By Brittany Whitley
Just west of the Madison’s Family Dollar Store, Willie Cooper stuffs a battery charger in his worn, dark-brown leather knapsack and starts down the familiar cracked concrete sidewalk of Eatonton Road. As the cool wind embraces his skin and gently combs through her fair-hair, Cooper and his beloved pet Ginger, embark on their daily travel in his one-seater electric wheelchair.
Following his chronic arthritis and rheumatism diagnosis, the 84-year-old relinquished his 16-year Atlanta residency, and has since spent the last eight years in Madison near his oldest daughter.
“I can’t use my legs and can’t feel down in my back,” Willie stated. “I can’t stand up unless someone holds me up.”
Cooper is confined to a wheelchair, but he is in no way limited to the four walls of his Budget Inn home.
“I go uptown, sometimes, in my chair … I used to go from down here to Social Circle in my own little chair, and then, sometimes, I’d head to Monroe … But when my battery starts getting low, I have a charger on me and I stop and ask somebody if I could charge my chair up and keep going,” he recalled. “I’ve been all the way down there in Greensboro and halfway to Athens,” he laughed. His dog Ginger often keeps him company on his journeys.
A relatively easy trek for those in vehicles proves to be a dangerous journey for one traveling by wheelchair, especially when sidewalks are not always available on busy highways and rural roads. Willie recognizes the dangers in his, sometimes, daily journeys yet does not fall victim to fear.
“Yeah, I’ve been pretty lucky in my days,” he said through a smile. “As long as I been back here, I never got hurt in this chair no one ever hurt me or nothing.”
Margaret Washington, a close friend to him and his brother, says, “It was a good thing for him when they put the sidewalks in because they used to not go as far as they do now.”
If you frequent Eatonton Road, chances are you have seen Cooper accompanied by his “good friend,” as he calls her.
“Everybody knows him and Ginger,” Margaret added.
Ginger, a small poodle-mix, is Cooper’s best friend and travel buddy of five years.
Cooper’s sister met Ginger in Atlanta at a store where her previous owner searched for her a new home. Before long, Ginger was united with Cooper in Madison and they have been inseparable since.
Ginger’s previous owner was also wheelchair ridden; so, when it was time to ride, Ginger was up on the wheelchair and ready to roll.
The love Ginger has for Cooper is evident in the close distance she maintains no matter where he is.
Although small is size, she is big in heart and bark as she is known for her protective nature.
“Let someone try to act like they want to grab my leg or something, she’ll try to bite them,” Willie exclaimed.
“She’s a sweet little ol’ thing,” Cooper says. “Everybody loves her, police and all.”
The duo continues to grace the streets of Madison, one block at a time.
“I’ve found that he and Ginger brought happiness to me. I love animals and the two of them together brings me joy,” Margaret concluded.