ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Nearly a thousand miles from the Montana mountain headwaters of the Missouri River and 10 miles below the new Sunrise Mobile Home Court on the county blacktop, Burford Crumble lived along a little creek that had hollowed out a high stone bluff drainage above the mighty river.
Back 500 miles to the west, where a man spitting into the wind could be charged with starting the headwaters of the Smokey Hill Basin, Hermes Wayford lived below a yucca-covered slope with enough buffalo grass to call it a pasture.
They didn’t know each other. But Hermes, trying to explain later, said, “You see my sister, Agnes, on a trip traveling past where this Burford Crumble lived, then some hours later past where I lived, on the way to where she lived in the suburbs below a rock-pile of a West-Denver foothill some developer called beautiful, had stopped at a Missouri walnut bowl factory outlet store.”
Hermes paused, patting his fat paunch while leaning forward to look over his dark-rimmed glasses, “Whooey, this tale takes a lot of wind to tell.
“All this is to get around to the fact that she used her cell phone as she went by to tell me that while buying the bowl she’d seen an advertisement for rat terrier puppies at the checkout. The number for the puppies she passed on belonged to this Burford Crumble because, after years without a telephone, he’d finally gotten a cellular too, even left it on all the time. Terrible waste I know, but when it comes to gettin’ phone calls, well, Burford Crumble seemed inclined to always be hopeful.”
Hermes paused a moment to pull his glasses down to rub the bridge of his long nose.
“Well, let’s see. Oh, like I say, this Burford’s always got his phone on, and everybody knew I wanted a terrier, so I call Burford Crumble except I didn’t know that before I called that I was calling Burford Crumble. It’s just that he had the puppies so I called him. Yeah, I guess you are followin’ me this far.
“You know, Georgia always would like to take a trip, but she said to me, ‘Whooey, you mean you are really going to drive 500 miles just to buy yourself some little tri-color rat terrier puppy?’
“Well, I told her I always wanted me a rat terrier because I had me rat terriers when I was a little boy, and, whooey, rat terriers are hell on wheels if any dog is-varmit catchers they are. I might go to maybe even raisin’ regular registered rat terriers myself. You know, Georgia, honey, I said, we might even leave halfway through the day Sunday, stay in some luxury motel that night, take Monday off, then have a leisurely trip the rest of the day because when I called this Burford Crumble, he only wants $50 for a registered rat terrier. Whooey, that’s cheap for registered, you know.
“So, the next day in church right after the preacher said, ‘God is good,’ and us people holler back at him ‘All the time,’ because he is or I wouldn’t have found this rat terrier of my dreams, Georgia and I get out of there fast because the old Pontiac is all loaded for the trip. The weather man said the weather was going to be nice, had a cold front comin’ down from Canada and some warm, moist air comin’ up from the Gulf, but nothin’ to worry about because when’s the last time we didn’t have to beg to squeeze water out of the sky?
“We had three kinds of soda pop in the cooler, got corn chips, pretzels, potato chips, crackers, spray cheese, sour cream-and we figured if we went 75 after we got to the interstate, we could still stop for a nice dinner, and get to a nice motel in the eastern part of the state. Whooey, that weather man never knows what he’s talkin’ about or maybe he doesn’t care about those folks further east.
“Well, we did get to stop for a chicken-fried steak dinner with extra gravy on the meat, spuds and bread, and Georgia’s pattin’ that little poochy out place under her chin thinkin’ out loud how she was beginnin’ to like the idea of a puppy too, when I notice it’s spittin’ a few rain drops on the windshield, and the car’s digital thermometer says 30 degrees. Whooey, I said to Georgia, honey, you know baby I hope we don’t get a little ice.
“But, we did get a little ice, had to slow down for about 60 miles. It slowed us down enough before we ran out of it that we didn’t make it to any city luxury motel. Instead we stop at this little town with businesses only on one main street, and a cheap little motel with a neon palm tree in the window advertising discounts for apartments by the week.
“Georgia’s crabbin’ at me while she’s gettin’ her curlers and cold cream on, in case the Burford Crumbles are nice people, just because I’m drinkin’ soda pop, and eatin’ crackers in bed while I watch the football game-so I know she isn’t happy with the motel. Whooey, I said, Georgia, sweetie, didn’t you like the turkey legs, cole slaw and chocolate pie we had for supper? Wasn’t that swell? This isn’t a bad place at all, few missin’ floor tiles around the toilet isn’t that bad. We’ll find us a breakfast buffet tomorrow, and I bet you we get a pretty good puppy, and see some different country, too.
“Whooey, I got that right. But Georgia wasn’t too happy the next day either on account of the heat blowin’ on her head all night gave her a headache. She was even more crabby, just gruntin’ at me when I said whooey. Wasn’t somethin’ nice. I was just tryin’ to have fun.
“Well, the next day we are seein’ different country, kind of rolling ground with a lot more trees and every once in a while the highway goes through rocky cutaways in the hills. We hadn’t hit more ice, but the sky’s a real low gray with a cold, moist smell in the wind. I kept watchin’ the thermometer hover around 33 for a while, then go down to 32.
At the Sunrise Mobile Home Court, I called this Burfurd Crumble for more directions, and he said, ‘Oh, didn’t you want a male pup?’ And, I said that was right.
“Then he said, ‘All I got left is one female pup, so there ain’t no use in you making the whole trip out here.’ To which I said, well I’ve already come 490 miles so I might as well see if I might want a girl pup instead. To which he said, ‘Ain’t no problem if you want her instead.’ Then he gives me more directions. Whooey, was he a hard one to follow.
“He told me, ‘Be sure to watch out for the hollar in the driveway. It’ll look like you want to get over to the side, but don’t do it or you might drop a tire in the hollar.’ I ask him what’s a hollar, but all he does is talk louder like I don’t know English, ‘A Hollar. I said STAY IN THE MIDDLE WHEN YOU HIT THE HOLLAR.’
“Then Georgia starts saying, ‘Maybe we better just head home. It looks like more ice to me.’ To which I said, I came here for a rat terrier, and I’m leavin’ with one unless the whelp is a total loser. To which she starts gripin’ again about how she wants a puppy too, but she wants to get home.
“You wouldn’t believe that county blacktop up one big hill, then down another with none of the hills cut out at all. Why, there were times when I think the bottom of a hill had to be 200 feet below the top. Finally, we go down this Burford Crumble’s driveway, winding alongside this stone-bottomed creek with two feet of water runnin’ fast in it all the way. I stayed right in the middle of the road, which wasn’t that hard because the trees squeezed right up to the edge so hard you couldn’t have gotten off anyway.
“I was scared I might hit whatever this hollar thing was, and the whole time Georgia is alternating between sayin,’ ‘Oh, isn’t this a pretty place,’ and ‘Look out, look out. Don’t hit the trees. Watch out for that hollar.’ At least she forgot to gripe about her headache.
“Well, the only thing I see is this little erosion dip cutting through the driveway to the creek, and I thought about cutting out around it a little to avoid the dump, but I stayed in the middle so I wouldn’t hit this Burford Crumble’s hollar. It must have been a half-mile back to Burford Crumble’s mobile home with a frame room built onto it with a stove pipe puffin’ wood smoke out the top. The thermometer said 31 degrees.
“Burford Crumble stepped out to meet us, got a green head scarf tied over a blue sock hat on his head, duckcloth coat and high buckle overshoes with the jeans tucked into them like he was expectin’ a flood. Soon as we were introduced, I asked him where this hollar was, and he said, ‘Why you’re in the hollar.’
“Well, what about this hollar in the driveway, I asks him, and said, ‘Yessir, did you have any trouble with it?’ And, I asks, are you sayin’ there’s a hollar in the hollar? ‘Well that’s obvious ain’t it?’ he said. ‘Reckon there’s lots of hollars in the hollar.’
“I tell you, whooey, it was like tryin’ to talk Greek to a Chinaman when English is your language. This Burford Crumble meant hollow when he said hollar, and a hollar to him is anything from a little ditch to this whole cut of a little valley this creek made through the rocks. I was gettin’ exasperated with him, and he was plain startin’ to get a little snippy with me.
“The air got still about that time. It started to sprinkle rain with ice crystals in it. So, trying to move beyond this hollar business, I asked him, so where’s the rat terrier? And he said, ‘Oh, some other folks got her while you were on your way. First come, first serve, I always say.’
“Whooey, I was gettin’ all fixed to start hollerin’ at him in the hollar when Georgia hollers first, ‘Why, what about these puppies here?’ because here’s a half-dozen puppies comin’ out of a doghouse right beside the mobile home.
“They were little black and white pups, and I said right away, well, here’s a whole litter of terriers here that looks ready to go, pretty little rat terriers.
“Burford Crumble said to me in an uppity, irritated tone, ‘Why those puppies ain’t rat terriers. They’re full-blood Mazzoura feists.’ I said, Missouri feists? And he said, ‘Mazzoura, the word’s Mazzoura, ain’t no Missouri, and yes they’re genuine Mazzoura feists. Best squirrel dogs there is.’
“Well, I liked the way they had a little broader, intelligent looking heads, obviously some of the best rat terriers I’ve seen, but he hadn’t cut the tails off. ‘You don’t bawb the tail on a feist,’ he explained. ‘His tail curls up, and he cocks his head when he sees a squirrel to tip you off to where the squirrel is. Kills the squirrel if it gets on the ground.’
“This Burford Crumble starts gettin’ under my hide a little about this time. He asked me $50 for a rat terrier before I left home, and now he wanted $100 for a Missouri feist.
Georgia picks up the male feist we both like the best. I knew I had to have him because he grabbed my finger with those little needle teeth, and tried to shake it, the makin’s of a top ratter.
“The ice is starting to fall, and Georgia said, ‘Just give him the $100, and let’s get out of here.’ But, whooey, he had my dander up, I’m not going to do it. I’ll give you $75, take it or leave it I said, and got in the car to go, with Georgia lookin’ all sour at me over her cute little nose, and Burford Crumble lookin’ all sour at me over his big pointy nose with the hair pokin’ out the nostrils. When I turned over the engine, the thermometer said 29 degrees, and I had to crank the defroster up to get the ice off the windshield.
“Finally Burford Crumble said since I went to all the trouble to come all that way, he’d respect my offer, and he snatches that $75 cash out of my hand, and hands me a genuine Missouri feist.
“Georgia cuddles my new little rat terrier- don’t have squirrels where I live, just prairie dogs-in her lap all the way up that cruddy driveway, tires slipping on the ice here and there. When I get to the blacktop, whooey, it’s like pulling out on a sheet of glass, the car fishtailing while I get moving, even letting up on the accelerator. I gritted my jaw though, and I made it, spinnin’ here and there, almost to the top of the first hill before I can’t go any more. I have to walk all the way down that driveway to see if Burford Crumble has a way to pull us out of there.
“Well, he’s got this old Allis Chalmers tractor that he has to hand-crank to get it started, which it does after only three or four tries. He’s got chains on the rear tires so that Allis will walk right along on the ice. Whooey, I tell you, that was cold riding the rear end of an Allis up out of that hollar. Numbed me clear through the belly. It didn’t make me feel better halfway up to finally remember I could have called him on my cell phone, don’t even have to crank it because it’s got more battery than the Allis.
“Anyway, Burford Crumble ties a log chain around my car’s bumper to tow me out with the Allis. At the top of the hill, I figure we can make enough speed going down to get over the next hill, so I said to Burford Crumble, well, do I owe you somethin’ for that? He said to me, ‘I guess it must be worth about $25 to tow a genuine Mazzoura feist up out of the hollar.’ At least he could have smiled instead of just lookin’ at me while I handed him the money. The terrier, cute little guy with soulful eyes, had wet on Georgia’s lap, so she was anxious to go.
“It was tough going. Sometimes I’d about stall out at the top of a hill. Georgia gave the puppy a couple of corn chips for luck, and he threw them up on her at about the third hill. She wanted to change clothes,and she was gettin’ sort of obstinate about makin’ it somewhere claimin’ our situation was due to my bullheadedness. But we made it all the way to the Sunrise Mobile Home Court.
“They said they had a vacant mobile home they could rent us for the night if we didn’t mind sleepin’ on the floor, but they had to check with their new owner for a price to charge. It was this Burford Crumble, and he told them $100 for the night just special for us. Georgia said I had to clean the puppy poop off their rug the next morning.
“Whooey, I tell you, I bought myself a good rat terrier but when it comes to Georgia, my honeybunch, I brought a feist home too, don’t know if I’ll ever get her to take a nice vacation again. And that Burford Crumble is a Mazzoura feist if I ever saw one.”
Just Folks is based on people and experiences Jerry Engler has encountered through the years. His column appear in almost every issue of the Hillsboro Free Press Extra, which can be subscribed to for only $12 a year.