Saturday, April 7, 2018

'Back Home In The Hills'

Hills and Hollows magazine is a good magazine and if you haven't seen one you should get one off the Walmart newsstand. I write a column for them called 'Back Home In the Hills'. Here's a copy of the one i just sent for their next issue...hope it gives you a laugh.


      I went to work at the pool hall one afternoon in the spring, straight from school. Ol' Jim and Ol' Bill were there and they could tell I was pretty despondent. I was 13 years old and had just got my first pair of glasses. I wanted a girl friend awfully bad at that time and those glasses made me uglier than I had ever been. One of the older girls called me ‘four eyes’. 

       Now ‘the pool hall kid wasn’t my only nickname. Now I was gonna be called the “four-eyed pool hall kid”. I told my old friends there on the front bench that I was thinking on quitting school and just staying there in the pool hall forever. Ol’ Bill asked what brought that on and I told him. I was born too ugly to ever get a girl friend and now I was uglier because of those glasses.
Ol’ Jim tried to comfort me. 

       “Onc’t when I was a kid,” he said, “me an’ some a my cousins all found a mirror on a wall in the barn an' we stood in front of it makin’ scary faces to see who could be the ugliest an’ they all said that no matter what I did I couldn’t look no uglier then I already was.”
He used his foot to pull the spittoon over a little closer to his range, and then went on. “But by the time I was 20 years old,” he smiled,” girls was crazy about me.”
“You musta had some money by then,” Ol' Bill interrupted, “Cause you never did have no looks thet I can ‘member.”

       “That’s shore enough the way to get a girlfriend,” Virgil Halstead chipped in from his end of the bench. “I cut up some catalog pages to the exact size of a dollar bill and rolled it all up with a dollar bill around it and let Lucy Johnson see it and she spoke to me for the first time in years. And when I put a five dollar bill around that roll of catalog papers, hell, she wanted to marry me!!”

       At that everyone on the front bench laughed and slapped their knees and nodded their heads as if they knew what he was talking about. It seemed funny to me that all the front bench regulars who were married talked like they wished they wasn’t; but what few of them wasn’t married acted like they wished they were.

       But it was pretty clear to me that if I stayed ugly much longer then the only option for a girl-friend was a girl as ugly as me. And girls as ugly as me were pretty scarce. As to the girls in my school there were just various grades of pretty, and my chances with any of them was comparable to the chance of me killing three ducks with three shots.

       Ol’ Jim and Ol’ Bill did give me one good piece of advice I never forgot. They said once that a young man should never get married ‘til he found a girl that was gosh-awful beautiful and not too awful smart. Years later when I took Gloria Jean, my first wife, out on a date in my old ’56 Chevy, about halfway through the drive-in movie, I asked her, sort of timid like if she would like to get in the back seat. “No,” she told me, “I want to stay up here with you!” Right then, I recalled what those old timers had told me so many years before. I knew I had met the right one, and I threw caution to the wind and asked her if she wanted to get married. She said she really did, someday. It wasn’t too encouraging an answer, but up to then, every girl I had proposed to had said ‘no’.

       It is rather amazing as I look back on my years working in my dad’s pool hall that I was around a number of World War I veterans, including my Grandpa Dablemont. Few of them talked about being overseas as young men, fighting the Kaiser. But I can remember that when they did, they were solemn and bothered by it. Most of the time, life on the front bench was a joyous collection of hilarious stories. I think some of them were true.

       It was hard for me to understand, as a kid, the problems old men faced. Ol’ Bill said that he had got to a point where he had to get up twice during the night to pee. He, like most of them, had no inside plumbing. He said that one night when he went out to answer the call of nature he was watering the flowers just off the front porch when it began to rain. Ol’ Bill said he heard the water running off the roof and stood there for nearly ten minutes thinking he wasn’t done yet.

       But Ol’ Jess Wolf had come up with something that made life easier for most of the front bench regulars. He had drilled a hole in the bottom of the wall in his old house, stuck a length of water hose through it from the outside and attached a funnel to the end inside his bedroom, right next to his bed.
Jess didn’t have to go out on the porch in the cold anymore. He just sat up on the edge of his bed and reached for that funnel.

       Many years later when I was in college one of the professors there told me that I’d never learn much from those backwards old men I had grown up around in the Ozarks. Now, as I look back on my boyhood, I cannot remember a thing that intellectual professor ever said.

       But the other day Gloria Jean told one of my daughters she was worried about me. She said she had found a drill and a length of water hose in the bedroom, beside a funnel! So no one can say I didn’t learn something from those old timers in the Pool Hall. Gloria Jean doesn’t know that if it hadn’t been for their advice, she might never have been lucky enough to snare me.

       And by the way I ain’t so ugly as I was then! And for what it is worth, all them girls I went to school with are a bit uglier than they were then. But not a whole lot!

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