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Mack Williams: John Miller Pleasant

Mack Williams

The surname “Pleasant” has a French origin (Plaisance), but first appeared in its present form in Suffolk, England. It has the same meaning as its un-capitalized form. And just as there is a Purley, England, there is a Purley, North Carolina.

This week’s column is dedicated to a member of “The Greatest Generation” who recently passed away: John Miller Pleasant, of Purley Community, Caswell County, N.C.

John Miller was always a gentleman, predisposed to calmness, in other words, “pleasant” (just like the Name says). I suppose he had always been so. But just in case he hadn’t been, his time as a Marine on WWII’s Guadalcanal would have been enough to teach the lesson that in comparison, not many things following Guadalcanal would be worth “over-worry.”

I first met John Miller and wife Mabel in the 1970s when I was choir director of Purley United Methodist Church, where they were choir members. Mabel passed away a few years ago; and now with John Miller’s passing, it might be said that a member of the “greatest generation of soldiers” is now re-united with a member of the “greatest generation of wives.”

My daughter Rachel served as church pianist there one Summer in the late 1990s. Every time I ran into John Miller, without fail, he always asked, “How’s Rachel doing?” I think he also applied a life-long “Guadalcanal persistence” of interest in those of this life with whom he came in contact.

The number of attendees was so great at John Miller’s Purley Church funeral that chairs and a speaker system were set up in the fellowship hall.

When in his eulogy the minister mentioned John Miller returning to the family country store business after the war, I thought of iconic British shop-keepers and imagined American country store-keepers being probably cut from the same cloth (some were tailors, too).

The minister said people in the Purley Community often found Summertime gifts of tomatoes, corn and cantaloupes on their deck or door from John Miller. That reminded me of my late WWII veteran father-in-law, Hoyt R. Moore, who also spread his vegetable bounty around his neighborhood. A British “green grocer” deals with vegetables and fruit; and you might say that John Miller and Hoyt were “green grocers of goodwill.” Some restaurants use the term “From farm to table,” but in the cases of John Miller and Hoyt, that middleman restauranteur was cut out, with the result being “From THEIR farms to YOUR table!”

Contrasting the names “John Miller” and “Hoyt” reminds me that it’s not just Southern women who have “two names.” Sometimes, Southern men do, too (Billy Ray, Jerry Lee, etc.).
The minister said John Miller greeted the Purley Methodist church-goers at the door every Sunday, giving each a wrapped mint on his way in. In contrasting John Miller’s “mint giving” with that of the motel (under the pillow), I like to think John Miller meant his mint to help sweeten life’s daytime struggle, not provide some “sweet dreams” amenity.

Three uniformed Marines participated at the graveside service, two folding the flag, one playing Taps. The almost tropical heat, and the sight of “draped” kudzu in the distance made me think about John Miller on Guadalcanal again, since in Southeast Asia, kudzu is also called “Japanese arrowroot.” I wondered if John Miller might have seen some kudzu while he was there.

John Miller’s Marine Corps portrait was reproduced on his funeral program; and one of the Marines at the graveside service matched the youth expressed in John Miller’s portrait (and vice-versa).

Whenever seeing John Miller in the distance at a public place, I would seek him out, like being drawn to a ray of sunlight breaking through sun-blocking clouds (such rays, always seen to best advantage in rural areas, minus the obscuring “building clutter”). I knew that in his company, I would have a “peaceful, easy feeling,” in other words, “pleasant.”

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