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 until 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.
I 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 his 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 lot more old implements than could be seen from the road, though. I understood that he had an old steam engine and a Fordson 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.
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.
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.”
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!
“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.”
“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.”