Sitting on a high bluff overlooking Lake Wappapello, I am amazed again at the natural beauty of this land. Lake Wappapello is the result of a dam built by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in 1941. All though built primarily for flood control it has evolved into a beautiful and very large recreational area.
The lake winds its way around the mountains and into the valleys laying a foot print of life giving water to the land. I use this overlook to clear my head and think. What do I have to think about, you ask? That is the story I will relate to you. Hang on.
I graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) with a BS in education. By the way, my name is John Columbus Riley; please don't ask about my middle name. My dad said he would pay for my education if I maintained a 3.0 GPA until I got a degree or turned 24, whichever came first. After that, I was on my own. Dad told me, "I want to help give you a good start in life, but I don't plan on supporting you into old age."
Dad was smarter than I gave him credit for. During the dot com craze, my dad and a friend got into one of the companies soon after its inception. Dad didn't hold on until the huge payoff near the bust, but he did manage to make a very large return on his investment. He didn't have "in your face, go to hell" type money, but he did have "We're very comfortable, thank you" type money.
He wanted to be comfortable on a farm. Not a get up at dawn everyday and work yourself to an early grave farm, but a lot of land and a small hobby farm. So he and mom bought 125 acres just outside of Van Buren, Missouri and after I got out of high school they moved to their hobby farm. I was starting college and would basically be living on my own. I had grown up and gone to school in St. Louis but we had spent most of our vacations in Van Buren.
Most of the summers and a lot of the holidays we would drive to Van Buren. I learned to hunt, fish, and run the river. Current River is a clear, spring fed and cold body of water that is the perfect place for a city boy to learn something about country life.
As I said my parents were paying for my tuition, books, and housing so I could get an education. In the mean time, there are a lot of incidentals that a college student need, well at least this one needed. I wanted money to buy essentials such as pizza, beer, and an occasional trip to the dens of iniquity in St. Louis.
I also had a truck to fill with gas and maintain. The truck had been a gift from my grandfather when I started college. Dad said he would pay for school but I had to foot the bill for my play time. So I worked a part time job to pay for the extras while I was in school and I had to maintain that 3.0 GPA.
I was very fortunate that my folks paid for my education, but anything other the normal expenses for college I had to pay for. In addition to my education being paid for, there was a trust fund left to me by my grandparents which I could claim when I graduated. It wasn't huge, but a little over six figures, $216,000 to be exact. That money meant I didn't have to start a career right after school. Again I was lucky because I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with my life.
It wasn't that I was drifting; I just hadn't decided what to do with my life. A BS in education would insure that I could get a job in whatever part of the country I landed in and the trust fund meant I wouldn't starve to death. I knew how lucky I was to be on my own and not have to worry too much about the future.
My best friend and running partner is Jim Barnes. Jim and I met one of the summers I spent in Van Buren. My dad and I had gone fishing at Lake Wappapello and rented a boat to get out on the lake. Jim worked at the marina and Dad hired him as a guide. He and I became friends almost at once. Jim and I are look enough alike that sometimes people think we are brothers. He is 6' 2 to my 6' 3 and both of us have dark hair and eyes.
Jim played basketball and baseball while in college so he had a muscular build. I kept in shape by running a couple of miles three or four mornings a week. I would run, go to class until three, study and or rest until 7:00. I worked on the UPS loading docks 7 to midnight 4 nights a week. All and all, I was in pretty good shape and about as busy as I wanted to be.
Jim was going to enlist in the Army after getting out of high school but his dad made him a proposition. His dad agreed to pay for Jim's college expenses, including a very nice monthly allowance for spending money. In exchange, Jim was to forget about the Army and take business courses in school so he could help with the family business.
Jim's family owned the only grocery store in Wappapello and also a couple in Poplar Bluff. That was the reason for Jim's major of Business Management. He would begin to learn the business from the management side so he could take over for his dad one day. My major just allowed me to stay in school for a while; I had no idea what I would settle into.
My buddy talked me into visiting his home for the summer. Jim said I could spend the summer fishing, hunting, and having a little fun before I had to start a career. I was 23 and the idea sounded good to me. After graduation I visited with my parents in Van Buren for a few days and then drove to Jim's home town of Wappapello, Missouri. See, same name as the lake.
Van Buren is actually only about seventy miles from Wappapello and is hillier than the area around the lake. The two towns were close enough that I could visit my parents a few times over the summer.
Wappapello is a small town of about twenty-five hundred people and about 60 horses. It really seemed small after living in St. Louis for four years. The closest "city" is Poplar Bluff, a town of about twenty thousand people. I don't know how many horses.
Jim and I had been at his home for about two weeks when we received an unwelcome visitor, Henry Pratt. Henry was a classmate at UMSL and the biggest blowhard, bragger, or twit that I had ever met. Actually, I think the phrase I used to describe him best was an ass.
Have you ever met someone that you wanted to punch out just because he existed? That's how both Jim and I felt about Henry. Henry's family owned and operated four banks in the state. Two of the banks were in Poplar Bluff where the family lived and lived very well. They also owned the bank in Wappapello. They were better than well to do, they were stinking rich. Henry was sort of a roly poly type of guy about 5' 8". He looked soft and pale, like a grub worm from under a log. But his money ensured that he always had an entourage following him around. His money didn't impress Jim or me and never stopped us from slipping a zinger in on him now and then.
Now being rich doesn't automatically make you a jerk, but Henry worked at it. He would latch on to Jim and I at a pizza joint or anywhere he could find us and begin to brag about how much money his family had. He played the high roller to the hilt. Being a high roller doesn't make you a bad person, but being an ass like Henry doesn't endear you to many people. Henry had a new convertible every year, sometimes a new one every six months.
He would flaunt his cars, his money, his contacts at school, and the girls he took out. There were always young ladies that would date him because of his car and his money. These girls were practicing living as the idle rich. Henry never failed to bring his latest hottie around to show off for us of the lower class.
We didn't hold it against Henry that he had a lot of money, or cars, or beautiful coeds, more power to him. What we held against him was the fact that he looked down on anyone not of his "social class". That meant Jim and I. We weren't rich therefore we didn't count except to show off to. This was the jerk that showed up in Wappapello that day.
Jim and I were sitting in the shade on a bench in the town square and saw a cherry 67 Mustang Mach I pull to the curb. We were so busy looking at this amazing car, we didn't notice the driver. It was our "buddy" Henry Pratt his own self. Aw hell, just what we needed.
"Hello boys," Henry chose to speak to us peons. He singled out Jim "I understand you know Lake Wappapello as good as anyone around here. I need a fishing guide."
"What has that got to do with me Hank?" Henry hated to be called Hank.
"That's Henry; I thought you would want to earn a guide fee. I mean with you financial situation you know," Henry's self importance showed in the tone of his voice.
Jim's smile at Henry was anything but pleasant. "It does my heart good to know that someone like you is concerned with my plight," Jim responded. The sarcasm was thick enough to choke you. Henry didn't notice. "I don't have the time to run a guide trip for the next couple of weeks, I have to work at the store." Now the bullshit was getting knee deep.
Henry left to find another poor unfortunate to hire. I turned to Jim and said, "It's amazing, Henry doesn't even know how big an asshole he is. I thought you were going to lite into him for a minute."
Jim shook his head as he laughed. "Not this time but it may come to that if he stays around very long. Come on, help me stack those boxes at the store and then I'll buy the beer at the dance tomorrow night." Every Friday the VFW post in Wappapello held a fish fry and dance at their hall. In a town this size, the dance was the height of the night life. This was the first one that Jim and I had a chance to attend.
.... There is more of this story ...