Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Truth - An Apology to Mike

I have to correct the record. For all of those who knew Mike back then and today, I know that they know my statements are grossly inaccurate. My very poor choice of words in order to explain why I got such a generous dose of vodka were just that, a very poor choice of words. In my effort to tell a funny story, I was disingenuous instead. And, I never want to be that. And, that "generosity," I believe, is the right word. Mike was generous, probably to a fault, with his friendship, his laughter, his jokes, his help, his car and his love. I would have given a thousand tanks of gas for his friendship, but he never ask for that or anything else. I believe all he wanted was our friendship, and that I gladly gave. So, if anyone got the wrong impression, I hereby by the snap of my fingers erase it from your mind, never to be thought of again. I have a fondness for Mike that will die only when I do. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

And, I may have given you the wrong impression about George Kesterson, whose nickname was "Nine," because he had only nine fingers. I remember the nickname, but not the reason nor do I remember that the nickname referred to George. I remember Dad telling fondly remembered funny stories about Nine, though, and everyone around would laugh. I got the impression that Dad was fond of Nine and wouldn't think ill of him for the world. But, if Dad had work to do, he usually wasn't one to stand around talking. That is a better description of what occurred when George stopped by to talk. I'll bet money, though, that if George told a new story or experience, Dad would have let the work wait and listened to George talk as long as he wanted to.

I was also reminded of another side of George that I didn't know and my depiction of him is also inaccurate. Julie, for example, said she grew up "unafraid" of George and she remembered him spending time at the Griffin Elevator. And, for those who didn't read Julie's comment on Facebook, I quote: "Years later I took care of him when I was working as an RN in one of the nursing homes in Princeton. He also became quite the character in Princeton as well, routinely escaping in his wheelchair (he was an amputee by then) and once getting stuck trying to cross the railroad tracks." So, George was full of life, to the end. That's the impression I get. I can't say it better than Thomas Fields relates in these two stories, quoted verbatim. Thanks, Tom.

"George Kesterson was referred to as Nine by we "bottom folk".  It had to do with the fact that he had one finger missing.  He liked me and called me "Tommy".  He scooped corn for my father every year and when I was about 4 or 5 years old Nine caught several small mice as they ran out of the corn.  He put them in my pockets and I went in to the house to show my mother my new prized pets!  She nearly evacuated her lower bowel!  She went out and told Nine not to ever do that again!  He and the other hands nearly died laughing!"

and, in another email from Tom...

"You know, Nine added so much color to our lives, although he did not know it.  He was a true "mountain man" turned river rat.  He always had a trout line and a net in the Wabash and was a source of many a catfish dinner for our family.  In the fall and early spring you would find him wading the shallow ditches in the bottoms with a steel rod and a spade.  He was hunting snapping turtles!  He was quite self sufficient and did enjoy the spiritus fermenti to the extreme.  He knew how to "work the system".  As fall became winter Nine would "tie one on" and then throw a shoe through a store window.  The local constabulary was a part of the game.  He would then be arrested and sent to the "work farm" which was a prison for the likes of such, where he would be kept warm and fed through the winter months..  It got it's name because the inmates grew gardens to feed themselves, and the game wardens supplied venison from arrested poachers and "road kill". Story has it that Nine miscued and was sent in a bit early one year and the warden met Nine when he arrived and gave him a shovel and said "Come with me Nine, and I'll show you where to dig the potatoes.  Nine replied, "Hell I don't need you to show me the tater patch, cause I planted the damned things!"

Simply wonderful stories and told perfectly. Spiritus fermenti, in case you're wondering, is beer or liquor. So, you see? George was a completely different person than the guy I described sleeping in the Library Park and who didn't want a "boy" bothering him. He wanted to be left alone to sleep. Every small town should have a George in its legends to add to its character.

I didn't receive much information about Ab Beck except that he had a son, Johnny, and a stepson who, if I understood correctly, still lives and works in Owensville. I didn't know that. So, my impression of him is wrong, too. Ab added to the town's flavor and helped make it a safe and wonderful place to live.

I also should say something about that old '54 Ford that was the center of several fond memories. Perhaps David Beloat, some evening when he has all of his extended family gathered around, including his in-laws, can ask a question: "Who was driving Dave Clark's old '54 Ford on the Fort Branch road when its engine blew and locked up?" I'm sure he'll hear a funny story and more than I remember. As I remember, another fondly remembered friend in those days and I were at the Pool Hall and somebody suggested that we should get a six-pack of Falstaff. So, I loaned the Ford to my friend and he took off for Fort Branch. He, of course, didn't know anything about that car. It used as much oil as it did gas. I would have been grossly negligent if I didn't check the oil every time I filled the gas tank. In spite of my religiously keeping oil in it, the rod bearings would begin to knock louder and louder as time went on until every three or four months I would have to dismantle the low-end of the engine and shim the bearings. I peeled the thin aluminum foil, for a shim, off chewing gum wrappers, carefully smoothed out the wrinkles, and gingerly slid the foil around the bearings and put it all back together with a fresh five quarts of oil. Good as new, it ran another three or four months until I did it again. And, it was due another shimming that night and when shimming-time was near, forty miles per hour was about all it could safely do. But, I recall he said that he was doing eighty when, "the goddamned back tires locked up and it swung and swayed this way and that and went into the ditch! Sorry, Dave." And, that's where Elvin and I found it, nose in the ditch about one-quarter mile from the Orchard Curve and locked up so bad that we had to have it hauled away. It sat behind the Texaco Gas Station, near the water tower, until it was junked.

But, that car sure had a good paint job and strong bumpers and fenders. One night three of us decided to go to Mt. Carmel to get a six-pack. By some miracle or crooked liquor store clerk, we were able to buy it directly in spite of how young we were. Can you imagine any of us at sixteen or seventeen passing for twenty-one? I had problems doing that when I was thirty! But, we did. And, to avoid Indiana cops, we took a right turn on a gravel road that ran along the Wabash just after we reentered Indiana. I believe it took at least an hour to drive those back roads until we came out on the gravel road that enters Johnson from the rear, toward the curve where the old Mill and Elevator was (and could still be). As I turned on to that road and picked up speed, a skunk ran in front of us and I jerked the wheel to avoid it. That Ford slid into the ditch as easily and slick as we could have imagined, without a jolt or bump or abrupt stop. I seem to remember that all of us burst out laughing, not thinking at all of being injured, and I remember a little cursing, mostly at me, which made it all funnier. One of my buddies knew a farmer in Johnson, the name Harmon or Almond rings a bell, so he walked alone along the dark road and returned about thirty minutes later with a farm tractor to pull us out. I checked for damage to the Ford the next day. There was not one dent in the bumper, fender or along the side that scraped along the ditch bank weeds and brush until we stopped, and I don't remember a single scratch on the paint. What a car!

As for our drinking and the many comments of surprise that we weren't as innocent as many believed. I received one private message that noted surprise "that you boys would try drinking." Ha. My response was, as I say to you, that I believe the operative word is "try." To tell the truth, we were not very good at it and many days passed between our occasional beers (or vodka) and I remember fun and fond memories on those other days too.

To those readers who may not know Owensville, the best description I've ever heard was from my stepson, Damon, who by chance was able to spend a few hours at my Niece's home one day, and see the country where I was raised. He said, as Chris and I were arriving in Johnson one day a few years ago and he happened to be talking to his mother by cell phone, "Oh, you're in God's country." I think if you take a slice of that corner of Indiana, say ten to fifteen miles in all directions from Owenville, you can call it a special place. If that area is not a great slice of America and Heaven, then I don't know beans about anything.

I apologize, Mike. I sincerely hope this makes up for it. And, a spiritual note to Mildred Armstrong, as I noticed in Mike's email that he correctly spelled "Screwdriver," one word and not two. I'm sorry, Mildred, but I still seem to have a problem with spelling. You would still give me a "D" for that.

Love you all,


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