Horace’s Westley Richards

Westley  Richards Double Barrel Shotgun

One November morning as it was growing light, I could hear Horace Werden’s voice downstairs. “I’m a-trying to break in forty acres of corn I have, and I’m just to damned old and stiff any more to enjoy getting on and off the tractor every two shakes. I could sure use a boy to drive whilst I pick up.” He looked up at me coming down the steps. “Harry with your permission,” he said, “I could sure use the services of a good hired man.”

At last I was going to have a good look at his place. He unwired the passenger door of his car, moved a gunny sack of bean seed, scooted a bucket of rusty nails more to the center of the seat and bid me get in. I tucked a sagging strip of ripped headliner overhead so I could see, and we were off.

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Horace had built a huge modern two storey house about a hundred yards back onto his place from his log cabin a couple of years earlier. It never looked from the road as though it belonged there, neatly finished, white and trim, surrounded by sprawling junk and horse weeds. Consequently I felt oddly relieved to find it all smeared with mud by the hogs, as we drove up beside it.

“You get on the tractor, I’ll be out directly,” he said, nodding at his completely rusted machine hitched to a wagon.

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I started to unwire my door, but decided to climb over the junk and go out on his side. I eagerly mounted the tractor and fiddled with the controls. I had never driven a John Deere before. From my perch I could see all kinds of enticing curiosities, especially the steam images2engine, ‘way back next to the woods. “Horace?” I said as he came back outside, “Dad said that you used to have an old Fordson.”

“Yeap. It’s on the other side of that shed, yonder. Maybe you’d like to look at it after we’re done,” he said, checking the controls before me. He walked around the front of the tractor, opening a petcock on each side of the engine. He stepped up to the flywheel and gave it a counter-clockwise heave.

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“Fuff,” said the old contraption.

He gave it another throw.

“Fuff. Fuff. Fuff. Fuff…” it replied.

He scurried ’round, closing off the cocks, giving the tractor a change of voice: “Fuff. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang…!” He stood on the drawbar behind me, explaining the controls. I pushed forward on the hand clutch and we were off, forthrightly, wagon clattering after.

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Breaking in a field of corn meant shucking the outside two rows by hand, all around the field, so that a pull-type corn picker could enter the field without mashing down un-harvested corn. He already had most of the corn shucked and piled, so all I had to do was drive past each pile and wait whilst he threw the ears into the wagon. I offered to jump off and help pick up each time, but he insisted that I stay on the seat. I appreciated the gesture, but without the exercise, I began to think I would freeze to death.

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On the last side of the field, Horace got a good look at me and stepped up to the tractor, killing the engine. “I should ‘a’ been a-watching you more closely. You’re about froze, ain’t ye? You run around the tractor and wagon and stir your blood, whilst I go off here and wet.”

I gratefully clambered down to do as he bid.

“All right, let’s get to the house,” he said. “You’re too damned cold to walk. Here! Let’s trot!”

It was a shock, stepping inside his house, for there was no floor between the first and second storeys, and there was a mountain of the previous year’s corn, starting at the Corn-Pile_74238-480x320middle of the house, sloping clean to the roof at the far end. The rest of the house’s enormous single room was a veritable sea of junk, piled about chest deep, stringing up onto the foot of the big pile of corn. In the midst of a cleared space, he drew a kerosene can up to the table. “Here,” he said, rattling coal out of a hod into the top of his range. “Have ‘ee a seat whilst I scratch things together.”

I sat at the table, feigning nonchalance, looking at the flotsam which buried the far end of it. He sat in a swiveling office chair, upholstered with frayed paper feed sacks and masking tape, wheeling back and forth on its casters. “Got everything ye need, right here. Here,” he said, banging a filthy gallon glass jar of cloudy tea before me. “Have ‘ee some tea.” He handed me a plastic measuring cup from a sack of calf milk replacer. Then seeing my hesitation, said: “Oh here. You’re cold. let me heat that stuff.” He poured some into an iron sauce pan.

As I sat there wondering what was next, he caught me eyeing three or four old soot blackened guns, leaning against the wall by the door. “This here one’s my favorite,” he said, handing me the longest one with exposed hammers.

“I’ll be darned. It’s got engraving on it.”Westley  Richards Double Barrel Shotgun

“It’s an old Westley Richards twelve gauge. It takes the old short ca’tridge. Hard as the very dickens to get any more.”

“How old is it?” I said, handing it back.

“Oh, sixty-five or seventy years, anyway. Now you don’t tell no one, but I reckon ye won’t, that gun’s worth two cars, but I ain’t sold it because I can hit with it right smart. You know, a shotgun’s got to fit you right to hit with, and that one’s the only one I’ve got that does.”

He slid a greasy skillet over the fire box. “Got everything ye might need right here,” he said, slicing up a huge hunk of Bologna sausage. Each time he turned to flop some slices into Rat_agoutithe skillet, a rat would peer out from the junk, darting back in as he turned back to the table. The room began to smell of scorched rancid fat. He set out some grocery store white bread as he turned the meat with his pocket knife. Whilst he was busy, the rat grabbed a piece of bread the size of one’s thumb and returned to his hiding place, disregarding me altogether.

 

“Here ye be,” he said, handing me a sandwich.

I took tiny bites, swallowing them with my tea.

“Want another ‘n’? Got plenty. Don’t be bashful.”

****

I was relieved to be back in the field. This time, I managed to stay warm. He had not shucked the last through beforehand, and there was enough space between the fence andcorn-on-the-stalk-small__4241987678 the corn to drive the tractor. He shucked two rows at once, going just a bit slower than the tractor could crawl, so I’d stop here and there and shuck ahead as he caught up.

“All right Tom, let’s leave the wagon by the house. I’m a-going to run in and count my money and one thing and another, and whilst I’m a-doing that, you hike ‘er over to the steam engine and the old Fordson and look ‘ee all ye want. I’ll be out directly.”

I was standing by the Fordson, drinking in it’s primitive elegance when he found me. “How long has it been a-sitting here?” I said.

“I think since just before you was a baby.”

“Ever think about selling it for iron?” I said, glancing at the money in his hand.

“Mercy no!” he said. “That’s a good old tractor. I could have ‘er running in half a day.” He gave a shove at the drawbar with his boot. “Well half a month, maybe. But ye know what I mean, once a fellow lets go of something it’s gone for good.”

****

Years later, Horace had a sale. I had heard that he had been in and out of the hospital with uremic poisoning. I rode over on my bicycle in spite of the cold wind out of the northwest.

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The crowd swooped in, settling in huddles about the hay wagons, picking at his things. The auctioneer rasped and crackled over his electric horn. They were bidding on the old Westley Richards. They were unaware of its worth, trying to sell it in one lot with some junk, but I couldn’t make myself bid on it. “I don’t see anything I want,” I said.

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I found Horace standing off by himself , stooped, looking at the trees. He was wearing a smartly tailored tweed suit and overcoat and gumboots wrapped with tape and twine. His eyes watered from the raw wind, his face red and swollen with uremia. “Well, if it ain’t ol’ Jesus Christ hisse’f!” he said with a snort and a grin as he eyed my beard and shoulder length hair. He grabbed my hand with a shaky eagerness that put a lump in my throat. “Tom, it’s been many a sore long winter.”

 

Tom Phipps

Clarence Hall Had Play Pretties

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Saturday was cool and clear. A few dark wisps of cloud scurried along the horizon, clearing away Friday night’s storm. The calves and lambs butted and pranced, skidding in the mud. The first heron of the year croaked at the far end of the pond. The orchard orioles were back. I made John Deere noises as I slid my feet through puddles and cow piles, carrying buckets of feed. There was no way we’d be in the field, today.

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After my chores, I got permission, took a handful of coins and hopped astride my rattling bicycle to pay a call on Clarence Hall. After a good mile’s pedal, I arrived at his house. On a wooden frame which held his mail box was a sign that read:

Clarence Hall Third9320494_1

Cousin Abraham

Lincoln All kinds of

Things made here

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I leant my bicycle against the sagging picket fence, slipped the wire over the post and stepped through the squawking gate. His house was a one storey frame building of bare weatherboard, one small room wide by about three long, which had long ago resigned itself to following the contours of the ground between the day lilies and daffodils, probably planted by his mother. It wasimages2 roofed with clapboard shingles which he’d undoubtedly split himself, and the front door and windows were tightly boarded over. On the south, one windowless door opened to face the well and a couple of sheds.

I didn’t see him out and about, so I knocked. An earnest house wren called from somewhere. An house_wrenaluminum measuring cup rocked idly on its wire in the breeze sighing in the cedars. I knocked again and hollered: “Clarence?”

“What?” he barked, throwing open the door, giving me a start. He closed it behind him at once and hooked it as a dank reek of coal oil and foul clothes whirled away into the air. “What d’ye want?”

“I came for a couple of things, really,” I stammered. “Do you have Abe Lincoln’s old gun? Could I…?”

“No!” he barked, giving me a shudder. “I ain’t got hit! They ain’t goin’ ‘o get hit ’cause I ain’t got hit.”

“Well, I thought I might buy one of your toys, if you’ve got any made.”

“Well yea!” he boomed, taking a couple of sudden strides toward his shed to stop short, not turning about. “What’s you ones want with play pretties? Ain’t you a little old for that? I see you go by on your Fordson.”

“Uh…”

“Well, I ain’t too old! I won’t tell no one,” he, said as he tramped on to the shed to fiddle with the7595437-man-in-bib-overalls-weeding-the-garden-in-vertical-format latch and throw wide the door. “There ye be. Look ‘ee here. Got all kinds. He scratched at his jaw through his filthy Lincoln-style beard. He gave a brown spit and turned aside to blow his nose into the grass and wipe his hand on his sooty bib overalls. “Got all kinds. Now these’ns be whirligigs and them’s windmills.

“Ah! Somebody’s here,” he said, looking up at the sound of popping gravel by the mailbox. “Here! You get out o’ there. You set on that there stump.”

I took my seat meekly as he tramped into his dark house and came back out, dawning an ancient 300_1805981stove-pipe hat. He stood straight and marched to the gate. “Morning !” he called out, as they clambered out of their new Buick hard top.

“Hi,” said the pasty white driver in Bermuda shorts. “We’re from Oak Park. Ya probably don’t know where that is, but it’s right by Chicago. We’re touring da Lincoln attractions. We’re on our way back from his birthplace in Kentucky. You look like da president himself. You got souvenirs for sale, do ya?”

“Yeap! Right this a-way.”

Here they came single file behind Clarence, Mr. Shorts followed by his two ladies, dressed fit to kill in the latest, latest suburban leisure wear, one as white as a termite pupa, the other bronzed and buttered. They minced along as if the very grass were vulgar. “Hi ya Huckleberry,” scoffed Mr. Shorts as he passed, with the ladies half smiling and avoiding my eyes.

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I certainly needed a good reply, but all I managed was to look away mutely in my straw hat, bare feet and breeches rolled up to my knees, all spattered with mud from the rain-soaked barn lot. And I did no better when they passed by on their way back to their car.

“Well they’s gone, “said Clarence from behind. “Do ye still want to look at them play pretties?”

“Sure.”

“They’s right where they was.”

I followed him back to the shed. His wares were crude, brightly painted yard ornaments and wind driven novelties, such as ducks and geese with whirligig wings or little men who rocked back and forth in the wind, sawing wood. He had wooden pistols and daggers. He had his shed piled with all sizes of lop-sided rocking chairs, some small enough for doll houses. I picked out a dirty pink one, about a hand and a half high. “Do you have any clappers?”

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“Now what’s that?”

“John Best told me about…”

“Oh yea! The new one, little Barbara. Here,” he said, shoving a pile of noise makers at me.1680067534

I picked out one that seemed to work the best. “What do you want for this and the rocking chair?”

“Twenty-nine cents. Twenty-nine cents for each one.”

I pulled out my fist full of change and fingered the coins.

“There! Them two! Them two will do,” he said, pointing to a couple of quarters.

 ****

Clarence was slow witted, but he did support himself. Getting a driver’s license might have been beyond him, but he made toys and he helped roof barns, hoe and put up hay. There was indeed a place for him in the neighborhood. I think about this when we drive through modern places with assertive institutions and see bag ladies and bums living out of shopping carts. 

 

Tom Phipps

Horace

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On summer evenings when I was a little squirt, I would bathe in a galvanized tub under the pear tree and put on my pajamas before running up and down the lane or fooling around in the garden whippoorwill00until dark. When I was old enough not to have the whip-poor-wills raise the hair on my arms, I could trot up and down the road, so long as I didn’t follow it so far down into the hollow that I couldn’t hear Mom when she called. As the cricket frogs began their chorus along the banks of the pond and the robins gave roosting calls in the orchard, the bull frogs would join in with their carboniferous grindings. And ‘way over east where the road climbed out of the hollow again, Horace Werden’s guinea hens would start their racket as they found their roosts in the trees about his one room log cabin.

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4282148_1_lI was intrigued by Horace and his farm. It was a menagerie, a veritable wonderland of old machines standing in the horse weeds left by the hogs. From imageshis sagging gate, I could see two or three old cars with wooden spoked wheels, a collapsing threshing machine and an iron lugged McCormick tractor. He had a lotmccormick-deering-hand-crank-start-tractor-daniel-hagerman more old implements than could be seen from the road, though. I understood that he had an old steam engine and a Fordson_TractorFordson tractor and a Maxwell touring car, and I longed to go see them. He was called Stormy though, and was said to take an especially dim view of trespassers, so I knew better than to wander onto his place by myself.

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I would see him drive by every day in his old blue Buick with plywood replacing one of its windows, on his way to town to see to his several rental properties. He had acquired the deeds to more than a score of houses during the Depression, when he and Fanny had run a grocery store before she had divorced him. Every Christmas he’d call with a huge box of chocolates for us and sit in the kitchen, visiting for an hour or two.

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On one such occasion, he stepped in with his arm in a sling and his overcoat about his shoulders like a cape . He grabbed at his shabby felt hat as his box of candy tried to slip away from under his elbow. “Mercy!” he said. “I’d be more dignified if I could see where I was a-going,”

“Let me wipe off your glasses, Horace,” said Mom. “I’m doing laundry in the basement and everything’s steamed over.”

“What the dickens did you tangle with?” said Dad at the sight of the black and blue streak on the side of his head. “Better let me get your coat.”

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Horace sat down with a stiff plump. “Eyeballs,” he said, donning his glasses. “I j’ined a Christmas party with my tenants where I was guest of honor, by God! I’ve got this young buck Irishman from Chicago who rents the whole downstairs of the house I’ve got on seventh street. He’s on the first string of Eastern’s football team. His head’s bigger’n the football he throws. School treats him like some kind o’ mascot.

“Well I called on him and the liquor was just a-flowing! He had a bunch o’ his chums in there, letter jackets and all. It’s a mercy theah was no women. Anyway he wasn’t one bit pleased to see me. All I wanted was his arrears. He was just as disrespectful as he could be and one word led to another and directly he took a big step up and hit me in the head! Well by God, I picked up a chair and broke it up all over ‘im, and put the Goddamned son of a bitch in the hospital, I did!

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“Mercy, mercy Hilda! It’s times like these ye got to forgive a fellow’s delivery. You know, that was a good hickory caned chair. I don’t know why I ever let them use my furniture. He got me with a floor lamp before I was done with him, but I put him on the floor and give him a proper lesson on the err of his ways with a leg from that bu’sted chair. There for a spell, I thought to my stars that I’d killed him, but he started rolling around a-moaning and a-carrying on by the time the ambulance got there. Made me feel like whacking him some more. ‘Course I didn’t.”

“What kind of shape’s the kid in?” said Dad. “Have you found out?”

“He’s still in the hospital, I reckon. I went to see the president of that whore house of a college, this morning. I had to find him at home. They’ve started their holiday. You ought to see the house that curse is holed up in. We’re a-paying for it with state money, don’t you know. He let me stand in the doorway and talked to me just as smooth as if gravy didn’t run down his chin. Oh, he knew that player all right. Said his daddy was some big lawyer who wrote a big check to Eastern at their last banquet. He said he’d look into it.”

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“Uh, oh!” said Dad. “Those types will sue you. Give ’em a slick sidewalk and they’ll take your farm.”

“No problem there, Harry. If he ain’t learnt his manners yet, I’ve still got my chair leg.”

Tom Phipps

Hedges

It didn’t do it. It wasn’t enough. Dad managed his extra cows just fine, but the markets kept centralizing. Prices continued to fall. Soon we were paying for our milk to go clear across the state.

The United States Department of Agriculture  was a big help, vigilantly looking out for the farm equipment and chemical manufacturers in the name of public interest. Our local USDA inspector paid us his routine surprise inspection and found a clean wash basin sitting in the middle of our spotless concrete milk room floor. With a flourish of zeal, the little martinet turned us into a grade B dairy for a month, forcing us to borrow money to operate.

At last, the USDA decreed that stainless steel pipe lines were no longer sanitary enough for the public’s milk. We were ordered to replace ours with Pyrex glass pipes if we wanted to continue selling our milk. We sold our cows.

Dad went into debt starting a brood sow operation, just in time for the hog market to begin several years of depressed prices. With Nylon and Rayon, sheep were out of the question. He turned the hay shed into a battery chicken house holding several thousand layers before the egg market followed hogs. “They’ve got us,” he said. “It’s nothing but row crops from now on.” We could no longer afford a hired hand. We would have to trade our three small tractors for two new big ones. Dad went to Grandpa and Grandma to borrow the money.

I lay on the floor of Grandma’s kitchen listening to Dad and Grandpa. Grandpa gave his chair a scooted screech. He cut up a toothpick with his pocket knife and a gathered his brow as the clock in the other room ticked. “Harry,” he said. “We ain’t loaning you the money for the tractors. You can have it as far as we’re concerned, because you’re in a position where you need a second start. You won’t owe us a thing. But why on earth do you have to tear out the hedges?”

“I don’t have the time to go cutting them back every summer, for one thing. And for another, hedges take up farm land. I’d just as soon have the extra corn rows.”

“The ground will wash.”

“No it won’t. I can manage the soil.”

“How? By ploughing more in the fall? I just heard you say that you were going to do more of that. You won’t hold your soil that way.”

“I’ll put in terraces if I have to.”

“Dad burn it, Harry! There goes the ground you’d save from having the hedges gone. Besides, ploughed terraces wash anyway. If you’re fixing to let it wash for a little money now, what’s Tom a-going to do when it’s his time?”

“That’s his problem. Besides, new practices like terraces work or the University of Illinois wouldn’t be promoting them.” he said, catching by accident my look of astonishment.

Grandpa whisked his pieces of toothpick into his hand and dumped them into his glass. “Know who planted the hedges? It was your granddad and your great-granddad.”

“So? I know that.”

“Just wondered if you remembered, is all. Well, I can’t stop you if you’re bound and determined to take the hedge rows out, but you’re a-going to do it yourself. I ain’t a-helping you.”

“Suit yourself,” said Dad with an uneasy glance at me.

Grandpa pushed back from the table, found a particular Successful Farming magazine by the door to the dining room and flopped it open to a center-spread illustration. “What does the caption say?”

“It says: ‘Farming in the year 2010′” said Dad. “So?”

“Well, look ‘ee at it. See? They’ve got all the animals in batteries, covered by glass domes and fed by machines. And look ‘ee there at the crops, going clean to the horizon, cultivated by an unmanned contraption…”

“Well?”

“Well my question is: where are the people? Where are the people in that there picture?”

Tom Phipps

Re: Mom

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 I enjoyed your “niarg.com”.  The lead photo brought back some memories.  I remember when the picture was taken.  I think the tractor was sitting about where Joyce’s and my house trailer sat.  The picture was taken to feature farm women who were helping in the war effort.  I don’t think the picture was taken the year that we moved to the farm [which you grew up on] (1943), so it likely was taken in 1944 or before the war ended in 1945.  I thought it was dumb that they had Joan and me climb on the tractor with Mom.  I guess that Mom was supposed to be taking care of her kids and farming at the same time.  Dumber yet was that they had me wear my “soldier” outfit.  The neatest part of the outfit was the hat, which they made me remove to better show my face.  I think the left part of the field in the background became the orchard and the little building in the background was the original part of the first hen house. 

You gave a very interesting description of Mom and the Sweet Williams.  I also brought Sweet Williams to Mom.  I don’t recall tying it to Mother’s Day; I simply did it when the Sweet Williams were in flower.  It seems to me that I started it when, one year, she didn’t have a chance to get over to the section of the woods that had a big patch of Sweet Williams, so I brought a bunch to her.  I remember doing this on more than one year, but I really didn’t make it into an annual affair.

I thought it was neat when I learned that you were bringing a bunch of Sweet Williams to Mom as an annual event.  Even so, I wondered if you might have started your annual event as a result of sentimental ol’ Mom having mentioned that I had, on occasion, brought her Sweet Williams when they were in flower.

 

Dick

[Dr. Richard L. Phipps]