Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Shaggy Dog story this Christmas

This is the time of year where we tend to over-indulge in gifts, in drink, and most of all, in eating.
It wasn't always so. Our parents all went through the Great Depression and this story comes from that time. Many people could find no work of any kind back then and would roam from town to town looking for greener pastures. Fred was just such a young man.
He rode the rails from place to place, lived in hobo jungles beneath bridges and sometimes found hard, menial jobs that paid no more than $1 per day. Mostly he would just knock on doors and ask if he could split wood or weed the garden or do anything else in exchange for a meal. Sometimes the answer was yes but more often it was no. And lots of times he was escorted to the county line by the local law with a warning that if he came back he would be breaking rocks with a nine-pound sledge hammer for the next month.
Fred had hitchhiked part of the way toward the last small town. He had been walking and walking and sticking his thumb out for most of the day before a kindly farmer in an old Ford truck with a stake bed said he could jump in the back if he didn't mind the pigs. Fred didn't mind.
The farmer let him out at the crossroads before the town and Fred walked another dusty mile before he saw the town buildings on the horizon. Along the way first his left foot and then his right started burning. He sat down and found the problem -- there were holes through the soles in his shoes. He had massive blisters on both feet. He plugged the holes with tree leaves, put his shoes back on and resumed walking.
The sun was setting and Fred couldn't help but shiver. The wind was blowing right through the rips in the knees of his pants and the old suit coat he had gotten free from the Salvation Army was thin. It was nearly fall now and the nights were turning cold. It wouldn't be long before the first frost came. He turned his narrow collar up, clutched the coat together at the lapels and kept walking.
His last decent meal had been three days earlier. It had come from a widow woman with four small kids who told him she would give him a bowl of soup if he killed and plucked a half-dozen chickens which he did. The soup only had one small piece of chicken but it made up for the lack of meat with lots of potatoes, carrots and onions. And best of all, just as he was leaving the woman stopped him and said, "Here, you better take this for the road." She gave him a large biscuit.
He ate half the biscuit the next day and the other half a day later. And now he had probably walked 20 miles before he had gotten the ride and his stomach was hurting something fierce.
Fred came upon the first house at the town and knocked at the door. A big man opened it and told him to "get the hell off my land."
He got a similar reception at the next house and the next.
He was starving and freezing and dejected.
"This might be it," he thought. "This might be the end for me."
Fred walked the rest of the way into town and came upon a restaurant with a sandwich board sitting out front on the sidewalk. The sign read ALL THE CORN YOU CAN EAT -- FIVE CENTS.
Fred hadn't had a paying job in two weeks but he stuck his dirty, calloused hand deep into his pants pocket anyway. There was only one coin in there, a nickel.
"Well, I might as well have one last meal," Fred said out loud and opened the door.
He sat down at a small table and a beautiful young woman came over.
"I'll just have the all-you-can-eat corn," said Fred, embarrassed, to the girl whose name Betty Lou was embroidered on her waitress uniform.
"What would you like to drink?" she inquired.
"Does it cost extra?" asked Fred.
She nodded.
"Just the corn then, please," said Fred.
"I hate to ask," said Betty Lou, "but I'll need you to pay up front."
"Sure, sure," said Fred and forked over his nickel, his last nickel.
Betty Lou came back with six cobs of steaming corn on a plate and put a bowl of butter on the table.
It was the most delicious corn -- in fact, the most delicious meal -- Fred could imagine. He quickly devoured all six cobs and Betty Lou brought him another plate and then another.
Fred ate so many cobs his stomach ached. It swelled out so much he couldn't have buttoned his coat if he wanted to.
He was just eating the last kernel on his final cob when he noticed it moved a bit. He pried it open with a fork and a small green worm, a corn bore, came wriggling out.
"I can't believe it survived the boiling water," he thought.
"You know, we're a lot alike, me and you," whispered Fred to the worm. "You almost reached the end of the line too, but you didn't quit, did you?  You're quite the inspiration. Well, after seeing what you did I'm not going to give up either.  In fact, I'm going to call you Motor because you are driving me onward. I'm going to take care of you and maybe we will bring each other luck."
He took out a matchbox from his coat and put Motor into it and was just leaving the restaurant when Betty Lou stopped him.
"My dad is the owner of the restaurant and he wanted me to ask if you were interested in sweeping up after closing. If you do a good job and if you want more work, he says we need a dish washer starting tomorrow. The job just pays $1 a day but you also get to stay in the room at the back. It's pretty nice, has a good bed and a warm stove."
Of course Fred took the job and as soon as Betty Lou left he opened the matchbox. "This is all because of you, Motor, my new buddy. You are a bona fide good luck charm, that's what you are."
No one could have swept the floor better than Fred did that night. The next day Fred was a whirlwind with the dishes and the owner couldn't have been happier with his new employee. He gave Fred a permanent job on the spot.
Fred always kept Motor and his matchbox in his pocket and took him everywhere he went. "You deserve all the credit," he would say as he gave Motor a fresh kernel of corn. "You are one lucky corn bore."
Fred's fortunes just kept turning better and better. He and Betty Lou fell in love and within a couple of months they married and moved into a large apartment above a store across the street. Every day Fred would give Motor his kernel of corn. As long as he had Motor, Fred thought, the sky is the limit.
Betty Lou's dad even mentioned leaving the restaurant to his daughter and Fred when he died. The future was indeed bright and Fred and Betty Lou spent the next year in marital bliss.
But then disaster struck. Fred opened the matchbox one late-summer day and Motor was gone! He looked everywhere, turned his pockets inside out, even used a magnifying glass to examine the floor without success. Motor, his good luck charm, was nowhere to be found.
Immediately, things started going awry. The father-in-law said Fred didn't seem to be doing as good a job as in the past. In fact, he thundered, if Fred wasn't his son-in-law, he would fire him. Hardly another day passed before Betty Lou said she wanted a divorce. A month later they were no longer married, Fred was out of a job and back on the road, knocking on doors and getting the bum's rush.
One day, as he walked and walked he could feel the holes forming in the soles of his shoes. He was freezing and hadn't eaten in days. He came upon a small town and a restaurant with a sandwich board out front. The sign read: ALL THE CORN YOU CAN EAT -- FIVE CENTS.
Fred felt in his pocket and discovered he only had one coin -- a nickel.
"Well, I might as well spend it right here," he said to himself, "because I don't think I can take much more of this."
He entered the restaurant and plopped his nickel on the table.
He ate plate after plate of hot, yellow, cobs of corn.
As he went to bite the last kernel on his final cob, he noticed it moving.
And out bored Motor!

Merry Christmas!

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1 comment:

Ray G said...

Thanks for the great story Dan, and a Merry Christmas to you and Brenda and Cork too.

Ray G