Chapter 11: Bad Jokes
Copyright© 2011 by TC Allen
More and more John has helped me with the composition, as well as checking for errors.
One winter, about a week after New Year's Day, the weather turned unseasonably cold. The deep muddy ruts that had formed when we had a thaw froze up again and were so deep that Pa could let go of the steering wheel and the old truck just seemed to steer itself. Although the county commissioners had ordered the road graded smooth in the springtime there was little to be done when it was cold like it was right then.
Even though it was the middle of the week we were hard pressed to find any chores that needed doing. Spring plowing was still two months away and there is just so much repairing that can be done to the buildings and the harness and the farm equipment. That was when Pa decided to it would be nice to take a middle of the week trip into town.
Those trips were a special treat. School had been out all week because the old wood burning furnace in the basement of the school just couldn't keep up with the below zero temperatures. It was nice to go to town and see some fresh faces.
There was one interesting attraction to this unscheduled trip, jokes. Pa never could be what was called in those days a raconteur. I wonder if they still use that word today or if it has fallen onto the waste pile of discarded words people select to not remember. It means a very skillful teller of jokes. Every small town had at least one such wit and fortunate was the community with two or three.
On that particular Tuesday Pa came into the house after scraping and stomping the mud off his boots. Ma had just begun to get ready to bake us up some nice ribs for supper even though it was the middle of the week. "Want to go to town for an hour or so?" Pa asked her.
"Oh Walter, I planned to put that rack of ribs into the oven." She paused a beat and told him, "I guess we can have them tomorrow for supper and skip the meatloaf until next week. Just make certain we are back by five."
Pa nodded and Ma covered the ribs with a wet towel and placed on the table on the back porch where the temperature would keep everything cold. She went into their bedroom to change. Ma would no more think of going to town in a faded and worn dress such as she wore for work around the house than she would try to fly to the moon by flapping her arms.
Pa and I looked at each other and smiled at ma's "female ways," as Pa called them. Sometimes he laughed and teased her because she was always so fussy with her appearance.
Once when the preacher came for a visit, she made Pa entertain him outside the house for ten minutes before Pa could invite him in. She had to change into "something acceptable" and fix her hair.
When she came to the back door, she said, "Walter, do invite Brother Johnson into the house. "Don't keep him waiting outside." Pa ushered the mystified preacher into the house, opened his mouth to say something and shut it. Instead he looked at me as I watched the goings on sort of puzzled, then grinned and winked and shook his head in mock exasperation.
Ma was vain vain. Rather it was that she always felt it was important when she "received" guests, to treat the visit as something of a semi-formal occasion. She always strove to "look her best" on every social event, large and small.
Ma had a natural beauty that turned men's heads in appreciation even when she was well into her forties. I was always proud to take my mother out on the dance floor whenever we attended a community affair. Pa preferred to stand on the sidelines and lean against a wall while he watched his beautiful wife as she was transformed into the belle of the ball.
On this particular Wednesday trip into town Ma had on a simple dark dress with a large white collar. Her long, dark hair that reached to her waist when loose had been pinned up in the latest style for those who didn't wish to follow the flapper bobbed hair look that made the female models look like skinny, shaggy boys. When Ma took that beautiful, long hair down at night Pa always gazed at her in worshipful adoration.
Pa parked in front of the JC Penny's store and got out. Ma carefully opened the truck door and stepped down. I scooted over and hopped out Pa's side because he was the first one to exit the truck.
"Come find me for dinner in a couple hours, Walter. I'll take a peek and see if there are any new styles I'd like to have." Ma smiled at both of us and sedately walked into the store.
Pa and I looked at each other and grinned. "I'll bet you a nickel she doesn't buy any dress pattern, Pa."
"Davy," he said, "You do like cinch bets, don't you?" We grinned at each other and headed for the feed store. Since the movie house only had a single showing in the evenings during the week and nothing in the afternoon, it was either follow Pa or wander around town by myself. For the moment I decided to tail along behind Pa.
Josh Beverly, a neighbor who lived twenty miles further south on the other side of us, greeted us as we entered the feed store. "Walter, Davy, meet Matthew Spinner. He's a seed salesman who knows every joke Joe Miller ever wrote, I bet."
Pa nodded to the short, soft, round stranger, careful not to squeeze his hand too hard. "By golly you're a big 'un." he grinned as he greeted Pa.
Pa smiled briefly and seated himself on an upturned wooden case that had held a plow point at one time. It always made Pa a little embarrassed when people mentioned his size or height. Back then, the average man was five feet seven inches tall, according to a survey made by some college professor from back east.
As part of a class project he had sent students all across America and had them ask people if they minded having their height recorded for a "scientific survey." Almost everyone agreed and that professor declared that the average height for a man was five feet seven inches.
Pa stood six feet two in his stocking feet so he towered above most people in any crowd. Ma stood five feet even. People used to smile at the two of them when they were together. But no man was brave enough to raise Pa's ire by making any sort of negative comment in his hearing.
Matthew Spinner started on a story about cooking. "You know, there's this new dish people make for a desert that is quite popular back east. You take some fresh dried prunes and chop them up real fine and add them to some whipping cream, then add the pottifor. Then you take some cooked prunes and add them in with the pottifor. After that you mash some stewed prunes and mix them into the cream with the pottifor. That's all there is to making the dish."
Everybody started grinning as Pa asked, "What's the pottifor?"
"Friend, you eat that many prunes at one sitting and you'll find out what's the potty for." Everybody started laughing and Pa grinned and allowed that he had stepped right into that one. Then he started chuckling. He really liked that joke.
After a few more jokes the seed salesman started in on his sales pitch to buy his improved seed wheat that grew bigger and better grains and gave more yield to the acre and so forth. I got bored and told Pa I wanted to wander around town for a bit.
"Don't take any wooden snowballs, kid." the salesman called after me. That got another chuckle from the diversion hungry farmers assembled there. I thought to myself that there was nothing funny about wooden snowballs.
I found Ma still poring over the dress patterns. "Did you find something you liked, Ma?" I asked her.
I was surprised when she smiled and said, "Well yes, David, as a matter of fact I did." She held up a white pattern envelope with a line drawing of a slender woman on the front. Suddenly I understood why this style had interested her. That line drawing looked just like Ma, even to the sweep of the dark hair. I figured no woman could resist buying a package with her picture on the front.
Of course, I decided to save that bit of an observation to share with Pa when he and I were alone. To Ma I said, "Golly, did you notice how much the lady in that picture looks just like you? She's not as pretty, though, Ma."
Ma smiled a little self conscious smile and answered, "Oh, really? I never actually noticed. But yes, there does seem to be some slight resemblance."
She nodded her head once and put the envelope with some other purchases that included buttons, lace, and dark silk. She added enough linen for a white collar. Ma was going to make that dress and I knew why, the drawing on the envelope that looked like her was why. I smiled to myself.
I told Ma I wanted to talk to a couple of the fellows I knew out front and would wait for her out there. She nodded absently, already fingering some machine made lace that she might use with that white-collar material.
Purdy Hastings was standing outside, slouched up against the corner of the store. "Hey," I said to him.
"Hey Davy, what your folks doing in town in the middle of the week?" Even though he was a town boy, he knew how things worked around farms. Saturday was farmers' shopping day.