JUST FOLKS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
There was Jake the “Joy” and Jake the “Jerk,” both living in the same little old dirt street Kaw town.

Fortunately, we’re talking about Jake the Joy first because he was a sort of loveable old boy while Jake the Jerk was one of those tough-to-love people who try to get attention by pointing out the miseries and shortcomings of others.

But then sometimes you need to get a jerk to figure out there’s a joy right in front of you.

Jake kept the old house where he lived with his wife and an outpouring of children and all sorts of dogs and cats. The structure was nailed together just enough for the entire family to stay healthy and happy.

He loved his neighbors and everyone else he met-nice as him or not-and did what he could to help them overcome life’s difficulties.

The smile and krinkles around his face were permanently set in lines and wattling skin that hung on him like he was a basset hound with a crew cut. Those lovely, warm, shining brown eyes that looked out through thick glasses only added to the effect.

Because people tend to respond to smiles and kindness, one year during the election, when the blank for township assessor was empty, enough people thought of Jake the Joy to write him in for the job. Thereafter when election time came, there was many a heartfelt glow as citizens marked their votes by Jake’s name.

Come the right time of year, and Jake was out on the roads in his beat-up old red Ford pickup stopping at every farm and residence in the unincorporated town to fill out the assessment lists by interviewing the property owners. Every chicken, cow and pig, anything that was useful, had its place on the assessment.

Jake was usually fair and accurate on everything, until it came to the dogs.

In those days, the state taxed dogs, one dollar for a male dog and two dollars for a female dog. It was a tax that seemed ludicrous and nasty to Jake, although he didn’t say much. He wished his neighbors well in the small pleasures they had, even if it was only a mutt for a kid to play with, a good livestock dog, or a good varmint and watch dog.

Jake thought life was harsh enough already without begrudging people joy in the little things.

So after leaning on the truck hood, filling out the assessment forms with some sunburnt young farmer for a while, Jake would go through the usual routine when he came to the line on dogs.

“I have to ask you here, Duane, how many dogs do you have?”

“We have two dogs. That other one over there’s up visiting from the folks’ place.”

“OK, that’s one male dog if I’m hearing you right.”

“There’s two dogs, and I didn’t say whether they were both boys, but-“

“That’s one male dog, Duane. That takes care of livestock. Now let’s see what you have for machinery.”

Jake always filled in the dogs like that, and year after year the state took his reports with the corresponding assessments for taxation of property.

But as sure as the earth keeps turning, there’s always a time for a turning point. It had been a significant year anyway, the year Jake the Joy’s oldest son was drafted into the Army while his youngest daughter was starting first grade.

Jake had the assessing done early that fall. The weather was still warm enough one Sunday to have an evening church outdoor basket supper with steel chairs arranged like pews and a center aisle leading up to the lectern where Pastor Peter Poudre would deliver a sermon after the meal.

Unfortunately, it was the same Sunday the Kansas City Star came out with a second section story on Jake’s township, the only township in the state on the tax rolls reported as having 150 male dogs and no females.

Almost fortunately, Jake the Joy and his family hadn’t read the Star before coming to the supper. Nearly everybody else in town had read the Star though, and, unfortunately, that included Jake the Jerk.

Jake the Joy was finishing his final bite of potato salad when Jake the Jerk, his smooth, narrow, ruddy face glowing with pleasure under his railroad striped hat, came sauntering up to the table with a Kansas City Star tucked under his arm.

“Hey, old man,” the Jerk said. “Did you see here you made the paper?”

He pulled the page out of the paper with the short story highlighted with red crayon.

“Think the state will have everyone calling you Jailbird Jake before long, and me Straight Jake? Hey, Pastor Poudre, where’s your dog. Isn’t it a female?”

“She’s locked up right now.”

The pleasant happiness always evident in Jake the Joy’s face faded as he read the article, and passed it on down to his wife and family.

Embarrassed, he barely acknowledged the greetings and nods of friends as his family took seats for Pastor Poudre’s announced sermon of “Know the truth, and it will set you free.”

The Jerk sat in front of the Joy, and occasionally tilted his face half back with his eyes raised while mumbling, “…or the truth could put you away for a long time.”

As he finished the sermon, Pastor Poudre called for Jake the Joy to come to the front.

“Jake, I’ve called you up here because you’re an example,” the pastor said smiling at his congregation. “Everybody here can show examples where you have stayed true to yourself and true to your friends like an example of our Lord, and that truth has set you free, free to have joy in your life no matter what happens.”

He was interrupted by a clap of hands and loud guffaw from Jake the Jerk as an unexpected group of participants began making their way up the center aisle. It was Pastor Peter Poudre’s poodle-beagle mix, Pixie, who had been locked up because of her season, and was now making her way, after escaping, to her master’s voice with 20-some potential admirers following in her path, panting in indelicate canine delight.

Pastor Poudre’s spouse, Petula, stepped into the aisle to pick up the errant Pixie in her arms to carry back to the pen while two boys ran interference for her pushing the determined doggy suitors away.

Jake the Jerk made low dog sounds, “Arf, arf, yowl,” while other people tried not to look at him.

Pastor Poudre closed the service with the congregation singing “Joyful, Joyful, We Have Found Thee” with his arm around the shoulders of Jake the Joy while Pixie went to the pen.

Jake the Joy never went to the pen. Pastor Poudre spent most of the morning Monday on the telephone waiting for busy signals to clear to get through to the state office of taxation just before noon.

He said, “I saw that article in the Kansas City Star, and I’m calling in to tell you I never told your assessor, Jake, that I had a female dog.”

The voice on the other end said, “Thank you for calling in, Pastor Poudre. You’ll be happy to know we have already received reports from 130 other people who said they never told Jake they had a female dog.

“About a dozen of them have told us about another man named Jake who keeps coon dogs, and sells pups. Do you know him?”

The state decided to solve a potential public relations versus legality problem by sending a letter of commendation for his years of service to Jake the Joy.

There isn’t a dog tax any more.

As for Jake the Jerk, during the time his tax evasion case was being studied, it was also discovered he had outstanding warrants for unpaid parking tickets, speeding, public intoxication and petty theft.

The state’s attorney offered him a choice between prosecution or going to the Army where he might get his life straightened out.

He went to the Army, canine corps, the dogface.

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