of cooking and cleaning for her daddy. Her two older sisters were working and away from home. When she saw Emmett in his Air Force uniform on that first blind date, and he saw a ” pretty little ole girl” that just stole his heart, why, it wasn’t long before they were asking her daddy to sign papers so that they could be married. She was only 17 and he was 21. It was only 30 days later when he was called back up from the Reserves to serve during the Korean conflict.
Those first years were exciting and offered the couple a number of opportunities to witness the kindness of strangers. They said that, looking back, they can see God’s hand in taking care of them as a young couple in strange places hundreds of miles from home, on sorely limited funds, in need of a place to live, a home cooked meal, and a warm, friendly face. No matter their need, it was filled.
When they returned to their lives in Coweta County, once full of square dances, bowling, and picture shows, it was time to make a home for their babies. Emmett bought 25 acres to farm but soon learned that he was cut out to be a salesman. His military training in Records (he was a “classifications man”) and his Admin duties served him well. So did his skills in communication. Now he was “wheelin’ and dealin’ with mostly construction supplies. He knew the secret to success was getting to know all the managers. “How’s your wife Mary?” went a long way in building relationships. A gift Emmett turned into a career. He once talked Mr. C.P. Daniels into selling him a suit on credit. “You look like you’re good for it,” Mr. Daniels said. And I guess “looks” do count! Emmett paid off that suit at $1 a week.
The couple both love music. Betty plays piano “by ear” and once sang alto along with her husband in a group, The Christian Echoes, that sang all over the southeast. He filled in as Music Director in various churches for over 30 years; The Baptist Church in Senoia kept him as interim Music Pastor for seven and a half years! Good, sweet people.
Everywhere I looked on the walls of the lovely brick home that Emmett helped build were mementoes of their life together. Family pictures obviously of stern-faced ancestors dating back to the mid-19th century, as well as those newer ones of his boys, of precious grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends. There are plaques and awards, and loads of photos of the couple in parades honoring our country. Betty, also wearing a lavender knit shirt and freshly pressed khakis that matched those her husband was wearing, grinned and said, “He still looks so good in his uniform.”
They are both an incredibly attractive couple. Many man would envy Emmett’s full head of wavy silver hair, and Betty’s skin is as smooth and as radiant as that of a cosmetic model. They praised their boys who have taken such good care of them during an unusual time of health complications. Emmett acted surprised at his recent illness having never “been sick a day in my life.” They have been blessed. Betty said quietly, “The Lord has had his hand over us all the way.”