STAY OUTTA MY GRAPE ARBOR, OR ELSE ...

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: DOWN-HOME
Teenagers Bill Dukes and his friend Warren Henry raiding Bill's Aunt Maude's grape arbor, were chased out by her. Afterward, they witnessed two other of Bill's aunts set afire an outhouse the Mayor of Hinesville had erected too close to their property downtown, the mayor inside. The ramifications prove severe for the mayor, the two sisters backed by Hinesville citizens.

Submitted: April 28, 2019

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Submitted: April 28, 2019

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STAY OUTTA’ MY GRAPE ARBOR, OR ELSE …

Story and Cover Painting by: Virgil Dube’ - Copyright 2019

 

Teenager William Henry ‘Bill’ Dukes stepped barefoot from the Dukes modest clapboard home in the tiny community of Willie. He moved farther out on the front porch, stretched and yawned, noting the humid morning air of Southeast Georgia. He was sure the day would be a sizzler, similar to yesterday and much the same for any August day in this year, 1937.

He heard the clanking of the pedals first, then spotted a boy riding a bicycle on the distant clay road just outside the front picket gate, his large mutt accompanying him keeping stride. He wore time-tested overalls similar to Bill’s, lose-fitting and duly worn. The husky boy pedaled to a stop, leaned his bicycle against a tree opposite the picket fence, and barefoot, advanced casually into the yard. The dog found a cool spot under the tree and lay down to nap. Warren Henry, his long-time friend, entered the yard through the gate. He stopped midway to pick a sour weed stem from a weed patch, placed the butt end in his mouth to chew, and said as he approached the porch, “Mornin’ Bill, I’m out an’ about, thought I’d drop by to see if ’n you’re doin’ well. Since I haven’t seen you since we last fished together a couple weeks ago at Butler’s Branch, figured maybe we’d visit and practice playin’ our harmonicas, if not now, maybe later today."

“If you’re not bikin’ back to Taylor’s Creek anytime soon an’ wish to hang around, we’ll play the mouth harps, but probably later when things cool down.” 

“Bein’ its summer an’ no school, I got plenty of time … will do that,” responded Warren.

“Pa an’ I’ve been busy drillin’ well’s, which reminds me I’ve got a story to tell you. Come on up an’ have a seat.” 

After Warren sat in a porch rocker next to his friend, slouched to make himself perfectly at home, Bill started to tell his story. 

“A week back as Pa an’ I drilled a water well for a field just outside Savannah, this slick black car drove off the main road an’ into the field. It stopped a distance away not chancin’ to travel farther over bumpy ground with weeds hidin’ stumps. A fancy dressed man in a dark suit, got out an’ walked toward us. Pa took off his gloves an’ moseyed away to greet him. While they talked several minutes, the mans’ equally spruced-up driver got out an’ casually walked about, not interested with the conversation like me ‘bout the odd meeting. After Pa an’ the stranger shared a short chat, the man got back into the car an’ they left. Pa puttin’ his gloves on an’ returnin’, I asked before we continued work, ‘Who was that, Pa?’ 

“‘That was auto tycoon Henry Ford, boy,' he answered. ‘Mr. Ford wants me to drill a well on his vacation property, a cottage on St. Simons Island.'”

Sitting up from his slouch, and surprised, Warren tossed the weed stem over the porch bannister, and responded, “Wow! Henry Ford, so close an’ you didn’t get to meet him, Bill.”

“The way I figure it, Warren, nothin’ gained — nothin’ lost. Besides, it was just another well-drillin’ job for Pa.”

“Are you an’ tha old man drillin’ wells later today?”

“No, there’s a minor problem with our mobile drillin’ rig bit, an’ the old flatbed needs some engine work – the carburetor foulin’ up. Pa’s out back in the work shed repairin’ the truck now; he’ll work on the bit later today. He told me to scram, didn’t need my help right away. He’ll be there until sometime tomorrow. There’s several axes needin’ sharpenin’, so I’ll join him later to grind a keener edge on ‘em. Why?”

“It’s Thursday an’ your Aunt Maude Pinwickle is supposed to be in Hinesville visitin’ her sisters, your Aunt Monroe’s. I’ve got a appetizin’ idea if you’re not busy an’ are interested in havin’ a tasty treat an’ sharin’ some fun.”

Bill cocked his head, eyebrows lifted and forehead wrinkled from the quizzical stare he bestowed his friend, “Warren, are you suggestin’ we sneak through the woods an’ raid Aunt Maude’s an’ Uncle Ben Pinwickle’s grape arbor? Why not we go beyond Butler’s Branch an’ visit Blake Wakefield’s cane-makin’, the blacks there old friends an’ always invitin’.”

“The cane makin’ would be fine. However that’s not what I’m suggestin’, rather to do a darin’ thing just for fun like old times.” Licking his lips, Warren added, with raised eyebrows and a smile, “Think about eatin’ those yummy muscadine grapes ripenin’ by now instead of watchin’ a mule circle Blake’s cane-crusher mill, an’ waitin’ hours as the juice is evaporated an’ syrup is processed.” 

“I think cane syrup makin’ is lots of fun, ‘specially visitin’ Blake an’ his clan, wrestlin’ tough little Jim an’ his brother Raisin Blake. But you’re right; the muscadines are surely ripenin’, an’ Aunt Maude can be stingy with ‘em. Regardless, Warren, it’s kinda risky, don’t you think? Even if Aunt Maude is Ma’s sister, she’s unlike easygoin’ Uncle Ben. She can be a hellion like Pa when riled-up.”

“Well, there’s a distraction that might work in our favor. Maude has much on her mind to talk about with her sisters, Aunt’s Jesse-Belle an’ Natalie, concernin’ that outhouse Hinesville Mayor Claude Pickens had city workers erect at the front of their property, the stench horrible an’ invadin’ their privacy.”

“Yeah, it’s been a slap in their face an’ a hot stinkin’ topic shared all about.”

“I can imagine, bet your Ma’s in stitches just like her two Monroe sisters. No matter their home is back a ways off Hinesville's Main Street, there’s better places elsewhere an’ plenty of space workers could have put that privy. Despite the sister’s protests, Pickens had the privy placed smack-dab against their front yard near the gate. Its in plain view of all passin’ by to see, many takin’ advantage to enter it an’ do their business an’ then leave casually.”

“You’re right. That privy has Ma flat dab upset. She told Pa an’ me Maude said the sister’s are ear-splitting mad an’ raisin’ a ruckus from their front porch rockers, yellin’ it’s a dang sore-eye an’ deliberate slap in their faces. They holler that it reeks day an’ night, especially on hot days. Even as they sleep the putrid stench penetrates wall boards an’ cracked windows into their house.”

“Bill, Claude Pickens confronted them from outside their front gate, told them flatly the privy stays, an’ there’s not a darn thing they can do since the thing is necessary an’ on public property. He declared it was made available for railroad workmen who are repairin’ track, replacin’ crossties, an’ spreadin’ new gravel next to their property an’ ‘cross town. He said the work foreman needed extra-unobstructed area for workers to relieve themselves, apart from varied storage, an’ truck functionin’ extendin’ clear to Main Street that might continue several months. Our neighbor Joe Wilkins believes the Mayor ordered the outhouse placement to spite the sister’s sour attitude an’ personal attack on him, them accusin’ him of no political experience, he bitterly respondin’ the sisters are sassy old windbags … an’, the sisters lashing back callin’ him ‘just plain stupid’. On his way to City Hall just to rile them more, mock their complainin’ outcries, Claude often stops to relieve himself in the privy, zippin’ up an’ tightenin’ his belt in plain sight of the women after he steps from the privy.”

“That’s plain ole disgustin’, just adds salt to an open wound, Warren. It’s no wonder Ma is extra mad hearin’ that from Joe Wilkins, adds credit to what she often says, ‘Claude Pickens is a backwoods ignorant an’ self-righteous lowlife slob. The railroad project was on the books long before Pickens became town mayor. He takes credit, however. In fact, he’s a lazy disgrace to our community’. 

“Warren, Pickens has done a couple jobs with Pa. But Pa put a stop to that. He claims Claude is as the sisters said - stupid, questions if he’s capable of countin’ to 10, the man a failure helpin’ him with simple tasks, plus, he’s spoilt every task he’s ever tackled, ‘cept maybe moon-shinnin’, his juice favored in certain parts. Both my aunts declare Mayor Pickens after bein’ elected by a majority of dimwits fooled by him, has become a misfit power freak havin’ his way over City Council. It’s a thing not seen a-before-hand that has councilmen in uproar an’ secretly debatin’ to boot his sorry butt outta town. Rumor has it Claude's pushiness has gotten him on the bad side of other prominent Willie an’ Hinesville citizens … believe it or not, smart people who blindly supported his election to mayor. Now that my aunts have raised such a sink … so to speak, I’m afraid the only way that outhouse will be removed is by drastic measure, like people getting’ their heads together an’ kickin’ the bonehead mayor outta office.”

“I don’t know, Bill. Once a degenerate official gets into office, an’ grabs hold, it’s not easy to uproot him, deceitful politics an’ blind loyalty hand-in-hand these days.”

“The blind loyalty part is harming Hinesville. Leave it to the Monroe clan, ‘pecially my aunts … they’ll find a way to straighten out bonehead Pickens,” Bill asserted, adding, “got that trait in a long family line goin’ back to President James Monroe on Ma’s side.”

***

Bill anxious, Warren carefree and wearing his felt hat, both considering the coast clear, entered Maude’s grape arbor at mid-morning. Accompanied by Warren’s mutt, Mobster, a pit bulldog-lab mix, each boy carried a small burlap sack to hold a generous amount of grapes. 

Ten minutes into the rushed picking, and eating as they picked, a shotgun blast jolted the boys to reality, both thinking, oh, no!Old Maude isn’t in town with her sisters after all.

The boys clutching their full bags, fled pell-mell.

At the back porch steps, chunky Maude had fired the 16-gauge shotgun into the air, not at the fleeing boys. Several pellets accidentally struck the facial board across the porches backside, wood splintering and falling to the ground. Cursing as she propped the gun against a back-porch post, she charged into the yard brandishing a broom chasing Bill and Warren. 

She yelled as the boys dashed across the barn access road, “Stay outta’ my grape arbor, Bill Dukes, Warren Henry … or else. If I catch you stealin’ my grapes again I swear I’ll dust your hides with this here broom. Bill, I’m gonna tell John Allen. I spect Effie-Mae will pile more whelps on your hinny with a switch after John tans your hide with his razor strap.”

The boys didn’t see Benjamin Pinwickle suddenly appear from over the pasture knoll. Leading his plow mule to the barn, the happy-go-lucky farmer whistling a tune stopped behind the wood rail fence curious what provoked the shotgun blast. Seeing what had happened, then laughing, he watched his husky wife chase the boys from the arbor, one of them her nephew, the other that big Henry boy, triggering the remembrance in his own youth of such occurrences involving him and his brother, Grindstone. He remembered them being caught raiding Jeremy Wellford’s strawberry patch, was shot at and missed, probably purposefully to discourage them ever returning. After watching the pair and scared dog dash across the clay road and into the piney woods, Ben Pinwickle sauntered on toward the barn, chuckling, less concerned about the boy's mischief than of his stingy Maude and her short fuse, hoping she hadn’t blown a gasket, her blood pressure his only concern. His Maude returning to the house, fuming, muttering ill-chosen words unworthy any devout heathen repeating, he knew she was okay, also that she would never harm the boys. However, she sure had scared the mess out of them, and that dog about to run out of his hide. 

A safe distance away in the woods, Bill and Warren stopped to catch their breaths. 

“Warren, Pa’s goin’ to be awful mad when Aunt Maude tells him, will surely thrash me in spite of my age. I’ll take it, never raise a hand against my parents.” 

“Maybe your Aunt Maude won’t squeal since she’s not all that fond of your old man, an’ his fiery temper.”

Sitting down briefly and leaning back to rest on opposing sides of a pine tree in a turpentine harvesting forest, this young tree not yet notched to collect sap in a box, Bill said over his right shoulder, “Warren, Pa gets over things fast. He’ll take me to Hinesville Saturday next week as he promised. If you’d like to go with us, it’ll be a good chance to visit the carnival. Pa has drillin’ business to line up there. Carin’ less about the carnival, he’ll be busy dealin’ several hours.”

“I’d like to go, Bill.” Warren answered, popping a grape in his mouth, his next words jumbled as he chewed, “It’ll give us a chance to check out the Monroe outhouse situation.”

Bill chuckled, commented, “Aunt Maude a hefty short woman, sure can run fast.”

“I imagine she could have put a hurtin’ on us with that broom.”

Popping a grape in his mouth, Bill removed the forked slingshot from his rear pocket and placed a small stone in the leather pouch. He aimed carefully at a curious squirrel creeping down an oak tree thirty foot away. He missed the target wide to the right.

“Yes, that hefty old woman scoots along right fast, Bill. I bet she can shoot your slingshot straighter than you.” 

“Probably right, Warren,” Bill answered, then raised his head and spit the grape hull in a long arch.

Both boys remained perched against the tree a half-hour, feasting on grapes they had heisted, also catching up on local gossip, some of it that drifted back to old times.

***

Instead of a belt whipping from John Allen, Bill received a scolding up one side and down the other from Effie-Mae. The old man bombarded him afterwards with an extra scolding, the duel lectures more hurtful than the physical thrashing he frankly expected. Bill on tentative terms with his parents several days afterward, accompanied his father to the next well-drilling job, this time for Henry Ford … no mention by either of the grape arbor raid.

***

Hinesville bustled with country folk Saturday morning. Many had come from as far as Savannah to attend the Annual Hinesville Carnival. Bill and Warren separated from John Allen Dukes, moseyed toward the city park and a gathering crowd. 

The entire carnival, a gala festival for which almost every person roundabouts eagerly anticipated, and attended, covered the city park two blocks from the railroad tracks and one block from City Hall. Amidst colorful streamers and banners, and lofty multi-color flags, an array of tents, flashy wagons and trailers, were arranged randomly in an expansive oval. Cubicles of varying shapes and sizes entertained for admission assorted dramatic shows: staged girly dancers decently clothed, the world’s heaviest woman and smallest man — they husband and wife, a fortune teller and hand-reader, a dark interior haunted house tunneled through makeshift construction, swanky-dressed knife throwers, a pellet rifle target shooting booth with wooden ducks floating in rotation on a pond. Scattered roundabout were roving sword and fire swallowers, magicians that entertained children, and clowns juggling balls. There were pony rides, a merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, children’s animal zoo, and an outside shooting range for bow and arrow. For the casual wanderer and passive participant within the circle of food and small act booths along the midway, tall clowns on stilts walked alongside companionable midgets, a mix of chubby and skinny and brightly colored funny individuals. 

The boys intermingled with the midway crowd full of charmed kids. They walked by a crowd of youngsters drawn to a snake handler with three reptiles wrapped around him head to toe — nine to twelve-foot pythons. Moseying onward they encountered tumblers tossing and catching triplicate knives, others bowling pins, and several were flipping flaming sticks. One massive strongman with a handlebar mustache and wearing brightly colored tights from head to laced anklet black boots to augment his muscular physique, lifted inside a large roped-off circle a shot-filled barbell from ground to shoulder, and then heaved it overhead. The globed ends were labeled three-hundred-fifty pounds in white block lettering. ‘Butch the Adonis’, his show name inscribed on a banner, finished his demonstration by tossing the barbell upward, spun completely around and caught the monstrous weight again in both hands. After lowering the weight, the huge ends sank into the weedy grass within the circle. Receiving donations, colossal Butch allowed spectators forward to feel his bulging biceps and attempt lifting his barbell. A few men got the barbell inches off the ground, before Malcolm Hester a local brute of a man, lifted the weight midway to his knees before he felt sudden back pain just prior to hearing the ominous click in his lumbar. Malcolm taking doctor’s orders would be waylaid several days. 

One event in particular drew a curious crowd, which Bill and Warren drifted toward. A four-by-four foot wire cage placed atop an elevated roped stage housed a small but restless black bear, the object of everybody’s fascination. 

The boys equally engrossed, became unaware they were separated. Warren had zigzagged his way to the front of the gathering crowd. Bill had drifted in the opposite direction around the cage and roped stage, where he approached a colorfully dressed man standing on a stool and speaking through a megaphone attempting to attract business. He wore a vertical black and white stripped shirt and pink poky-dot oversized black tie. His clownish painted face sported a large red bulb nose under a huge black top hat adorned with a large pink band. His size twenty-four black shoes, the size labeled with an over-sized stringed tag, protruded from under baggy bright blue pants, the insteps flopping over the stool edge with red stocking toes sticking from a hole in the tips. 

“Step right up gents; ladies you might wish to hang back. Fellows, take your chance with Tiny-Mighty, the world famous wrestling black bear. He can’t bite; nor will he claw you. As you can see he wears special strapped-on gloves and a secure mouth restraint. Tiny-Mighty is quite docile, often playful, and loves to tussle with his keepers. The bigger his opponents at carnivals, the tougher he wrestles. I see lots of dudes standing round capable of throwing Tiny-Mighty. Gentlemen, would you please step right up and show your he-man stuff to the admiring ladies. For five bucks, you can win twenty smackers by either throwing Tiny-Mighty within three minutes, or not being thrown by him. However, you can’t evade him running about the stage … not a good strategy. To win, you must physically engage Tiny-Mighty hands-to-paws.”

Hesitation persisted with no immediate takers, some ladies withdrawing and dragging their men away with them. Both husky and really colossal men standing about mumbled one to the other, many boasting they could do this or that to the unfortunate little bear, even joked how suitable he be called Tiny-Mighty, ‘but five bucks, hey, that seems kinda steep’ they would ultimately profess, and wave the matter away as if wrestling a small bear was a waste of their time. Despite unconcealed bravado, none committed five bucks to back up their boasts. 

Behind the flamboyant speaker on the stool, a second similarly dressed man scoured the crowd. Finally, his eyes settled on Bill, and he moseyed toward him.

Stepping close, the man asked softly, “Say young fellow, want to earn an easy five bucks?”

“I surely would, mister, but how?”

“Come, follow me; we’ll speak privately.”

The man clandestinely led Bill behind the cage and between two close-quarter animal transport wagons. With commotion widespread and concealed from roving people, nobody near to hear or see them, the man explained.

When Bill returned to the crowds’ forefront, Warren was nowhere to be seen, probably swallowed in the mounting mass of spectators swarmed around the roped stage.

The hustler turned to face Bill. He pointed and addressed him through his megaphone, “Young man, you look rather wiry — tough, likely a strong hard-working farm boy. How old are you?”

“Fifteen, sir, an’ you’re right; I am strong. I can throw bales of hay while wringing chicken-necks for Ma. I’ve farmed all my life an’ have worked beside my Pa drillin’ water wells.”

“Want to wrestle Tiny-Mighty, show these timid brutes your spunk, no fee but five bucks won if you throw Tiny-Mighty?”

“Heck yeah, I’ll try it, if it’s free to enter an’ I’ll win five bucks,” Bill replied, showcasing as the man had earlier instructed, acting sheepishly, with anxiety evident in his voice, and expression, as he stretched nervously to grab hold of the bear handlers’ outstretched hand to help up and onto the elevated stage.

People roundabout catching wind of the challenge, began to cluster, the crowd growing steadily. Cutting remarks uttered, many by loudmouths, gave young Bill less than five-seconds before the bear threw and smothered him on the stage mat. In contrast, numerous people encouraged him, since he a mere boy was gutsy, the first willing opponent of the day to stand toe to toe against Tiny-Mighty. 

The speaker declared, “Gentlemen, this bout is an advantage for a youngster of Bill’s stature, him a raw-bone farm boy. That’s because Tiny-Mighty was rusty in practice this morning after a week traveling the road from Nashville, Tennessee to here. Truthfully, he is in a vulnerable state until he gets traveling kinks out, needing proper warming-up with better advantaged first-challengers.”

Three minutes later the doubters weren’t laughing, were stunned. Apart from the disbelievers most people praised Bill, patting him on the back after he stepped from the stage and was given his reward, the five bucks promised.

Word spread across the carnival grounds, ‘Bill Dukes out-wrestled … beat Tiny-Mighty the black bear’. Bigger crowds collected around the stage and bear cage, hefty men eager to win an easy twenty bucks. Challengers lined up, openly boastful but leaving discouraged, most wiping bear slobber from their faces, scratching their heads asking how in heck did a scrawny farm boy throw that tough little bear.

“How’d you do it,” Warren asked, as he and Bill finally met near the archery shooting range, where Skeeter Bowman, the Glenn County, and state champion field and target-shooter dressed like Robin Hood, gave a captivating exhibition using a longbow. 

Bill didn’t answer immediately; he captivated watching shapely Skeeter shoot her bow.

Afterward, Skeeter dared anybody to challenge her — three dollars a round, anybody outshooting her to receive ten bucks. Many tried, including Warren fairly skilled at archery. He and all challengers fell miserably short of duplicating Skeeter’s Robin Hood performance. 

Bill still quiet about the bear-wrestling event, and as he and Warren drifted the midway casually, Jasper Collier rushed up to them. He spat tobacco juice, then transfer the knob in his cheek to the other side before speaking, “Guess what happened, Bill, an’ Warren; huge John Glasgow, the biggest brute in these parts was slammed to the floor by Tiny-Mighty within twenty-seconds. The bear handler said Tiny-Mighty was finally loosened up, enjoyed wrestlin’ the bigger guys most, for he held John down refusin’ to let him up while lickin’ his face through his mouth muzzle a full minute. John’s face never looked so clean when the bear finally released him. I’d guess fifty men tryin’ to do what you did in mere seconds. How in heck did your throw that little bear?”

“Well, Jasper, an’ Warren, I guess I’d better tell you like I’ll have to explain to Pa ridin’ home in his truck sittin’ in the tight cab; I just plain lucked out after I tickled him under his armpit an’ said, ‘down, Tiny-Mighty’. That bear’s head bobbed an’ he grunted, soundin’ just like somebody laughin’. I swear he winked at me, then fell like a sack of potatoes with me on top of ‘em … pure luck an’ simple as that.” 

Redhead and freckle-face Jasper chewed vigorously a moment; mesmerized by fresh sawdust at his bare feet, stuff his Uncle Claudius, foreman at the sawmill, supplied the city for the carnival. Transfixed, Jasper tried desperately to rationalize what he just heard, then spit another brown wade sideward, watching sawdust transform when the goo struck and settled in it. Finally, he said after wiping dribbles from his mouth with the back of his hand, “Bill, lots of fellers tried the same thing. But Tiny-Mighty threw their butts anyway. I axully think he felt sorry an’ sincere regard for big John Glasgow he tossed extra hard to the mat.”

Changing the subject quickly, as Jasper walked away still befuddled and shaking his head, spitting brown globs with fascination each time, Bill said to his friend, “Say Warren; you already lost to purdy Skeeter Bowman shootin’ bulls-eyes, an’ I’m in no position to challenge her, my heart a flutter the closer I get to her. So, why don’t we go a couple blocks downtown an’ check out my aunts an’ their outhouse state of affairs.”

Warren crossed his arms over his chest, and stood deliberate before Bill, his feet wide apart. “So, you won’t tell me your old friend truthfully how you threw Tiny-Mighty … huh?”

Sworn silence to the bear handler, Bill answered, “Well, Warren, there’s actually nothin’ to tell, good buddy. The plain truth, that bear can’t stand bein’ tickled. I guess I hit a certain nerve with ‘em.”

Just prior to leaving the midway, small stature but long-eye-lash Eloise ‘Cootie’ Parker approached Bill and Warren, carrying a loaded cardboard flat of candy-coated apples. “Fellers, each of you can have an apple, free, compliments of Tiny-Mighty’s bear handlers.”

“Thanks, Eloise; tell both of ‘em it was my pleasure,” Bill responded. Then he asked a question he had always entertained asking, “Eloise, tell me, are those real eye-lashes? I swear when you blink I can feel sudden slight breeze.”

Flattered, Eloise blinked rapidly stirring air, also gave Bill a cute smile. “Yes, Bill, they’re natural. Why not we go out sometime on a hot day, feel the cool breeze I stir … an’ if you don’t believe me, try pullin’ them off yarself.”

As Eloise scampered away to sell her candy apples, and looking back at Bill winking vigorously, he turned to Warren beginning to lick his apple, “Warren, its unfair people call that cute girl, Cootie. I think they’re all jealous of her long eye-lashes.”

“I agree,” Warren, responded, his mouth, cheeks, and chin red from the coated apple, struggling to stifle a cackle. He glanced sideward at his friend, playfully bumped his arm, winked, and commented, “Bill, I think you’re startin’ to get feelins’ for the girlies - first, purdy Skeeter, now cute Eloise.”

“Can’t deny that, old chum, bet you are too, just won’t admit it. Now, let’s go across the tracks an’ tickle our curiosity, see how my aunt’s are farin’ with that outhouse situation.” 

***

Work on the tracks had ceased for the weekend so that rail-workers could attend the carnival. A group of city officials in route to the festival had gathered to inspect the work’s progress thus far, Mayor Claude Pickens heading their scrutiny. The Monroe sisters sitting in front porch rockers wasted no time heckling the entire bunch. The councilmen ignored the ensuing angry onslaught, the sisters in unison swearing, shaking pointed hands directly at them. When the men disbursed, all heading toward the park, Mayor Pickens, beet-faced, huffing and puffing mad, hung back, hands on his hips.

As Bill and Warren appeared from around the corner of Spike’s Drug Store facing Main Street - the nearest building to the tracks, they spotted Mayor Pickens walking with animated deliberation toward the infamous outhouse. Curious what might transpire between him in an apparent flustered state and the Monroe sisters sitting like agitated queen bees on their front porch, yelling insults, the boys dashed behind a nearby pile of railroad cross-tie timbers to watch. As Claude Pickens entered the outhouse, each sister carrying a metal pail scampered off the porch and moved toward the structure. Before they douched the outer walls with a clear liquid while the man inside unaware, grunted, and lit a match, they hesitated, turning to see and consider the disposition of the hidden boys. Bill and Warren simultaneously raised partially eaten apples and grinned. The women regarding that a salute, returned a thumbs-up, silently set the door latch, finished their deed lighting a fuse, then hustled back to their porch rockers. Momentarily, fames ignited around the outhouse, and smoke began to bellow upward into the lush foliage of the giant oak in their front yard.

Bill and Warren with eyes bulging, soon heard thrashing sounds within the structure, curse words bellowed, then from within the outhouse, Claude holler, “What the hell, you two windbags!” After crashing blows with his shoes against the door, the latch broke and door flew outward and off its hinges, landing on and smothering a portion of the flames. Instantly, Mayor Pickens emerged from the inferno, pants and underwear down, a three-foot streamer of toilet paper hanging from between his butt crack. He hopped up and down while in vain attempted to raise his britches over badly twisted underwear and flabby buttocks, screaming, finally fleeing, stumbling as he crossed the railroad tracks, then rising with a tremendous effort to run anew seeking privacy behind Spike’s Drug Store.

The blazing outhouse quickly attracted a small crowd in route to the carnival. It was controlled before the fire department arrived, a pile of blackened boards, most charred on the ground, several smoldering corner planks resisting collapse. Volunteers from the crowd had quickly squelched the remaining flickers of flame with water in vessels discarded by workers, rushing in turn from a water-spigot behind the drug store. However, the open hole of excrement added to by burnt debris, was also doused, the rising stench insufferable, everyone nearby quickly gauging and holding their noses.

Red-faced, dirty, infuriated, Mayor Pickens stumbled from behind a large azalea bush behind Spike’s Drug Store, where he halted to garnish reserve. Recovered somewhat, he marched like a man possessed back across the railroad tracks, tucking his shirt, untwisting his belt, still unaware the stream of toilet paper hung from over his back waist band as he approached the Monroe sister’s porch steps. The thoroughly engrossed crowd lingered behind him, most pointing and giggling, favoring this spectacle rather than go immediately to the carnival. Saliva draining from his grimaced mouth, Mayor Pickens skirted around the smoldering remains of the outhouse and confronted the dynamic duo, who appeared in contrast unconcerned, each knitting a separate project, one a soft blue blanket for a newborn grandson, the other a pink and white sweater for Maude. 

His anger heightened by their complacency, and rancid stench burning his nostrils, Mayor Pickens growled, “I’ll have you two winches charged an’ arrested for destroyin’ city property by arson, an’ ‘tempted murder, so help me.”

Jesse-Belle raised her eyes above her spectacles, her expression hard. Natalie Monroe however, grinned. She knew that wrath from her feisty sister was forthcoming. 

Jesse-Belle Monroe ceased knitting. She rested the ball of twine and knitting needle on her lap apron and leaned forward, her bulging eyes behind highly magnified spectacles bearing pointedly on the Mayor’s bloodshot eyes twitching wildly. “Claude Pickens,” Jesse-Belle said loud enough the approximate twenty persons gathered, many beginning to give in to laughter at the dejected mayor sporting a stream of toilet paper hanging from his rear, and hearing Madam Monroe's venomous reprisal, “you are a two-bit phony an’ sorry excuse for a man … leave alone, Hinesville Mayor. You built that stinkin’ thing you profess as city property an’ had it placed near our yard purposely as a grudge.” She looked from him to the dazzled crowd, adding, “You folks might ask why such a harsh claim. Well, it’s ‘cause Natalie an’ I didn’t support Claude’s complete ineptness an’ lackluster campaign for mayor … really stupid politics, the man a total deadbeat resortin’ to revenge in a stinkin’ despicable manner. There was no hush-hush on our part afore he was elected. We openly crusaded against him bein’ voted in as mayor by placin’ our own anti-Claude Pickens banners across our front yard … legal an’ labeled truthfully: ‘Vote against CLAUDE PICKENS the con he is, a cotton-pickin’ good for nothin’ fraud’. Over the weeks followin’ that election we’ve prayed somethin’ be done by City Council to rid Hinesville of ‘em, an’ recently since he placed it, that dang stinkin’ privy. Our prayers weren’t answered ‘til today when the Devil sought to intervene by deliverin’ flames from hell at the fitting moment when his butt was seated on the stool.” Jesse-Belle turned her glare at astonished and dumbfounded Claude Pickens and sternly stated, “Now, Mr. Mayor - your imminence, do you want to chance chargin’ an’ havin’ the Devil arrested?”

Wilhelm Lambert, owner of Lambert General Mercantile, also City Council President, shamefacedly stepped forward from the crowd. Hands clutched low in front of him, looking compellingly remorseful, he said, “Jessie-Belle, Natalie, I have no excuse for the Council’s cruel response placin’ this crap-house next to your property. However, on behalf of all City Councilmen I sincerely apologize an’ wish to make penance. Simply stated, this building should never have been placed as an inconvenience to you two fine ladies, or any other Hinesville citizen. Furthermore, I move to have somethin’ done to your satisfaction. Also, as church deacon, I feel strongly the Devil an’ not you nice ladies ignited that outhouse. So, it’s what it is in my opinion, a deed of secular providence.”

Fire Chief Oscar Tolliver stepped alongside Lambert. “Ladies, the ashes are coolin’. For that reason I’ll see that the structures’ burnt remains is cleaned up immediately, an’ the rancid hole is lime treated an’ filled with fresh dirt. As a bonus, I propose we as firemen an’ civil servants plant a rose hedge the length of your property adjacent the site. There should be ample natural fertilizer underground to beautify the growin’ hedge for a long time.”

City Councilman Milford Jacobs, President of Farmers-Trust Bank and the wealthiest Hinesville citizen stepped forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with his community colleagues. 

Looking first at the sisters, then about at the gathered crowd, he said, “I second these motions. I echo an’ wholeheartedly agree with Oscar an’ Milford’s comments, an’ the suggested flower plantin’ project, which my bank will fund.” Stepping before Claude Pickens, he said, “Officially an’ for the record, Mr. Mayor, I propose to you an’ Mr. Lambert, that the incident was not criminal but an act of divine intervention, perhaps a lightning strike since a thunderhead is brewin’ overhead.”

“Amen,” several from the crowd shouted, heads and eyes lifted, and shaking hands raised heavenward. 

Councilman Jacobs turned again to face the sisters,“Besides, Jesse-Belle an’ Natalie, your political banner was a manner of lawful personal opinion voicin’ your First Amendment Rights that’s fundamental to our great country. Actually, it couldn’t have been spoken any truer of your opinion an’ character, a message to our citizens recognized only after the unadulterated fact.” 

Turning lastly to the mayor, he added, “Pickens, I personally assert along with others in majority an’ in accord with me, thatyou are duly finished here. I suggest you write your resignation promptly an’ find residence elsewhere. Hinesville has had enough of you, your incompetence as a city official plus blatant lack of civility, that’s been a short but depletin’ term as our chief executive.”

***

After the crowd had disbursed and firemen began their good deed, John Allen Dukes having heard the gossip spreading across town like a wildfire, stopped by briefly to say, “Heard you gals got a little hot under the collar, but we’re all proud of you. Effie-Mae will be also, ‘specially when she hears the burnin’ truth an’ oustin’ of a deadbeat mayor.” 

***

The Monroe sister’s acknowledged the entire county would know in truth and the depth of what actually had happened to rouse them to such an extreme act. They also knew there would be no legal reprisal, for there were two viable witnesses, and, the Devil was proclaimed by city officials as the prime suspect. They were confident, trusted that nephew Bill and his friend Warren as actual observers, wouldn’t report them douching the outhouse with kerosene and lighting the fire, nor entertain but set straight any false gossip henceforth. The boys witnessing the entire escapade remained silent, keeping the account to themselves well into manhood and after the sister’s found eternal peace under a headstone next to an eternal live oak outside what once was Willie, Georgia.

***

Sunday morning as Maude drove her fine-running Plymouth sedan to Willie’s Methodist Church, she stopped at the Dukes home-place, glad Warren had stayed overnight. The boys were sitting on the porch playing popular melodies and hymns on their harmonicas, beautifully harmonized. Standing attentive before the porch steps and after enjoying a couple of musical renditions patting her feet and clapping her hands, she said, “Boys, Ben an’ I have had our share of muscadine grapes. Why don’t you two come down this afternoon an’ pick yourselves another mess … Bill, some for Effie-Mae an’ her ornery husband John Allen. Jesse-Belle an’ Natalie have also baked an’ given me a juicy blackberry pie for each of you. I’ll have it waitin’ for you on the kitchen table with a tumbler of fresh buttermilk. Ben will let you in, since I’ll be at my sister’s place catchin’ up on their naughty latest, plus witness a parade planned to see Claude Pickens’ permanently exit town — high school band, entertainers, craft booths … the works.” Winking, she added, “Also, Ben has some fruit-stealin’ stories of his boyhood to share with you two, several close-calls I understand.” 

“Thanks Aunt Maude. Warren an’ I will certainly be there. An’ thanks to Aunt’s Jesse-Belle an’ Natalie bakin’ the pie, an’ doin’ Hinesville such a good deed,” Bill replied, chuckling. “As for former Mayor Pickens, what goes around comes around.” 

Maude Monroe grinned broadly, slapped her leg, and retorted crisply, “You dad-burn-right … it does.”

As she strolled toward her parked car, Bill began to play and Warren joined in on the melody, ‘Dixieland’.

Maude cranked her car, thinking, those grape-stealin’ boys are just fine, suited to each other, will become successful an’ prosperous men one day each to his own makin’

She honked the horn adding her two cents to the medley as she drove away on the country clay road, orangish dust tailing her Plymouth in a rising cloud.

THE END

***

STORY BACKGROUND

Several of my short stories have featured William Henry ‘Bill’ Dukes. I considered Bill my father-in-law a close friend who I identified with because of family association, his good nature, and his down-home country rearing. Over years associated with him I grew to respect Mr. Dukes for his common sense and down-home values. During the six years Bill Dukes lived periodically with my wife Sharon and I prior to his passing due to a progressively worsening health complication, Mr. Dukes and I shared stories of old-time tradition, and sayings. 

As a consequence of our sharing old-time conversation, I’ve embellished within this fundamentally fictional story three of Bill’s true-life accounts that happened separately in southeast Georgia: 

(1) Bill’s father John Allen Dukes’ farm-field rendezvous with the auto tycoon, Henry Ford, Bill witnessing the meeting from a distance in a field …

(2) The bear-wrestling carnival event, Bill never telling his father how he threw the bear …

(3) Two old ladies’ vengeful toilet-burning incident, an outhouse constructed by city workers too close to their property and they taking immediate action.

Also, I mentioned a possible family kinship to President James Monroe on the Monroe side.

***

The supporting character in my fictional story, Warren Henry, is a person I had brief but pleasant association before his untimely passing. My brother Joe and I befriended Warren while we were employed at the Independent Life and Accident Insurance Company headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. Warren was a prominent architect of our company’s’ building, Independent Square constructed downtown near the St. Johns River. The three of us met on occasion during lunch break in the lobby Howard's Ice Cream Shop during Warren’s periodic visitations with company administrators, construction affiliates, or interior designers. Warren often shared with us country tales that enriched his and our daily routines, he enjoying the down-home banter, speaking warmly of his childhood in Willie, Georgia, and of Bill Dukes whom he was somewhat acquainted. This insight inspired me to write of the two of them perhaps closer as boyhood friends than was true in actual life.

Another association I had with Warren Henry was when he and company Vice President Boyd Lyon commissioned me to carve in high relief a restaurant logo on a block of wood for the Tiger’s Eye Restaurant located on the Independent Square mezzanine. It was a job I accepted as an extension of our friendship, a creative endeavor I enjoyed and did well, learning much about chisel carving over the months I worked the project on a large block of wood that Warren had shipped to me at my home.

***

WILLIE, GEORGIA was a true-to-life rural community near Hinesville in Liberty County in Southeastern Georgia, population approximately 190. The government disbanded, demolished, then incorporated the land Willie stood as part of Fort Stewart military facility to train American Troops for World War II. The only remnant remaining of the rural community is a timeworn cemetery in the wooded vicinity.

Along with Bill Dukes, my wife, and our kids, I was privileged to visit this last vestige of Willie, Georgia, noting grave markers inscribed with the Dukes and Henry family names mingled. 

I proudly dedicate this painting and fictional story to William Henry ‘Bill’ Dukes, also with fond memory and personal association of a truly pleasant man - Warren Henry … thanks, Virgil Dube’.


© Copyright 2019 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

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