I miss them. The small town eccentrics. . . the weirdoes, the misfits, the screwballs, the real characters.
In Arenzville we had a fellow who lived alone in a rather dilapidated old grocery store and apparently he owned only one pair of overalls. This became obvious when he’d decide to give the pants their monthly washing. Being a great fan of Hank Williams, the fellow would sit out on his porch in his underwear, guitar in hand, and croon songs by the famous country singer while his pants flapped in the breeze on a piece of rope strung between his front door and the street. Why he chose to do this on Sunday mornings as the Methodists were driving by on their way to church is still a mystery, but I miss guys like him.
Whenever our ball teams would play Griggsville we could be assured that Jabber would be there. I’m sure that wasn’t the name his mother gave him, but the town just knew him as Jabber. He was a real fan of basketball and whenever the Griggsville Tornados would hit the court Jabber would be there with his microphone and tape recorder. I guess he fancied himself a sportscaster since he’d narrate the entire game into his little machine, doing the play-by-play. The batteries on his cassette recorder would always be dead by halftime but that didn’t stop Jabber from jabbering away. Who listened to his half-a-game tapes? I have no idea. I just know that the basketball games weren’t nearly as interesting once Jabber passed on to that great announcer’s booth in the sky.
My Uncle Harris was an undertaker and would easily fit into the “character” category on his own merits, but the world of funerals brought him into contact with even more colorful personalities. I’ll call him Henry since I can’t remember his real name. Henry was a day laborer, an occupation common in the days during the Great Depression. If you needed some help around the house or the farm for a day you’d drive into town and see who was hanging around the old hotel. There would always be several guys needing work for day so you’d load them in your truck, put them to work, feed them lunch and give them five dollars when you brought them back to town. Uncle Harris was always in need of gravediggers and Henry was his usual choice. Trouble was, Henry tended to drink. No, he did more than tend, he consumed the firewater pretty heavily. The trick was to hire Henry to dig the grave before he started his day’s drinking, and that meant early morning. This was in the days before mechanical diggers and if the ground was frozen the only way to start a grave was to use a small charge of dynamite. Uncle Harris would buy the TNT, cut the sticks into carefully measured sizes to keep Henry from blowing up the entire cemetery, then dole them out to his grave digger as needed. This worked well as long as Henry stayed sober, but my uncle said that time and time again he’d see Henry walking down the street with the dynamite and kitchen matches in the same pocket of the man’s overalls. Harris would stop his car, run up to the guy and say, “Damn it, Henry! Put ‘em in separate pockets!” People today seem too darned normal. I miss the Henrys.
Catherine was the Cat Lady. According to the current spate of reality TV shows cat hoarding is not all that uncommon but in the little town where I grew up, Catherine stood unchallenged in her collection of felines covering every inch of her trailer just west of Perry. She was eccentric enough without the cats as her shopping trips consisted of grabbing her little red wagon and walking the 15 miles to Pittsfield, but it was kitties that made her renowned around town. Cats in the cupboards, cats in her bed, cats roaming hungrily over her sink, stove, and dining table. My father owned the property right next to her little lot and he said that when it came time to mow his pasture Catherine would have to run ahead of the tractor, snatching up cats to keep them out of the John Deere’s sickle blades.
So where have they gone, these glorious misfits who used to sprinkle the spice of life onto our small town existence? Alas, I suppose they’ve been medicated or tucked away somewhere in a place where they can no longer croon Hank Williams’ tunes in their underwear, broadcast ballgames to a dead tape recorder, carry dynamite in their pockets under the influence of a hangover, or tend an overflowing cathouse. I suppose that the world is now safer, saner, and we have less fleas, but gosh, I miss them.