Feeding The Eagle

Well, it’s raining like the proverbial cow again, or yet! There isn’t a thing on television except politicians, and the guy on the radio is singing “The Candidate He’s a Dodger.” Appropriate enough with Congress getting back in session!

Actually, I ‘spose the candidates are dodgers enough, but I think the Liars Club had it right when they disqualified all past and present politicians from their competition. No mere amateur wants to compete with the pros.

A trifling liar like Lars Lundgren, who swore he caught a mermaid in Big Storm Lake but turned her loose because he was afraid of what the game warden would say sure can’t hold a candle to the semi-pro liars in our Legislature, much less the full time pros in Congress.

I suspect Preacher Kirkland had it right when somebody
asked him if he’d ever seen a mermaid. Preacher said he’d never seen one but he’d seen plenty of the stuff those who do see mermaids drink. Which, Preacher was one of those named by opposites; like I called a dog that had me one time Fleas, because he never did scratch.

Preacher didn’t – and you would never see anyone less likely to turn to sky pilotin’, either full or part time. Preacher was a framing carpenter, a first class practitioner of an honorable trade and one followed by Our Lord Himself. Although I seriously doubt Jesus used the sort of language Preacher fouled the air with.

I think Preacher got his nickname because he hardly ever broke out a ruler. He depended on his bundle of “preachers,” 2 by 4 pieces cut the length between studs, window frames, firestops, and the other common measurements a carpenter has to make.

He’d throw down the plywood triangle he used for a square, start with the corner studs, and before most folks had their baseplate marked he’d have half a wall framed and a start on the other end. Preacher believed in sixteen inch centers, and the “cripples and shorts” had to be in the middle!

When he set that wall up it was square AND plumb. And all the window casings and door frames fit like they belonged. Because nobody else had squares four foot on a side nor yet fourteen foot straightedges!

But Preacher may have gotten his nickname on account of his wife. Now, Nora was religious, all right. She walked the straight and narrow like it was a razors edge. And she did it with determination and fortitude and made her husband walk it with her. Making his life a daily misery in the process.

If that was the case, Preacher is too small a word. Saint would have been more like it. Preacher may have used the language he did hoping to go the other way in the hereafter!

They say there’s one for every man, but Nora was one I would have left where I found. Wasps didn’t have a thing on her for stinging when something didn’t go according to Nora Kirkland.

Not only that, she was one of those that didn’t believe in cuddlin’, none ‘tall. Or even sleepin’ in the same house with a man.

I’m not sure Nora made Preacher quit the sauce, or Preacher swore off after he discovered what he had married didn’t clean, couldn’t cook, wouldn’t cuddle and was about as companionable as a box of scorpions.

But she was hell bent on him taking her to church whenever the doors were open, instead of going fishin’ or shootin’ pool like Preacher would rather have been. I hate to say it, but that woman was not what you would call useful to him in any sense of the word!

And like Minnie Rainwater told Reverend Fuller, even if Sister Nora had been so inclined she was so hard favored she’d have starved to death in a two bit cathouse; so dropping his wife
off at his own front door and sleepin’ in his tool shed with his old dog Pal probably wasn’t that much of a strain on Preacher.

But anyhoo, I started out talking about lying or politicking. I don’t know which. But it makes no matter, liar and politician are synonyms.

Of course, both of those diseases are pretty common. So doggone common I think I might change the subject. Or maybe not.

Now, I was up in Arkansaw one time, around Yellville, where the land sort of stands on end and the hollers are mighty narrow. Like Jenny Frank told me, “Our place is so steep we have to hold the looking glass in the fireplace and look up the chimney to see if the cows are coming in.”

Every once in a while the roads in that country go over perpendicular. Which means you have to get a good run at the hills or you will fall off the road and go splat back where you came from. Come to think of it, maybe those roads are why I never cared for roller coasters.

Maybe I should say the roads were crooked but not very pretty. It is right interesting to look up and see the road you are on rear up and lean over behind you.

The roads were pretty crooked, too. Had to be, because if you didn’t have a banked turn at the top so you could get yourself rubber side down you would fall off those steep roads, for sure.

Most folks in that country still used mules to haul hay, and they had to muzzle the mules to keep them from eating the hay off the backs of the wagons when they went around curves. I always thought that was against that injunction about not muzzling the ox that treadeth out the corn – but the farmers said them oxen didn’t harvest that hay and they wan’t gittin’ narn till winner!

But anyhoo, I was visiting Miss Jenny Frank while her dad and his neighbor who lived on the other side of the ridge, they called the ridges spines, were having an argument.

What that was about was the custom for farmers on the opposite sides of a spine to tie one of their cows to one of the neighbors cows by the tail so the cows could graze along opposite sides of a spine without falling out of their pasture.

I disremember the details, but neither could get the best of the other and their was a lot of heat about it. So Mr. Frank went up in his tater patch, dug down, and knotted the roots of his neighbors turnips together. Which made them a little hard to harvest.

You see, farmers around there had the easiest root crops to harvest I ever saw. They plowed rows straight up hill, and when it was time to get the crop in they backed stake body trucks up to a row, stuck their shovel in the ground at tailgate height, and all the roots in the row rolled right into the truck.

Of course, if the rows were too long the spuds or turnips or beets would heap up over the sides of the truck and have to be forked up by hand, so most folks only planted thirty foot rows. That way, they could stand notched logs up between the rows, put footboards in the notches, and plant their rows standing up.

Those short rows were a good thing come time to cultivate. They tied a rope on one side of the cultivator and reeled up and down the rows, you see. That kept it from falling out of the fields.

Anyhoo, Mr. Frank tying the roots of his neighbors crop together that way, those turnips just stayed where they were. His neighbor had harvest his turnips like he planted them, standing on footboards digging them suckers out. He wasn’t too happy about that, either. He was mighty glad he hadn’t planted radishes, though.

But they sure did raise some fine crops around there. I was visiting Mr. Frank’s one time when a rolling store pulled up, looking to buy potatoes.

“Sure thing,” sez Mr. Frank. “How many potatoes do you want?”

“Oh, a hundred pounds would be about right.”

“Hells far,” sez Mr. Frank. “There ain’t a spud on the place that small, and I ain’t cutting taters up for no dam man.”

Planting corn or watermelons was pretty easy. Everybody had a ten gauge shotgun, and they would load up a few shells with seed, stand off on the other side of the gulch and shoot the seed in the ground.

Potatoes were harder to plant. A lot of farmers would set notched logs up between the rows and put footboards between the notches – but Mr. Frank would cut his seed potatoes up and stuff them in a muzzle loading cannon he used to plant them. He said the sulphur and saltpeter in the gunpowder made his spuds grow bigger.

His family could live for a week or two on one of his spuds, but Mr. Frank was careful to market all his watermelons. His melons grew as big as his ‘taters – but that extra fast firing greenapple quickstep you got from eating a regular diet of those nitred melons would turn you into nothing but skin and bones.

Mr. Frank liked to sell his melons to trucks going to the Chicago market, because he claimed those Yankees were so full of it after a northern winter that it did them a world of good to get a good cleaning out. He said it was like Southern folks taking a big dose of croton oil, sulphur, and molasses every first of April!

I don’t know about that part, but I do know the Cook County General Hospital was always on the lookout for Mr. Frank’s melons. They used them to treat obesity.

The bad part of that country was the flooding, though. The hills are so steep and the valleys are so narrow that a heavy dew will cause a freshet, and a thunderstorm will raise the water neck deep to a giraffe in a heartbeat.

But it rains up there. I was up at Gentry and read in the Joplin paper that there was a barrel laying in the railroad yards in Neosho with both heads out and the bunghole up; and it rained in the bunghole so hard the water couldn’t run out the headsfast enough. Of course, that was in the newspaper, and you know how newspapers exaggerate the truth.

I was up at Swain, actually between Swain and Fallsville, Arkansas, one time and it come a regular frog strangler. We had stopped at the top of a hill, and couldn’t go forward and couldn’t go back. Directly, an lanky old guy with chin whiskers down over the bib of his overalls came ambling up leading a goose on a string.

We howdy’s him and he howdy’s us and considerable conversation ensued. Turned out he was from down in the bottoms and while he was flooded out he figured he might as well send his old gander up to grease his windmill. Him being afraid of heights, you see.

But the flats, valley floors, are so steep that the water goes down as fast as it comes up. I got over to Parthenon one January and the water started coming up. Naturally, I hit for high ground. Got to the top of the hill where I could look down and see a lonesome looking squirrel stranded in a lone oak tree.

The water came up so fast that the squirrel was hard pressed to keep ahead of it as it rose. Finally, bushytail got to the topmost branches just as the rain stopped and the sun came out.

That poor squirrel come down that tree just as fast as he went up, and every time he got to the water and tried to get set to get a drink the water would fall enough to be out of reach. He finally got a little sip out of a puddle left on the side of the road.

Storms come up fast in that part of the world, too. I was in Gentry one time and one of the guys at the local shadetree garage name of Shad Boutwell had rolled his pickup. The top of the cab was pretty much a mess, so he just cuts the top plumb off, from the top of the seat in the back to the top of the windshield. Had air conditioning, summer and winter, Shad did!

One time Shad had been up to Gravette picking up parts when a big storm came up. He poured the coal to that Ford, trying to get back to the shop before he got wet. When he whipped his open air chariot under the shed the back end was full of golf ball size hail stones and not a one had landed in the front seat.

This Shad Boutwell had a little place north of town, milked a couple of cows and had bought an old army mule that was pensioned off from Fort Crowder so his wife could plow. One morning Shad got up way yonder before daylight and went staggering out to milk the cows.

Shad really should have drunk at least one cuppa joe before he went to the shed. Because he missed the cow stalls and got in with the mule instead. He gets to fumbling around looking for spigots under the mule and afterward he couldn’t remember which side of the shed roof he came out of but he could sure remember flying through the air and coming down fifteen feet inside the blackberry orchard!

Those blackberry bushes ripped every shred of clothing and a whole lot of skin off of him. I think his milk bucket came down in a day or two, too. He wanted to burn those blackberry bushes down but his wife wouldn’t let him. Said they wouldn’t have blackberry preserves and bear grease if the blackberries went.

Now, the post office at Gravette had a big iron eagle on top of the flagpole. A little breeze came up out of Oklahoma and blew a sheet of plywood up in the air and knocked it plumb off. So the post master puts out a call for somebody to put it back!

Well, to make a long story short, that same Shad Boutwell was dispatched eight mile up the road to put the eagle back in place. Which he did, balancing himself up with the flag rope and using a pair of stilson wrenches strapped to his boots for steps.

When he got through he goes in the post office and tells the post master that his tin bird was back on its roost and the bill was nine bucks for three hours work.

“I’m sure glad you got our eagle back up,” sez the old man with evident satisfaction. “You know, you may not believe this but my old daddy used to shinny up that pole ever morning to feed it.”


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