John, in his early 70s, has aged well. During a dozen or so rag-chewing sessions he has shared a number of his early childhood experiences. Some were even hand-me-downs. These journeys into the past sparked his desire to visit his old Arkansas homeplace. And he urged me to tag along. I was ready for a trip, so we set aside a weekend and left Dallas early one Thursday morning.
His ride was a cherry red, full-dress machine – bags, faring, pinstriping. The low-throated note of his exhaust could make a Harley enthusiast’s heart stop. Mine was a 40-year-old K-Model I’d purchased disassembled. Hauled it home in a wooden crate and spent the winter recreating it, making it into a barebones stock motorcycle. Cosmetically, it could have used some help it had cost me pocket change and when it was finished it ran like a bandit.
We’d stayed ahead of the early morning heat until we parked our Harley’s near a hitching rail and old water trough in front of the general store, both remnants of the horse days.
The screen door slammed behind us as we claimed a wooden bench occupying much of the porch. I held the cold Pepsi bottle against my forehead and enjoyed the cool reprieve.
“That’s the water trough my dad hid behind one night in July 1929,” John said, pointing.
My expression must have spoken louder than words because he continued without hesitation.
“Word that Bonnie and Clyde were in the area was on everyone’s mind,” John said. “The rumor had spread like a case of German Measles, being that Ada, owner of the beauty operator also owned the telephone switchboard.
“The town council called an urgent meeting and told my dad, who was town marshall, this was his chance to earn an Erp reputation. That he was to barricade the street and arrest them as soon as they rolled into town. But Dad had no desire to be like Erp. He’d heard stories of how they shot their way out of situations with machine guns and such. If they thought he was going to challenge them with his six-shooter they were crazy. Having said that, he placed his badge on the table. The mayor changed his mind and handed his badge back to him and told him to do what he thought best.
“It was after midnight and he was rattling doors on main street when he heard the sound. He knew it was a car. Slipping out of sight behind that water trough, he watched the Ford ease into town, the moon reflecting off the roof. And he stayed hidden until they were gone.”
John was finishing his story when two locals we’d heard working inside a nearby building, probably father and son, joined us. The old man wore no shirt beneath his striped bib-overalls. The son wore cotton breeches and shirt and a black hat of which the brim over his right ear was shaved off even with the sweat band.
The son didn’t utter a word. Instead, he chain-smoked Bull Durham roll-your-owns and he was too busy for conversation. The old man was a chatterbox. He made up for both of them except when he fell silent, on occasion, to gaze at our bikes.
“There was a feller come here twenty, thirty years ago on one of them motorcycles,” the old man said, nodding his head toward mine. He said it was hopped up and that I should ride it. Well, sir, I’d never been on a machine like that, hopped or not, so I wasn’t much in favor, but he kept on naggin’ at me. He got it started and I got a leg over that sonorabitch. He showed me where the clutch was and how to shift gears. I don’t know how or why, but that bastard took off before I had a firm grip on the handlebar and it throwed me back over the rear fender. Somehow, I made the first corner okay, and across that yonder bridge. But I couldn’t get the sonofbitch straightened out, before that dirty bastard got clean away from me. Took me through a three-strand barbed-wire fence, it did. And it ripped my leg open every way to Sunday.”
Hauling his left trouser leg up he exposed an ugly scar that extended from his ankle to his ass. And it looked like it had been sewn him up used a length of rawhide.
‘Well, Son, Ma probably has supper ready.” And with that they left.
We left too, shortly thereafter and stopped for coffee down close to the Texas line.
“That old man had the ugliest scar I ever saw,” I said as we waited for the waitress to bring our coffee.
“Didn’t he, though. That must have smarted”
We swilled our coffee and then headed for Dallas.