By Ed Stuart
Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part column.
At a time some years ago in a little town not so very different from Farmersville, except much smaller, there lived a harmless old man named Truman who drove an ancient pickup that had been hit on every side and was so battered and patched together that its make and model was indeterminate. These mishaps had to have occurred in the far distant past when Truman had been young and reckless and known to sometimes accelerate to such excessive speeds as thirty, once even forty-five miles per hour. Nowadays elderly turtles had no problem staying out of his path.
Truman was a confirmed bachelor, toothless, hard of hearing and dim of eye, with a fondness for liquid refreshment, not so much for the fruit of the vine but rather for the brew of the barley. He had been around for so long that nobody remembered when he had not been around. The loafers who hung out at the filling station liked to tell about one rainy year when the assorted junk and accumulated dirt in Truman’s pickup bed had stayed wet so long that a couple of maize seeds sprouted, grew up to maturity, and headed out. It was the best crop Truman ever made.
They had a fund of such unlikely tales on which they drew, for instance how Poodle became the name of the little town where they lived. Poodle, they said, was named after a high-strung lap dog with a fancy pedigree and a prissy haircut that belonged to the postmaster’s wife. Everybody else’s dog was just a common biscuit-eating mutt. Sadly, Poodle got out one night and consorted with half the strays in town. The predictable result was that Poodle had to leave town in disgrace and was never seen again. But they still called the town Poodle.
A word about the filling station, it wasn’t like the convenience stores of today, but rather a place where you went to buy leaded gasoline, both regular and white, lube and coal oil, get flats fixed, and little extras like getting your oil checked, air in your tires and your windshield washed, that kind of a place. They sold Bull Durham and Prince Albert smoking tobacco and Days Work and Brown Mule chewing tobacco and Garrett Dental Sweet snuff and gave away free road maps. Some even sold ready roll cigarettes, but the one in Poodle wasn’t that upscale.
What really attracted the loafers was the tastefully arranged, though tattered, car seats recycled from the junk yard for their lounging comfort, coffee can spittoons for additional ambience, and the ice box that kept the soda (pronounced sody) water cold. It was not for other less socially acceptable beverages because this was a dry county. Besides the bootlegger’s place was clear across town.
One day Truman drove leisurely down the road, not really knowing where he was going nor what he would do when he got there. He slowly approached the dilapidated little shotgun house of a woman named Maidie Belle who had made the unfortunate mistake of marrying a sorry no account bum. His given name was Rutherford, but everybody who knew him called him Ruthie. He was pure unadulterated white trash and didn’t even have enough initiative to resent being called by a girl’s name
The last time Ruthie had a job, he got fired because he couldn’t seem to get to work on time and would show up about the time everybody else was going home. Consequently Ruthie just stayed home and rested.
Maidie Belle worked at the corner grocery during the day and waited tables at the café until closing time at night. As you might imagine, tips at the Poodle Café weren’t real good. In her spare time, she took in other people’s ironing. Maidie Belle didn’t have time to be lazy like her husband.
Maidie Belle’s mama owned the little house where her daughter and her worthless husband lived rent-free. She also owned the old push mower she had left for Ruthie to use on the knee-high weeds and grass around the house.
The final principal character in this little melodrama was a persnickety middle-aged spinster named Beulah Bess who just naturally knew that she was better than anybody else. She wasn’t wealthy by any means, but, like the town’s namesake, she was well bred and pedigreed and was not common like all the rest of the clods in town. She drove a big long shiny black Cadillac which wasn’t very new, but nevertheless, pretty impressive in a place like Poodle.
As Beulah Bess drove along, nose in the air as befitted her social position, she found herself following Truman’s old pickup as it eased along. This annoyed her greatly because the road was narrow, and she couldn’t get around him. Even more irritating was the trail of dust he was leaving to settle on her fine shiny black automobile. And in addition to that, she disapproved of him as she did all males in general and his deplorable habits and lifestyle in particular.
Now as the different and diverse paths begin to converge toward an irreversible climax, the narrator finds it unavoidably necessary because of space limitations to postpone until the next issue the exciting conclusion of this story which he has decided to dub The Chronicles of Poodle… Do not miss it. You will be forever sorry if you do.