Personal Space

Photographed by Birney Imes.

Photographed by Birney Imes.

Story & Photograph Birney Imes

Go to the community of Una in north Clay County and inquire as to the whereabouts of a James Alexander Henley and chances are your query will be answered with a blank stare. Ask for Little Bud’s Place and you will likely get a different response, perhaps even a knowing nod, a smile of recognition.

Were your native guide standing in the parking lot of Knox Grocery, the epicenter of this far-flung farming community, he would point west and instruct you to go about a mile or so and take a right on Baker Road.

Baker Road was once Zella Steele Road, named after an industrious woman, who for 50 or 60 years ran a country store there. Zella was James Alexander “Little Bud” Henley’s great-aunt.

“I grew up around that store,” Henley says.

Little Bud is about 5 feet 5 inches tall. With his white hair, mustache, overalls and twinkling eyes, he could be a pitchman for, well, just about anything anybody would want to sell. He has lived in Clay County all his life.

Another childhood haunt for Little Bud (as opposed to Big Bud, Little Bud’s fraternal twin) was his great-grandfather’s blacksmith shop.

“He had a lot of tools in his shop, and I got to tinkering with ’em.”

He’s been tinkering ever since. Henley, 70, served in the National Guard, did a stint at Bryan Foods and milked cows for a nearby farmer.

And then he got around to doing what he was meant to do: He built a store and a blacksmith shop. Both are housed in a simple rectangular building with a rusting tin roof and walls and floors of rough-sawn boards.

“I cut the logs, had ’em sawed up. I sawed every piece of lumber on that place,” says Henley. That was about 30 years ago.

The store offered the usual fare: snacks, beer, cheese (“lots of cheese”), candy, cigarettes, “some flour and meal.”

Henley closed the store about two years ago and it’s now part clubhouse, and part museum.

Decorated with an eclectic mix of vintage advertising posters, old tools, car tags, even hubcaps, the place gives ample attention to one of the owner’s past interests, coon hunting.

“I used to go every night,” says Henley.

“I ain’t coon hunted in six or seven years. Last dog I had got run over and I never did get me another.”

That was Luther.

“Like all coon dogs, he was a world champion,” Bud says of his dearly departed. “I ain’t ever seen anybody without a world champion … he just ain’t been discovered.”

Little Bud’s Rocinante was a mule named Rufus. Together they crashed through the Clay County woods in pursuit of Luther and his quarry. Ol’ Rufus has gone on to his just reward, too, but Bud still has a team of mules. This bit of information is revealed by a question about a large bag of raw peanuts on a table.

“When I’m trying to catch my mules,” he says.

Also on prominent display at Little Bud’s Place is the proprietor’s sense of humor. Take his hand-lettered “no smoking” sign, for example.

If you want to kill yourself, “fine.”
I will come to your funeral.
But don’t take me with you!!
No Smoking!!
No Smoking!!

And this to a thief who stole a “sizable amount” of change:

Notice: All the thieves of this area
No need to come back for five years.
It will take me five years to make back what you stole.
See you in five years.
Don’t worry about the law …

Bud’s focus these days is his blacksmith shop with its coal-fired forge, layers of hand tools and a hand-me-down anvil that belonged to a step-grandfather.

Throughout the day Little Bud entertains a steady stream of supplicants — there are bush hog blades to be sharpened, tractor parts to be fabricated, miracles to be worked. No one is in a hurry. There is time for conversation.

On a recent afternoon, three bush hogs, the best of which could be described as “well-worn,” lay in rusting heaps on the lawn in front of Henley’s shop. Two of them looked salvageable, but a third with its rusted-out deck looked like a scrapyard reject.

“Are you working on all three of these?” a visitor asks.

“Supposed to be,” Little Bud replies.

The visitor persists, “What is it about blacksmithing you like?”

“Nothing,” Little Bud replies.

Then, after a pause, he explodes with laughter.