John Thomas Tuft
5 min readApr 17, 2024


By John Thomas Tuft

Seth Barker worked in the Shady Parts Country Store on Route 29, about midway between Lynchburg to the south and Charlottesville to the north. Lots of rolling green hills around, not mountains per se, though it is on the eastern skirt of the Shenandoah. The edge of Lynchburg is evangelical self- aggrandizing noisy clutter while the edge of Charlottesville is big, sweeping green lawns and horse fencing before the splurt of the University of Virginia. It’s the in between part — the dilapidated homestead houses, the double-wides, side roads with signs that warn not to trust one’s GPS, the huge complex for Nelson County High School on a knoll — it’s that part that Seth loved as home. Home for him and his red setter, Angel. Five miles to the south of Shady Parts sat the big, expansive tourist trap of a place with its rows of gas pumps, rooms full of must-have souvenirs, even a sit-down diner — the whole works. Shady Parts offered two pumps, parking for four cars if everyone was polite, clean bathrooms, to die for fried chicken and biscuits and friendly faces. Of a sort.

Seth knew three things to be certain: his momma never lied to him about his opportunities in life, given his limited intellectual abilities; the good Lord was not out to break you or make you, that was up to you; and, knowing how to fry chicken just so, with the outside crunching and the inside melting into bliss, would never be out of fashion. Old Man Tucker hired Seth at the age of 19 to clean windshields and check wiper fluid, clean up the place, and always, always be polite and friendly to customers. Seth proved to be a good worker and things went on in this fashion. When Seth was 30, Momma done run off with the preacher from Oak Hill Holy Knolls Baptist Church, leaving him with the old homestead house, $30, and the setter puppy, Angel, she gave her son as an act of contrition one would suppose.

Seth was very good at his work, and he engaged the customers in friendly chatter. He approached Old Man Tucker one day with an idea. “Lots of these folks are coming back from doctor appointments at the big University medical complex. I can make Momma’s chicken and biscuits for them. Who knows what kind of news they got, so good chicken might help. The good Lord is not out to break us or make us, but he never said don’t give wearied people good fried chicken!” And so it began, satisfying all three of momma’s certainties. Old Man Tucker invested in some used equipment and Seth took to it with a passion. Angel, the puppy, now grown into a fine and beautiful and faithful companion to Seth, accompanied him as he came in every morning and set to work on the best fried chicken in all of this side of Virginia. Angel took it upon herself to accompany each order out of the kitchen and into the hands of the customers. Angel and Seth were as inseparable as the exquisite chicken and biscuits. You didn’t expect one without the other. As Old Man Tucker used to say, “Seth was the chicken and Angel was the biscuits!” Funny, but his face always looks a bit wistful when he says it.

Each evening, when the cooking was done, Seth and Angel trudged back along the road to the old house. Seth missed Momma but he and Angel developed a bond as only open humans and puppies can develop. Angel watched over Seth and rested her head in his lap as he watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune each night. He didn’t understand a lot of it, but neither did Angel. They liked the laughter, the cries of delight, the looks of people trying so hard at something nobody would remember in two days. Didn’t make no nevermind. Moments string together like notes turning into songs. Momma said that once and it stuck. As Seth approached 40 he noticed that he was getting more tired than usual and getting to and from work seemed so hard that it was only Angel who could prod him along. The chicken and the biscuits from the stove didn’t suffer, but the chicken and biscuit of their time became wearisome.

Finally, one day Old Man Tucker insisted that Seth go up to the UVA complex and get checked out. The news was sobering. Seth’s heart was tiring, struggling to keep up the good work of a pure human being. He was admitted to the gleaming hospital. The failure was rapid and inevitable. Seth’s only wish was that Angel be allowed to stay with him. By some miracle, consent came through. Angel knew that time was short, as only dogs can openly admit to such things. One day, Seth asked Old Man Tucker, “I’m afraid.” Old Man Tucker tried to reassure the man. But said Seth, “Nobody else will be there. I’m different. So, my heaven will be different. Nobody else will be there.” Old Man Tucker did not know how to console his friend. The next morning when he returned, the nurse told him the tale. “During the night, that poor old dog breathed her last. Right there with her head on his chest. A couple of hours later, Seth took his last breath. I never seen anything like it in all my days.” Old Man Tucker could barely speak. “She knew he was afraid nobody else would be there. So, she went on ahead so he would know he would not be alone.”

So, if you are ever traveling between one place to another on Route 29 in Virginia, you might come upon a little station called Seth and Angel’s Shady Spot. Be polite and don’t take up more than your share of the parking. The bathrooms will be clean. Order the chicken and biscuits. There’s two beautiful young women with intellectual challenges in the kitchen who made them with love. And on your way out, please, oh please, don’t forget to pet the cozy coven of puppies…because the good Lord is not out to make us or break us, but he never said not to give wearied people good fried chicken…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.



John Thomas Tuft

John is a novelist, retired mental health counselor and minister and sheep farmer, who now lives in Roanoke, VA.