LEGENDS OF CREEPY HOLLOW

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According to statistical data, Earl was off the hook–he was from the tenth most obscure state in the nation.  That, in itself, was justification for leaving Christmas lights up year round.

Things hadn’t been the same, since Brother Dudley, down at the church, died.  Earl held on to beliefs; that someday, things would get better–but, they never did.

Heavy dew, dripped in mini-rainstorms, under long-leafed pines. Unfiltered anger came out in waves.

“Sumbitch, I don’t think I’m hip enough for this crowd,” Earl said, as he departed.  “I’m going back to the trailer park–cracking open a six-pack.  If this damned truck don’t start; I’m gonna’ shoot it.”

After the infamous, “Fluffy Buffalo” potato chip kerfuffle, and pinochle debacle at the VFW–Earl’s patience was worn thin.  He’d apologized–wasn’t sure what for.  Somebody else started the whole thing–he got the blame.

So, Hallelujah!  I’m their bum, bum.  What else was new?  It’ll be somebody else, next time.  Wrong place, wrong time–he figured.  When would Fred and crew, forget about the unfortunate event?  It was last October–for Cripe’s sake.

Bob “the biker,” pedaled his way to work.  “Movin’ Mary,” was on her front stoop, talking with neighbor, Marge.  Marge, talked with her hands.  Mary shifted, from one foot, to the other, as she talked; it was quite a picture.

Stan, the resident, recluse–aka, “the talker,” peered out from behind living room curtains, across the street. Could he be missing out on something?

Earl pulled down the visor to block the blinding sun.  Several scratch-off lottery tickets, fell to the floor.  If Earl couldn’t see the sunrise everyday–he may as well have been in jail.  Earl parked, held the storm door with his foot; opened the front door.

He collapsed on the living room sofa–switched on the television. Temptations resumed from the day before.  Earl continued the life, of someone, voted, least unlikely, to succeed.

CHESTERPATCH (Dead End Country Lanes)

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Misdirected “townies” wandered in our direction one summer day, looking for a place to fish.  As “townies” went, they were among the nicer ones–far different from trespassers.  I could overlook their christening my hometown, “Chesterpatch.”  At ten years old, I knew that equated the real Chesterfield, (population 300), with Granny Clampett’s unsophisticated Ozark hometown of Bug Tussel.

Old timers called our farm, “the jumping off place,” because it was, a mile, past the county road–at the dead-end of a winding country lane, on top of a hill.  It was a white, square, one-story farmhouse, with a wide front porch.

Mother taught school, father farmed, and took care of livestock at the big barn down the hill.  We, older boys, did farm chores after school. Younger ones fed the chickens and gathered eggs.  They were free-range chickens before the term became a buzz word.

My sister was the youngest.  At first, she stayed with Dad during the day.  We three older brothers went to school.  As boys sometimes do–we gave her no privacy, and did terrible things to her dolls.

She endured other assaults to her self-esteem at the hands of her well-intentioned father.  Fixing hair–there were lots of pony tails.  In some pictures, we looked like war-weary refugees.  My sister sported “grandma-ish” head scarves in winter.

Four-mile winter trips to town in the old red Ford pickup were tough.  Three sat in front–two in the back.  The noisy heater blower motor sounded like a stuck “ah-oo-gah” horn with laryngitis.  My sister always rode shotgun, because she was the littlest.  Me and my younger brother rode in the back shivering.  Cardboard over the wooden side racks did little to block the cold wind.

In warmer months, there seemed to be snakes everywhere.  Tippy, “the wonder dog,” kept them, and other stray critters, at bay.  One night, a snake dropped from the rafters, slid across Dad’s shoulders–when he closed the garage door.

Blood curdling screams came from the house on the hill one morning.  Dad scrambled up the hill, not sure what he would find. Out of breath, heart thumping–he threw open the door and dashed in.  There was my little sister, screaming at the top of her lungs in terror,  In the window was a ferocious green bottle fly.  Dad dispatched the offensive insect, calmed her down–went back down the hill.

The farm-house was sturdy, with a full basement.  But, it was a bit crowded for two adults, plus four children.  Us, three boys had one bedroom, mom and dad took the other one; my sister’s bed was in a corner of the dining room.  There was neither running water, nor an indoor bathroom.  It had to have been a big let down for my mother; we’d previously experienced more creature comforts.

This was my father’s “go big or go home” opportunity.  To become a successful farmer on a big scale–not under the thumb of his father. Things didn’t always go as planned.  When told to do something, we knew to obey, or suffer the consequences.  None of it was open to debate–it was a dictatorship.

Something was wrong one summer.  Mom cried a lot, Dad came to her defense when us kids asked too many questions. Mom gave birth to little Julia Jean in early 1962–she died from breathing problems.  Mother and father barely held things together.

There were so many things that happened in the years between 1958-63; it’s difficult to recall them all.  The joy seemed to have run out after 1962.  I was seriously injured in a farming accident during late summer.  Macoupin Creek flooded our farmland during two seasons.

Not everything was bad–there were plenty of good times.  I learned how to fish in the muddy pond–just north of the house. I watched wild deer, feeding with our cattle.  I befriended a one-eyed, stray gray tomcat named “Bash.”  I took long walks in the woods, searching for fun things to do–sometimes to just think.

There was the time my younger brother and co-conspirator, fell into the livestock watering tank.  He survived unscathed, weighted down by a heavy wet woolen overcoat, and didn’t freeze to death.  We built two clubhouses in the chicken yard–one with discarded carpet walls; the other one, our version of a jungle hut.

My generation was supposed to want ponies.  And deprived of such–we would have low self-esteem and other personality disorders.  We never had ponies–or ever felt entitled to them.  But, we did have an 860 pound, gentle giant, Duroc boar hog named Jack.  He was, as big as, a Shetland pony.

The spinet piano, that was played so joyfully, from the back of a friend’s pickup truck, upon our arrival, was moribund–somewhere in a trash heap.  Freight train horns, from the distant CB&Q railroad, mourned the day’s events.

My feet were numb from subfreezing cold.  With most of the furniture and draperies gone–voices echoed in the old house. When was the moving truck going to return?  I later learned, that my mother cried, at the thought of returning, to the drafty, ramshackle, Queen Anne house in town.

ROCKIN’ WITH OLD JAKE

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I remember this one time, when my best friend Dave and me, drove out to Jake Murphy’s before the sun came up.  Jake’s coon dog’s were raising ten kinds of hell, soon as we drove down the dirt driveway.  “I hope Jake remembered that he promised to go fishing with us this morning,”  Dave said.  “He knows, now,” I answered when the lights came on.

Trust, honesty, and fear, went along with knocking on someone’s door at five in the morning.  Jake answered the door, half-asleep; pulling on his bib overalls.  He didn’t have an undershirt on.  Neither Dave, nor myself, wanted to know, if anything else was missing.  Jake grumbled something unintelligible, stumbled across the porch; sat on the steps; put on socks and shoes.

“Good morning sunshine,” I greeted.  “I knew it was you guys when I seen them headlights,” Jake bristled in defense.  He tossed his fishing gear and cooler in the pickup bed.  Jake’s slouchy railroad conductor’s cap barely covered his wild gray hair.

Jake, secured himself in the window seat, closed the door.  It was a good thing, it was summer, and the truck windows were down.  Because the stench of musk cologne was overpowering.  It almost made up for Jake’s poor hygiene habits.

Junked out lawn mowers, an old wheelbarrow, an old green pickup truck bed–converted into a trailer, and other miscellaneous junk, leaned against Jake’s old garage.  Inside, his trusty Mercury Marquis, sported a crude, hand-brushed, dark blue repaint job.

When he wanted to work, Jake did odd jobs around town.  But, mostly, when he needed more whiskey.  He was a better house painter half-drunk, than most people were, when sober.  Most people avoided him.  They thought he was odd–a little too strange.  He wasn’t “funny strange” or anything like that.  He just wasn’t sociable.

That wasn’t why we invited him to come along.  Jake Murphy was a “fish witcher.”  It was spooky how good he was.  He could read water ripples like pages in a book.  “Throw over yonder–by that stump,”  He’d say.  “There’s a big bass waitin’ to strike.”  And sure enough, he’d be right.

We stayed all day at Jake’s favorite fishing hole.  Caught a few keepers.  The sun went down, day gave way to darkness–cricket chirps, and bellowing bullfrogs.  An ambiance that called for a roaring campfire.  The mosquitoes were hungry–we were too. Jake and I whittled points on sticks to roast hot dogs.

None of us thought to bring hot dog buns.  It was too late to do anything about it–so we did without.  “That’s enough to keep us from starving–I reckon,” Jake said.  “I would sure liked to have had some beans to go with ’em.  I’m going to stay up here for a bit–take a smoke break.  You fellas go ahead and fish some more.”

“I’ll bet Jake eats lots of beans,” I said.  “That’s probably why he farts so much,” Dave joked.  “I’ve heard that he survives on beans and peanut butter.”  Neither of us knew for sure.  On the opposite side of the pond Jake’s cigarette tip glowed bright orange. Campfire light glinted off his raised whiskey bottle.

The catfish didn’t cooperate, we landed a monster snapping turtle, instead.  It was an ugly, moss-covered creature, not one bit happy about being caught by two teenage boys.  “You want to keep it?” I asked, looking over at Dave.  “Naw,” He answered,  “Let’s cut it loose.”

Jake sat in an old rocking chair on the dock–nursed a bottle of “Heaven Hill” bourbon whiskey.  He sang some nondescript  old country song.  The drunker he got–the louder he sang.  It was more like, wailing from tortured souls in hell, than singing. Nobody was around to complain.

None of us knew exactly how it happened.  Jake might have leaned over too far?  In his inebriated state–who could really tell? Somehow, Jake rocked himself off the dock into the water.  He didn’t really holler much–it was more of a moan.

Dave and me jumped in, pulled Jake out–wet overalls and all. Almost drowning sobered him up pretty quick.  He began dancing, jumping, and hollering around the campfire to dry out.  Jake’s “war dance” was hilarious.  Jake laughed, checked his pockets for fish.  What else could he do at that point?

People around town joked about, old Jake rocking off the dock, for a long time after that.  The story got twisted into, “While everybody else was rocking ’round the clock, Old Jake, was rocking off the dock.”  The joke was really on them–because they missed the big dance!  When Jake was drunk, things could get pretty weird.