The unexpected reformation of Landon Cole Shepperd

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
A mountain man's life changes when an exotic woman gets off the bus in his small town

Submitted: November 06, 2013

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Submitted: November 06, 2013

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The unexpected reformation of Landon Cole Sheppard

By Joe Massingill

 

“It was a hot, lazy summer day in Hyattsville here in Eastern Tennessee.” And when the bus pulled up at it’s stop. It caught all our attention. My friends and I hopped off our bikes. To see who was being dropped off.

 This isn’t a place to get tourists. We’re a working class company town of quickly built, single, family homes.It’s a solid hour’s drive from Knoxville to get here. So somebody was getting a visitor. The woman who got off the bus didn’t look like the normal folks around here. She was dressed in a style of clothes. That we had only seen on TV, when we were flipping channels, trying to find a NASCAR race. Her clothes weren’t the only different thing we noticed; she had the well tanned skin tone of the local high school girls at prom time. Only, we thought she didn’t buy hers thirty minutes at a time from the local tanning salon.

 This was such an unusual sight that even stupid, Landon Cole Sheppard who was sitting over by the general store looked up from the book he had his face buried in, and was pretending to read.

 Landon is the local oddball of Hyattsville, and frequent visitor to the county library. He’s lived here all his life. The story around town was that he had been orphaned at birth. And the townsfolk passed him around from family to family, as he grew up. That was Forty some odd years ago. No one had ever claimed him. Somebody just made sure he had plenty of food and warm clothes in the winter. We knew that Landon had made a home for himself in a cave somewhere in the mountains but we didn’t know where. No one seems to remember who his parents were either, but they must have been giants. Because Landon stands six feet six inches tall and weighs at least four hundred pounds and he is about as soft as a hundred year old oak tree. We were always told to be careful around Landon because he didn’t know his own strength. And if we made him mad, well he could swat us over Clinch Mountain, if he wanted to. But we never worried about that.  We him treated like the other strays around town you don’t bother them they won’t bother you. That’s not to say we thought of Landon as a stray animal. He was given a job at the local sawmill. And he would repair fences, stuff around town, just simple jobs.

Everybody invited him in for supper; Landon would help set the table. Then say grace.  And afterward Landon would help clean up the dishes. On Saturdays in the summer Charlie the barber would give Landon a shave. In the wintertime Landon wore a full beard, because it was warmer. On Sundays Landon is always a welcome addition to the Hyattsville Pentecostal Church where the choir leader claims “his rich, smooth and unexpected baritone gives the hymns a solid foundation for the other voices.”

And with Landon being the only apparent adult around the lady from the bus walked straight to him.

She spoke rapidly in an unintelligible foreign language with an equally unintelligible accent.

Poor, stupid Landon stood up, towered over the lady, smiled and shook his head. The lady spoke again in halting broken English, but in a low voice like she was ashamed that she couldn’t speak it easily. We could see a sad look pass over Landon’s face.  Then he took her hand, and led her to the sheriff’s office. Landon ever the gentleman opened the door for the lady, held it open as she entered, and followed her inside.

 

An hour passed before Sheriff Morrison came out with the lady who had since, changed her clothes. Into the more customary fashion of the women of Hyattsville which was a short sleeved, light weight sundress, and sensible shoes. Sheriff Morrison spoke to the lady and pointed up to a big house perched on a mountain top. Everyone knew that was Old Man Hyatt’s place. His family founded Hyattsville when they thought they had a rich vein of coal in the mountains surrounding the town. They thought they could bring in workers. And use the tactics of the past. To ensure they had a large, stable, work force. Hyatt’s mining Co. paid the worker’s wages in company script that was only good at the company store. Plus they owned all the houses and the surrounding land. Effectively they created a labor force that couldn’t leave.And the Hyatts were made rich on that arrangement. When the coal they had gambled on wasn’t as plentiful as they hoped the Hyatts opened a sawmill, and lumberyard. To harvest lumber, from the nearby mountains. And this became the town’s main employer.

One, of the underappreciated aspects of a small town, like ours is the home grown, communications network. Before telephone and satellite television we had tell-a- neighbor. And this network has more gossip, speculation, and outright assumptions, flying around than Knoxville International Airport has airplanes.

In an hour of the mystery woman leaving the Sheriff’s office we knew the woman’s name was Maria Del Carmine Gonzalez. And that she had met Old man Hyatt in Mexico when he was on a business trip. He had proposed and she was here to be to be his wife. The problem was Old Man Hyatt died from a heart attack a week before she arrived and no one knew of the arrangement. The Hyatt estate’s lawyers vehemently denied the existence of such a verbal agreement.  And it seemed the whole town had surrounded the Sheriff’s office. Shouting accusations that the Hyatt family was once again throwing their weight around, and this, “was the first in a new wave of outsiders coming in for our jobs!”And Miss Maria Del Carmine Gonzalez was stranded in a strange land with people who spoke a language she barely understood.

Into the crowd of noisy townspeople walked Landon Cole Sheppard. The crowd parted without him saying word. He walked right up to the scared Maria Del Carmine Gonzalez. He picked her up, turned around, and walked out of the now silent crowd. When the shock wore off Maria Del Carmine Gonzalez let fly with a stream of Unintelligible Spanish in her equally unintelligible accent. All this was accompanied by a frenzy of gestures. But we needed no translation. She was not happy to be manhandled in such a matter. And if she couldn’t express it in an understandable manner, she didn’t care. She was going to say her piece anyway. A few long seconds after her passionate discourse started. Landon set her on her feet. Towered, over her, and spoke words. We assumed he had overheard on the TV in someone’s home. He said “Mi casa su casa, Senorita.” and pointed toward the mountain.  The stranded lady calmed down, smiled and said, “Gracias senor.”  Landon offered his hand to her. She accepted. And together, hand in hand they walked up into the mountains.  And if you think the arrival of an exotic woman got the Hyattsville gossip machine going. Imagine, that same woman living. With a Tennessee, mountain man, in a cave, and without the benefit of marriage. That really got the tongues going. We kept hearing the same sentence over and over; some of my younger friends didn’t understand the humor that the men seemed to find in the oft repeated sentence.  “Landon’s never been with a woman.” Sometimes this was followed by “Poor fool won’t know what hit him.” Once we heard the question. “How can that be?He’s past forty, that’s unheard of!” The only explanation forwarded was he wasn’t interested, and if it was a group of men talking about the topic. The following response would be. “Then that’s a waste of a fine woman up on that mountain.”

The women’s comments were along the lines of. “Can you imagine having that leg thrown across you in the middle of the night?” “Or He’ll break that poor woman!”

 During the summer months we would see Landon and Maria in town at the post office or at the general store.  Walking and talking, the strange thing was, Landon was speaking fluent Spanish! And she would reply in fluent English. Finally we had to ask “Landon how did you learn to speak Spanish so quickly?”

Landon barked a quick laugh and said “I learned a couple years ago by using the tapes in the County library. I just never had anybody to practice with.” “When Maria spoke to me the first time. She spoke so fast and with that accent.” “I only caught half of what she was saying.”

Then Maria spoke up “Now I speak in English and Landon speaks in Spanish so we are always improving each other.”

 While we were standing there talking to Hyattsville’s oddest couple. The prim and proper Mrs. Westgate came out of the general store she and her husband owned, and made a beeline to Landon. “Landon Cole Sheppard!” she said. “If you liked women why didn’t you chase after my Pauline?”

“No offense Mrs. Westgate, but I spent my growin’ up years with all the families of Hyattsville it seemed wrong to go after those daughters. It wasn’t until Maria, showed up that I met a woman who didn’t feel like family.”Landon simply answered.

 Having got her answer Mrs. Westgate turned to Maria. “How can you stand living in that terrible cave?” “Sleeping and eating, in the dirt. No stove, no refrigerator!”

Looking her straight in the eye, Maria Del Carmine Gonzalez said, “Landon has provided a comfortable home for me. He built a bed frame from throwaway lumber that he got from the sawmill. He ordered a mattress from your husband’s store. He spread pine needles down on the cave floor to walk on. He even built a table and chair set for us to eat our supper on. And as for the stove and refrigerator we have a cooler of ice and a campfire. I need nothing else.”  After a pause Maria added. “I came here on the promise of a better life as a trophy wife.” “I think I came out ahead in the end. Landon is the gentlest, most attentive lover I’ve ever known.”

 With this declaration ringing in her ears the prim and proper Mrs. Westgate stiffened, turned around, and made a beeline back to the general store. 
 We speculated later.  That Mrs. Westgate must have seen Maria as a problem that had to be dealt with. We often forget that the Westgates and the Hyatts are associated because the Hyatts have the better half of the deal.

But two days, after that conversation, with Landon and Maria, a couple of Mexican men in a rental car came into town asking about Maria. And that set the “tell-a- neighbor” network buzzing with the “news” that Maria’s “husband” was asking about her, and where she could be found.

Landon’s response was “Maria told me she was never married and I believe her.” The town’s response wasn’t as calm because shotgun shells flew off the shelves. And the town buzz claimed that Maria’s “husband” was a drug lord. And that he was coming to reclaim his “wife”. After two days of questions and no sign of Maria they left town.

 

It was about a month later, when Maria was in the general store. Getting some things for herself and Landon, the men showed up again and tried to force her into their car. Mr. Westgate not being as prim and proper as his wife pulled his twelve gauge pump action shotgun out from the back of the counter.

He stopped them from pulling her completely out of the store.

 We heard the men and Maria, both yelling in Spanish. But we couldn’t understand any of it. Not that it mattered. It didn’t need translation.

 They wanted Maria to go with them and Maria didn’t want to go.

 Afterward Mr. Westgate said he witnessed the man who had ahold of Maria move backwards toward the door. And that Maria’s assailant didn’t see the giant shadow looming in the doorway.

But he felt the large hand that grabbed the back of his neck. The man who had Maria whimpered “El Gigante.” Let her go and collapsed on the spot right there. “Landon didn’t try to hurt him, but he couldn’t be blamed if he did.”

 

“Now ladies and gentlemen of the jury after that witness testimony I will rest my defense.” Said Landon’s court appointed defense attorney.” But,” he quickly added. “I do, have two documents to add to the record before the case is officially adjourned.”

 

 With all attention on him the lawyer held up the two documents. “These are the birth certificate of Landon Cole Sheppard, and the last will and testament of Ignatius Rayburn Hyatt.” He paused then continued. “Together, they prove that Landon Cole Sheppard. Is the illegitimate and lawful heir to the Hyatt Estate!”  

After a very brief jury session Landon was found innocent, and two weeks after the verdict. Landon and Maria were married in the Hyattsville Pentecostal Church. The whole town celebrated.

 With exception of Mrs. Westgate.

THE END


© Copyright 2020 Joe Massingill. All rights reserved.

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