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Daddy Charlie and the Curious Sign

Lucky Osborne's parents divorced when he was 7, and he grew up with his grandparents, "Mama Willie and Daddy Charlie," in the Mississippi Delta. "It was really in the country. We had a swamp behind the house."

As a young boy, he would sit on his bed at night and shoot alligators through the window with a .22 rifle. "The road ended at our garage. If somebody was coming down the road they were either coming to see us, or they were lost."

Osborne remembers Mama Willie always carried a wooden spoon in her apron pocket. "If you messed up, you could not outrun that spoon," he says. "She would ping you right on the top of the head with it. I don't care how fast you tried to run, that spoon would hurt."

"My grandfather, he was quite a man. I think he finished maybe the eighth grade .... but he could do anything he wanted to do."

Mama Willie and Daddy Charlie had bought a little cafe, "just a little hole-in-the-wall." A sign painter wandered in one day.

"If you'll feed me, I'll paint a sign — any sign you want — on the front of your cafe," the man told Daddy Charlie. "Just write it out and give it to me."

"He printed out 'Ferrell's Cafe' real nice and neat [and] handed it to the guy," Osborne says.

A little while later, the painter returned. "Your sign's ready. I'm ready to eat."

Daddy Charlie and the painter went outside to look. The sign was upside-down.

"The man couldn't read," Osborne says. "Whatever my grandfather printed ... that's what he painted."

The sign stayed that way for years.

"People used to ask him, 'Charlie, why don't you have that sign fixed?' He says, 'No, people come by here and they'll stop and come in and ask me why that sign's upside-down. They're always gonna drink a cup of coffee, eat a piece of pie, hamburger, something.'

"He said, '[It was] the best advertising I ever had.' "

Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon and StoryCorps Senior Producer Michael Garofalo.

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