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Box of Onions

I pulled my vehicle behind a big pickup truck in downtown Calhoun, then wrestled the 40-pound box of Vidalia onions from the back of the car and carried it to the back of the truck.

“Hey, Jesse!” I said, trying not to sound too winded. “I know you are in a hurry today, but I wanted to go ahead and give you these Vidalia onions — fresh from my cousin’s farm in Southeast Georgia.”

I placed the box of sweet onions on the tailgate and lifted the lid to allow him to see the jumbo vegetables piled inside.

“That’s a lot of onions,” my lawyer friend replied. “Thank you! A box of onions is a lot better trade than a bag of hickory nuts.”

It took me a moment to digest what he had said to me, but then it struck me, and I smiled realizing that Jesse Vaughn and I share a connection. We are both lovers of Harper Lee’s masterpiece, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Jesse’s “hickory nuts” comment was a reference to the novel.

Let me explain.

Last year, someone close to me got in a bit of trouble and called me for help. Not knowing where to turn, I called my lawyer friend, Jesse, on his cell phone. I explained the situation, and in ten minutes, Jesse rendered some legal advice to pass along to my loved one.

“Please send me a bill,” I said after thanking him a dozen times for answering my call.

“Don’t worry about it,” my friend said. “I won’t be sending you a bill for a ten minute phone conversation. We’re friends. I’m happy to help you.”

But I didn’t want to accept my friend’s legal advice for free, so I have taken it upon myself to “gift” him payment using Georgiagrown delicacies such as Vidalia onions in the spring; fuzzy, farm-fresh peaches in the summertime; and shelled pecans in the autumn. Judging from Jesse’s size, it’s a safe bet to assume he enjoys such treats.

In the first chapter of Lee’s book and in the opening scene of the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird,” client Walter Cunningham brings a bag of hickory nuts to lawyer Atticus Finch as partial payment for the attorney’s help with the client’s “entailment.” I won’t go into detail about entailment — just know that it is a form of legal trouble.

“Why does he pay you like that?” Scout asks her father in the book.

“Because that’s the only way he can pay me. He has no money,” Atticus returns.

Atticus explains that the Depression hit country folks and farmers the hardest. During the year, Mr. Cunningham pays Atticus through a bartering arrangement using a load of stove wood, a crate of smilax and holly during the holidays, a croker sack filled with turnip greens, and a bag of hickory nuts. He paid the attorney’s fee with what he could.

And so Jesse’s comment was a reference to one of the greatest books of all time. Mr. Cunningham paid for legal assistance with hickory nuts. I made a partial payment for legal advice with a box of Vidalia onions.

I feel immense gratitude that Jesse took time out of his busy schedule to help me last year when I didn’t know what to do or who to call, and I’m happy after refusing payment, he accepted my partial gift in the form of onions. I like bartering arrangements — it’s more personal than writing checks. But most of all, I’m thankful that there’s at least one other person in the world who shares my love for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and served up a reference from the book when I least expected it. It made my payment all the more meaningful.

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