Bessie finished pumping the five gallons Joe Costner had paid for and Joe rushed the engine and took off in the black 57 Ford Fairlane, smoke boiling up as he squealed the tires and headed off toward Hardin, most likely to check on his still at Oodly Creek. Joe farmed a little and made a lot of corn liquor, reputed to be the best around; all the men liked him ‘cause he was generous with the elixir; he had come up with this sales promotion idea where he would give you a card from a deck and write your name on it and each time you bought a quart of shine he would punch the card. When the customer got four punches the next quart was free and then it would all start over again, the next punch going down further on the card. Joe felt like it was a win-win situation and his customers in the community, who were also his friends, agreed wholeheartedly.
Bessie watched as Joe tore off up the road in his gleaming car; she grinned and shook her head, figgering that he would check on his still and then go up on the mill hill and get with one of his women. Some of the women on the mill hill worked in the mill but some were housewives who stayed at home while their dutiful husbands toiled away in the plant on the shores of the South Fork River. It was these non-working ladies that Joe concentrated on and it was told that he had one for each shift; over the years he had become very proficient at hiding his car and sneaking into the various little mill houses.
Bessie opened the screened door to the little store and went in and sat down on a cane bottomed chair. She looked at the door she had just come through; the screen was emblazoned with the words Merita Bread. It had been a gift from the Merita delivery man many years ago and was in sore need of repair.
“Reckon one of the guys can do that for me sometime,” she said out loud, speaking of the various local men who hung around the store frequently. The first name that popped into her mind was Theodore Hoffman; she had been meaning to have a talk with him anyway ever since he had decided to dam up the creek there in his back yard and make it a swimming hole. Bessie had no objection to Theodore making a swimming hole, but the rumor that he was going to call it Shady Rest was what had gotten her a little riled up. Bessie’s little store that she had run for twenty years had always been called Shady Rest and she even had a faded sign stating that; it was red and white and had a Coca Cola emblem on it. It had been a gift from the Coke delivery man many years before. Bessie was not sure how all that naming stuff went but she was purty sure that Theodore just taking that name without even asking violated something. Bessie was short and very heavy and always wore a loose dress with an apron hanging around her neck and tied off behind her waist. She wore hosiery and like most of the older heavier women around tied them off just above the knee. One side had come loose so she reached down and re-twisted the top to where it bunched up the chubby part of her lower thigh. A blue pickup truck pulled up at the side of Shady Rest and a short red faced man in overalls opened the door and stepped out; he pulled a fresh cigar from the Red Camel overalls and snipped the end of it before he lit It with a kitchen match. He had a holster hanging around his waist with a big pistol in it. He strode into Shady Rest and saw Bessie still sitting on the cane bottomed chair. Bessie stared at Theodore Hoffman warily. He grinned at her, exposing very small smoke stained teeth.
“What in the world you doing carryin’ that big gun around Theodore?” Bessie asked. “Pull up a chair and take a load off.” Theodore slid one of the leather bottomed chairs that Bessie had in the store over to where Bessie was sitting and sat down in it.
“I am the new constable,” he announced, pointing to a large gold badge that was pinned to the front of his overalls.
“But Bogus Clonger has been constable around here for years; what happened?” she asked.
“Well the other night Bogus pulled a man over for drunk driving over near High Shoals. So Bogus was going to take him to jail in Gastonia, but decided that he was too drunk to drive them to the jail so he forced the man he arrested to drive them. Everything was okay until Sheriff Aderholt heard about it the next day; he fired Bogus on the spot. Then I got a call from the sheriff and he asked me to be the new constable and I told him I would be more than happy to accommodate him,” Theodore said, smiling broadly and puffing on his cigar. Bessie figgered that there was no time like the present to bring up her problem with the proposed Shady Rest Swimming Hole.
“Your new duties won’t keep you from havin’ a lil snort will they?” Bessie asked, moving toward the back of the desk where she always kept a couple quarts of Oodly.
“Reckon not Bessie, but it might be better if you don’t spread it around,” Theodore replied and watched as the big woman filled a water glass about a quarter of the way full and handed it to the constable. While Theodore sipped on the elixir Bessie went back and sat down on her cane bottomed chair.
“Hear tell you gonna dam up the creek and make a swimming hole,” she said, eyeing the little red faced man.
“Yep, that is true; you will have to come down and take a dip. Gonna have a snack bar and a piccolo and thinking bout a grill to cook hot dogs on. Everything is kinda in the formative stage right now but Ima gonna get started on it here right soon,” Theodore said, sipping on the shine.
“How come you don’t tell your swimmers where Shady Rest is if they get hungry or thirsty instead of goin’ to all that trouble. Course I suppose the piccolo is a good idee,” Bessie said, watching Theodore’s face for a reaction. She got one. Theodore’s face became red as a beet and he bout bit the end of his cigar off he was grinding his teeth so hard.
“Don’t see how you need to be worrying ‘bout what I do with my property; I sure don’t tell you what to do with your store, though I probly could think of a million ways to improve the dump,” Theodore spit out, puffing like a locomotive on his cigar. Then it was Bessie’s turn to get red. With considerable effort she hoisted herself out of the chair and said “come on out here and look at sumpin.”
Theodore followed the waddling Bessie through the Merita screened door and to where she stopped on the far side of the gas pumps. She pointed up at the red and white Shady Rest sign with the coca cola emblem on it and said “can you read Theodore?”
“Of course I can read; went past the fourth grade. What kinda question is that to be askin’?” he said, lookin’ kinda mean at the little round woman.
“Hear tell you gonna call your swimming hole Shady Rest, just like my place here and I don’t cotton to that idea, not one lick,” Bessie said, givin’ Theodore as much of a meaner look as she could muster.
“After all the years of good will I have put forth here to you and all your family, and this is the thanks I get,” she spluttered while shaking her stubby index finger under Theodore’s red nose. Theodore physically backed up, almost sitting on the front fender of his blue pickup truck. He started banging his right hand on the side of his holster where the big gun was resting.
“I hope the hell you got better sense than to even think about worrying with that gun; I know you member what I carry right in the front of my apron,” she said, staring at him as she watched him take his hand away from the holster. Theodore was born on a day but as they say it wa’n’t yesterday; he was very aware that Bessie had foiled two robberies over the years by gut shooting the perpetrators. One of them had died.
“Now Bessie, don’t you get yourself in a big uproar; member your high blood pressure. I was gonna ask your permission about the name of the swimming hole; I just hadn’t got around to it. I see your point; how ‘bout I call it Shady Nook instead,” Theodore pleaded. Bessie figgered she had the little man in a tight spot but also knew she was still in the driver’s seat.
“Tell you what I will do; I’ll agree to the name of Shady Nook, although that is still mighty close, and since your little snack bar is gonna be starting from nothing I will lease you that old drink machine I got in the back if you pay to have the compressor fixed. And I will secure a piccolo from Robinson’s Music Store and sublet it to you, cause I know Max would not give you the time of day,” Bessie said, watching the little man chewing on his cigar. Theodore knew she was right about Max Robinson; it all went back several years before when Theodore had sold Max a horse that had come up lame in 2 days and would not take him back. Bad blood ever since. Theodore had not thought through the whole piccolo idea, but Max was indeed the only game in town. He felt like she had him at a purty good disadvantage.
“Okay Bessie, I agree to all that, as long as you let me put a sign on each side of your store with the name Shady Nook in big letters and an arrow pointing down my road,” he said, the hint of a smile beginning to form along the sides of his mouth. Bessie chewed her cud for a good fifteen seconds and then said “you got a deal, Theodore.”
Theodore let out a long breath and said “Ya know all this is gonna be down the road a ways but I am sure glad we got it straightened out; with my new position and all that is involved in it I surely do not need any controversy.” Bessie grinned showing her snuff stained teeth and reached into her apron to retrieve the bale of Sweet Peach Snuff that was there beside her little pistol. She pulled out her bottom lip and filled it full of the fine powder; it looked like a bee had stung her on her lip it stood out so far.
“We’ll get all the particklers sorted out down the road, but we DO agree to everything we talked about, right?” Theodore nodded and broke into a grin as Wilmer pulled up alongside the gas pumps in his old Studebaker. Wilmer Maney strode into the little store and Bessie and Theodore followed him; he sat down in the chair that Theodore had been sitting in so Theodore pulled another one up while Bessie dropped down in her cane bottomed chair. Wilmer was a sturdy five foot ten with sinewy arms; he worked as an electrician at the cotton mill over at Double Shoals.
He grinned at Bessie and said “and how is Miss Bessie this day?”
Bessie just grunted and went behind the counter and poured a glass half full of Oodly and brought it back to Wilmer
“Reckon I’m ok for an old woman,” she said and grinned at him. Bessie grinned at Wilmer as she remembered how thirty years before she and Wilmer had been a pretty hot item; she still had to fight him off once in a while, but she knew he wouldn’t try anything what with Theodore being there and all.
“What the hell ya doin’ with that pistol,Theodore?” he asked, looking at the little man.
“I am the new constable,” he said and explained what had happened to Bogus Clonger.
“Well I be,” Wilmer offered after containing a long chuckle.
“Don’t see nothing so all fired funny ‘bout me being constable; Sheriff Aderholt swore me in all legal like,” Theodore offered. “You have gotta respect my authority or face the consequences,” Theodore said. Theodore thought he saw Wilmer starting to grind his teeth so he thought he would let things settle down a bit. In fact Wilmer had started to grind his teeth and his breath was coming faster. These two events had both Theodore and Bessie on guard; Wilmer was known for his violent temper and if he lost it he usually would have a seizure. Wilmer suffered from epilepsy.
“Well I don’t reckon that I am gonna get too awful scared ‘bout that; gonna take more than a big pistol slung on a little pipsqueak to get me to worryin’”, he added, the grinding and breathing increasing as he started to get up and walk toward Theodore. Theodore started to pat his holster, his lower lip starting to quiver. Bessie had her hand inside her apron on her little pistol but took it off when Wilmer fell flat on the floor right on his face. She knew what to do; she had been around Wilmer when he had seized up with a fit. She waddled over as fast as she could to where he was lying and told Theodore to help her turn Wilmer over. When they got him turned she pried his clenched teeth open and reached in his mouth and pulled his tongue out of his throat.
“Hand me that wood paint stirrer,” she ordered Theodore, and when she got it she inserted it the inch and a half way into his mouth so he wouldn’t bite his tongue. Bessie knew that she had done all that she could do, that it was a waiting game after that, and sure enough in about five minutes Wilmer started to come around. As soon as he could sit up she got him some water, figgering the Oodly was probly not a good idee. After about five minutes Wilmer started to stir a little and then sat up; he looked around like he had just walked into a place that he had never seen before, a look of surprise and amazement on his face. Bessie went behind the counter and filled a goblet half full of Oodly and brought it around to Wilmer; he took it from her and took a sip and then killed it. Then he did what all present knew he would; Wilmer had a tradition when he took a drink and he never varied from it. When he took a drink, and if he did it was always shine, he would make a terrible face like he had just tasted the worst thing in the world, then shake his head side to side blowing out air and his lips flopping around, and then he would always say “best stuff I ever had”, and they were not disappointed. Everybody laughed, partly because of what Wilmer did, and also because they knew the crisis was over. After a while Wilmer got up and looked around sheepishly.
“Thanks Bessie, I reckon you were the one who put the paint stirrer in my mouth; gotta admit, purty quick thinkin,” he said, grinning at the little fat woman.
“Not a problem Wilmer; you are a good friend and I had to do all I could to help you; you would have done the same for me if I wuz having a fit,” she said, and they all laughed. Wilmer laughed along with them; his condition was widely known and all knew that it was just something he and his friends just dealt with.
“Well thanks again,” Wilmer said and went out the door, followed shortly by the rest of the group. When Bessie was alone she poured herself a generous drink of Oodly and sat down in her cane bottomed chair to reflect on the day. She felt pretty good about her calling Theodore out on the Shady Rest name, and congratulated herself on her negotiation ability.
“I’ll come out purty good on that whole deal,” she said out loud, and went in the back and started wiping down the drink machine.
Three months had passed since Theodore and Bessie had their little discussion about the name Shady Rest and Wilmer had fell out with his fit. Theodore was putting the finishing touches on his attire, looking at himself in the tall mirror in the hall. He had on fresh pressed khaki pants, a short sleeved white shirt, and had just tied a perfect Windsor knot in his favorite red tie. His pate was adorned with a straw fedora with a little red feather stuck on the right side. Teddy smiled with approval at his reflection and headed out the back door; his heart swelled with pride as he gazed at Shady Nook Swimming Hole. The excavation had gone well; he had been able to get Mervin Radford, a utility contractor who also cleaned out septic tanks, on the job quickly and before you knew it the hole was complete, the creek was diverted, and the swimming hole was full. Then he had gotten Mervin to bring in several loads of white sand and spread it out nicely; the job was complete when Teddy had built the little shack beside the big pine tree and had stocked it with candy, cigarettes, and cold drinks, thanks to his rented cooler he had secured from Bessie. The sublet piccolo from Robinson Music Company was sitting in the little shed right next to the drink machine. Teddy looked up at the beautiful clear sky and knew that he had picked a good day to open up Shady Nook Swimming Hole; it was only eight thirty and he had put out the word that he would be open for business every day at ten in the morning. Teddy felt on his right side and realized that he did not have his holster on; he had decided that when he was running the swimming hole it would probably be a bad idea to be packin’. Sheriff Aderholt had mentioned that it might “alarm” some of the customers, especially the small children, so Theodore had left it off. He looked up as Mervin Radford pulled up in his old pickup truck; he had come to get paid and Teddy had the check for two thousand dollars right there in his shirt pocket. Mervin came to a stop and got out of the truck and walked up to Teddy, took the proffered check, looked at it, and shoved it into his pants pocket. Teddy was aware that Mervin was a talker, so they walked over to the dope shack and pulled up two coke crates to sit on.
“Wa’n’t that somethin’ bout ol’ Bogus getting fired from the constable job; I unnerstand that you are the new one,” Mervin said, looking at the little red faced man.
“You heard right, Mervin,” Teddy said.
“You know when I heard that ‘bout ol’ Bogus it reminded me of somthin’ that happened a few years back,” Mervin said. Teddy could tell that a long story was in the offing so he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a cigar and snipped the end off with the small pair of scissors he carried in his pants before he fired it up.
“Well ya know ol’ Bogus has always been mighty tight with a dollar, and it got to be time for his septic tank to be cleaned. He called me up and got a price and told me he would ‘Get back to me’,” Mervin said.
“I figgered right then that I would never hear from him and sure enough I didn’t.” Mervin said. But what I did hear later on was a mighty funny thing, and it sorta speaks to how Bogus got his nickname. To save that twenty dollars he got all them sturdy boys he’s got and they dug the thing out and managed to get the lid off with a pry bar. Then Bogus got him several five gallon buckets and he started filling them up and handing them off to the boys to go spread on the pasture. It all went along okay until Bogus reached way down into the hole to fill up a bucket; well it had rained the night before and things were kinda slick and afore ya knew he had fell right into the septic tank,” Mervin said, heehawing and slapping his knee. Teddy joined in ‘cause it was truly a funny story. But the best was yet to come.
“Thing about it is ol’ Bogus went in completely over his head, and it took three of them boys to get his slippery ass out. Then they got him out there and turned the hose pipe on him. One of his boys, Buck, the one that married that chubby girl from Harden, tole me he had never heard his daddy cuss so bad,” Mervin said, laughing so hard he almost fell off his coke crate.
“Did he call you then to pump it?” Teddy asked, taking a handkerchief to the tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Never heard a word from him, not a peep; reckon he got enough of it so that it wasn’t stopped up no more,” Mervin theorized.
“I must say that is a good one,” Teddy said, and raised up off his crate. He knew from experience that you had to make the first move around Mervin or you would be sitting around listening to him spout off all day. Teddy moved over next to the piccolo and opened the top of the drink box.
“Reckon I better get stocked up,” he said, and Mervin took the hint and thanked him for the work and got in his truck and left. Teddy closed the lid on the drink box; he had filled it up the night before but it was a good excuse to send Mervin on his way. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a dime and stuck it in the piccolo and punched D 24, and sat back down on his coke crate and listened to Patsy Cline belt out “Crazy”.
Bogus was driving down the road in his old blue pickup truck with the long brown stain on the driver’s side door. The stain came from when he would spit tobacco juice out the window. The other thing about the door was that when he would make a hard right turn it would fly open and he would have to pull it shut. He had his twenty two rifle with the scope sitting in the front street and he was heading in the direction of the Shady Nook swimming hole. He had just come from Shady Rest where Bessie had given him an earful about the conversations that had been going on. He had found out that Teddy had spread the septic tank story, and then apparently had added some other embarrassing story to go along with it. It was about when Bogus had been down at Ellis Clonger’s for one of the periodic oyster stews that the men in the community would have; he had gotten too drunk on Oodly Creek shine to drive or even walk home and had passed out on Ellis’ sofa. In the middle of the night he had awakened and felt sick; he tried to make it out to the porch but was about to puke in the living room so he opened the top of the pot bellied stove and threw up into that, then fell back onto the sofa. What had happened was that when Bogus woke up the next morning he noticed that his false teeth were missing. He had awakened Ellis and told him about what had happened and the two of them collaborated and deduced that it was obvious that his teeth had fallen into the stove when he had gotten sick. Then they thought some more on it and figgered that the fire in the stove had long since been out before Bogus got sick and that if they could retrieve the teeth they ought to be okay after a good washing with some Boraxo powder and a hose pipe. This left them with the question of how to how to go about the retrieval. Following about twenty minutes of pondering Ellis came up with an idea.
“Ya know, as tall as that stove is they ain’t no way we can reach all the way down in there, and them teeth probly sunk all the way down to the bottom of them ashes; I think the best thang to do is to disconnect the stove from the pipe and carry it out in the yard and turn it over and empty it out. Yep, I think it is a right smart idee,” the old man said and grinned at Bogus. Bogus thought on this summation for a minute and pulled out a plug of tobacco and cut him off a piece and stuck it in his mouth, chewing on it thoughtfully.
“Well, I reckon you have just hit on a good idee,” he said, and the two of them started to disconnect the stove from the stovepipe. Then they carried the stove out into the grassless front yard and turned it over and started sifting through the ashes. They both combed through the ashes and found nary a tooth. They were flummoxed by this discovery and it led Ellis to question Bogus a little.
“Now you are sure that you did puke in the stove, right?”, he asked Bogus. “After all you were mighty drunk.”
Bogus pondered on that for a bit and replied “I am positive”. It was getting on toward noon so Bogus decided to go on home, being sure to tell Ellis to set his teeth aside if he ran across them. Then he went and got in his truck and drove the mile down Clonger Dairy Road to his house. When he got home he thought he might lay down in his bed and take a nap, cause sometimes a nap would help clear his head. So he went in the bedroom and lay on the bed; he happened too look over at the nightstand. That was when he espied his choppers in a glass of water, right where he had left them before going to the oyster stew.
When Bessie had told him about the septic tank story and the false teeth escapade that the boys had been guffawing at his blood had boiled. The stories coupled with Teddy taking over the constable job from Bogus was way over the line as far as he was concerned. Bessie could see how mad he was so she chose that time to mention how Teddy had messed with her also.
“Ya know it’s been 3 months since that sunuvabitch opened Shady Nook and he ain’t paid me one red cent on that drink cooler and the piccolo. I think somebody needs to take care of his little skinny ass,” the little fat woman said, nodding at Bogus. “I think it might be worth something to you,” she said. Bogue nodded in agreement, drained the last from the jar of Oodly Creek Bessie had given him and headed by his house to get the rifle.
Bogus pulled up in the woods on the hill behind the old Hester house; it was a terraced hill where Teddy had soybeans and cotton, alternating each year. This year it was cotton, and the plants were up a good two feet, enough to give Bogus good cover. He crouched down in the cotton field with his rifle and looked through the scope. Teddy Hoffman was taking up money from a bunch of kids, a dime at a time. The scope on his 22 was a pretty powerful one, and once he got his bearings he zeroed in on Teddy’s red face and focused on his eyes; Teddy wore octagonal shaped glasses with no rims and Bogus pulled the trigger and sent a 22 bullet into the center of Teddy’s left lens. Then he crawled back up into the woods and got in his truck and drove over to Shady Rest. When he tapped on the back door Bessie walked over to the cash register and took out two twenty dollar bills and reached under into the open shelf and pulled out a quart of Oodly Creek. She opened the door and handed the shine and the money to Bogus.
“Guess swimming is free for the rest of the day at Shady Nook,” she said, grinning at Bogus. He returned the grin, took a long haul off the quart jar and got in his truck and went home.