Tuesday, September 04, 2007

People are Strange

People are strange when you're a stranger,
Faces look ugly when you're alone.
Women seem wicked when you're unwanted,
Streets are uneven when you're down.

When you're strange
Faces come out of the rain.
When you're strange
No one remembers your name
When you're strange,
When you're strange,
When you're strange.

All right, yeah!

People are strange when you're a stranger,
Faces look ugly when you're alone.
Women seem wicked when you're unwanted,
Streets are uneven when you're down.

When you're strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you're strange
No one remembers your name
When you're strange
When you're strange
When you're strange
Alright yeah
When you're strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you're strange
No one remembers your name
When you're strange
When you're strange
When you're strange

The Doors


I hear this song on the way home today and it reminded me (for some odd reason - maybe I'm strange?) of some of my neighbors out here on the lonely ol' prairie. Maybe it's just the water - and it's damn hard water, I'm telling you (but it tastes good). Strangeness tends to run in families here - maybe some of the kids turned out alright, but what is left are some off the wall characters.

One woman I barely remember farmed and lived by herself. She really wasn't that odd of a character, but she sure was distinctive. Her name was Gussy Peach. She didn't farm much, and she didn't have much equipment - but she sure took care of herself. She farmed until the eighties until she was just too old. As I remember her, she was a pretty tough old bird in overalls, cussing with the best of the other farmers.

Across the Buckner valley from my farm is the Ziegler place. Ol' Ziggy had been a teacher, but was mostly a hermit. He had cattle - but he had overgrazed his pasture so badly they were always nearly starving. His solution was to let his fences deteriorate. Let the neighbors pasture and wheat feed his cattle. Ziggy didn't process his calves, so he had a bunch of bulls. His cattle tended to be highly inbred as well. I can remember my Dad being highly PO'd at him because we'd have to chase Ziggy's cattle out. Dad "backgrounded" heifers, and the last thing he needed was to have some pregnant feeder weight heifers to take to the sale. His farm was a collection of ramshackle buildings where various poultry fended for themselves, old broken down farm machinery strewn about, and junk scattered everywhere. His mother lived with him.

He also had pigs that ran wild. I gave permission for a hunter and his son to hunt some of my ground, and within an hour they were back with a tale of pigs attacking their hunting dogs. Apparently, they had shot at a sow with their shotguns, but failed to kill her. They had managed to save their dogs, and came to me.

I loaded up a .308 semiauto and my .45, and went up there. Sure enough, there was a herd 'o hogs there, and when I drove up, they took off running for home - across the Buckner valley to Ziggy's. I drove to the barn where the hunters had shot the hog, and there was a pretty good sized sow rooting around. If she was hurt, she wasn't showing it. I finally got a clear shot at her without a hunter or dog in the line of fire and dropped her, but it took a couple .45s to the head to finally kill her. I ended up killing two other of his hogs over the next few years, and most of my other neighbors did as well. Yes, I did try calling the sheriff. Since Ziggy was in another county, apparently I needed to call that LEO. I did. Since the trespass happened in my county, I needed to contact my LEO. I got the message.

Ol' Ziggy had prairie dogs - a bad infestation. I sucked up to him enough to get permission to hunt them on his ground. I felt bad sometimes because when hunting on farmground, you don't drive on planted ground. I could go into his fields as much as a quarter mile before I realized I was on planted wheat ground - the 'dogs had eaten everything else. I have no idea what he was out in a combine in those fields for - there was literally nothing there. For several years, I did get in some good hunting, though.

One of my neighbors had enough of the cattle roaming the country, so he gradually took in the cattle that came his way, penned them and fed them. Ol' Ziggy didn't seem to mind until they were hauled to the sale barn, sold, and the feed bill deducted. He groused around about how they were registered cattle and needed to bring more, but my neighbor held his ground and told him to produce papers. Ziggy couldn't do that - if he'd had them, they were from twenty or thirty years ago. Ziggy was out of the cattle and hog business.

Then, a couple years ago, Ziggy died of a heart attack in his chair. His mother (90+) was an invalid - wheelchair bound. He had shut off his landline and just used his cell phone. It was in his trouser pocket, and his mother probably didn't know how to use it even if she could find it. She died of thirst. A salesman who was looking to get a bill paid stopped by and found them. It wasn't pretty.

Another family had three strange ducks. The most normal died when I was in college - there has been a persistent rumor that his brother did him in, but who knows? He tried to date my mother before she married dad, but she didn't want any part of his act. He blackballed my dad from the Masons some time later as his revenge. The other brother - heh.

He farmed alone. His equipment is still scattered all over the family property. When he was done with a truck or tractor - there it sat. It still sat if it didn't run anymore. His yard is overflowing with old, worn equipment, so the pasture across the road, the pasture next to the house, and all over in forgotten corners. He had an old trail bike he'd toss onto whatever implement he was using in case he needed extra wheels. Harvest was him running a junk combine, filling an junk truck, and hauling the load to town. No tarps. His road vehicles were alarming rattletraps. He broke down in town several times, and would call one of my neighbor's brother who ran a parts house and repair shop to come get him - but he tended to not use his services - he just wanted a free ride home. Did I say he had guns? He'd have to empty the old pickup or car of his carry collection to go home. Did I say he was spooky? If you went on his place - you generally had a gun trained on you, even if he knew who you were. He would refuse to answer the door. He might speak up, and tell you to leave.

There used to be a B1 wing out of Wichita that flew low level training missions out here. He thought they scared his sheep - oh, did I forget to mention he had sheep in cattle country?
He took several pot shots at the bombers, which gained him a visit from the FBI. Luckily, they came to our sheriff before they went out to his place. Our sheriff, bless him, refused to let them go out - he went out himself and explained to my spooky neighbor that one just didn't shoot at those boys or one might find one's self in the pen. The potshots stopped.

I stopped by once to try to get permission to hunt prairie dogs on his ground. He was working on some old truck in the pasture across the road from the place. I had just purchased a Yugo SKS, and thought he might be interested in seeing it. "Can you kill coyotes with it?" was his comment. I allowed that you could, but that isn't why I bought it. "Not much use then, is it" was his response. I didn't get permission to hunt 'dogs, either.

My farmer had sucked up to him to be able to rent his pasture - he's a big cattleman and needs pasture the way the rest of us need air. He did favors for ol' Spooky, and probably saved his life once. He noticed a bad gas smell in the house that ol' Spooky had missed - the thermocouple on his propane stove had failed. Lucky he didn't blow up. My farmer eventually ended up farming his ground because - it's rumored - his sister (strange duck number three) tried to poison ol' Spooky. He was sick for a long time, and one of his more normal sisters in Florida took him in. Apparently, he's not well, but he's surviving.

Ahh, his sister. When I worked at the Post Office, we'd get a visit from her once in a while. She'd need to get something postmarked after the window closed, and would drive all the way to Dodge to get it. Picture an woman in her early sixties, bundled up in a woolen cap, a threadbare coat, what looked to be sweatpants, and what appeared to be house slippers. She came in one evening worried that her envelopes were over an ounce. She used one of our clerks for about a half hour messing with cutting the envelope down and using our tape because she didn't want to spend the extra forty six cents on postage. Our supervisor finally had enough of this and told her she needed to be coming in during business hours like the rest of the world, and if what she was mailing was overweight, she could buy postage, or go to WalMart and buy the scissors and tape. We weren't responsible for making weight on her letters.

She went off on my neighbor (who now farmed for her) a couple years ago - she got it in her mind that he was stealing her wheat. She would count the trucks leaving the field as the wheat was cut, and call the elevator manager to make sure they got there. The manager would assure her that the loads were delivered. She wanted settlements on each load. He refused. He didn't have time to divide up each load and cut a check every time a truck with her wheat arrived.Things were pretty tense for my farmer that year. He doesn't farm for her anymore.

I last saw her about a year ago - when I was driving by, she was having trouble getting some sheep that were out back into her pasture. I helped her. I am surprised she even talked to me, considering my association with her nemesis, the wheat stealing farmer. As far as I know, she is still there - the last time I drove by, her car was in the drive.

This is just a minor sample of the characters in the ol' 'hood out here. These are the ones within a five mile radius from my house. There are others out there, a bit further out. There used to be even more, but they all got old and died. I may even be one. After all, I'm single, forty eight, never married, and am a bit of a hermit on weekends when I'm off the road. I may even be gay, I've heard. After all - I'm single, forty eight, never married, and exhibit hermitlike behavior on weekends.

Y'all come on out someday - maybe we'll go hunting! Have a glass of good old country well water, too!

2 comments:

Mrs Grim said...

What great stories, Jeffro. I always wanted to live on a farm, since I was a kid. I was jealous of cousins who did - they had access to animals of all kinds - horses, cattle, pigs, turkeys, chickens, dogs, cats. We would go once a year to help cut and wrap the half a steer that my parents bought each year for the freezer. My uncle would shoot the steer in the head and hang the head in the garage. As kids growing up in the suburbs, we thought that was the coolest thing.

My aunt and uncle still live there (not as rural as yours, though). Eventually, as they got older, they've leased out a lot of their fields and now have fruit orchards. They stopped doing cattle because they decided at some point that they wanted to take vacations, and couldn't with the livestock that needed tending.

But it it still one of my favorite places to go.

Bob said...

Thanks for sharing! I'm just upwind from you a few miles. I've only been here since July, so I have not met many of my neighbors. Two of them have put up "for sale" signs since we moved in with our brood; a coincidence, I am sure!