Illustration by Bill Lutz
"John, now listen to me and be sure you get a nice big fat one. Do you hear me?" the shrill woman's voice chased him all the way to the truck.
He didn't need to answer. After 17 years he could tell the rhetorical advice and questions from the important ones. He just hoped the little pick-up would make it out back of Mason City to the turkey farm. Ever since his son had become interested in hot-rodding the old truck had not been the same. Of all things, the V8 now had two carburetors on it! The gas consumption had to be twice as high and it didn't seem to start as easily as it used to. He wished Jeff had spent his money and time fixing things that really needed fixing -- like the radiator. It had leaked for at least a year and necessitated the carrying of a can of water at all times. Remembering that Jeff had been the last to drive the old '49 Ford he climbed back out of the cab to check the jerri-can which was always kept in the bed. It aggravated him that the can, formerly a standard issue gas can that he had "requisitioned" from his jeep at the reserve unit, was near empty. Jeff was very negligent about such things but he had to admire his son's ability to work on cars. John filled the can with water adding a generous amount of Radiator Glycerine anti-freeze, in case it turned colder.
It wasn't a pretty day but promised to turn out fine if the sun could break through the thin high blanket of clouds. A typical Thanksgiving Day for Eastern Kentucky and perfect for a drive to the country.
He loafed along the twisty hilly roads in no particular hurry to get to Cotton's Turkey Farm. The trip should take about an hour or so each way plus a half hour to select and have slaughtered the evening meal. Along about midway, on a stretch of two lane road that the county had failed to blacktop, the old faithful flathead quit. It sputtered a few times and a jab at the accelerator pedal caused a spurt of power but in a few turns of the tires it stopped, right smack in the middle of nowhere.
A cursory look at the engine showed no obvious signs of problems. He removed one of the small chrome racing style air cleaners and checked for fuel from the accelerator pump while he worked the throttle linkage by hand. Nothing. He was sure the gas tank was full as the gauge indicated about three-quarter. From the side of the road he broke the stalk of a now dried thistle, inserted it into the gas filler and confirmed this. Removing the fuel filter exposed the problem -- dirt! Ten minutes and a few bars whistled of "As Time Goes By" and he was repositioning the cleaned sediment bowl oblivious to the car that had pulled up behind him.
"Having a little trouble, pal?" the rotund Sheriff demanded, adjusting his holster and gun, as he approached John.
"I think I've got it fixed now, Officer," John replied, surprised to see this sloppily uniformed officer.
"You, ain't from around these parts, are you? What are you doin' here anyway? You got a partner off in the woods stealin' from some poor farmer or poachin' game?" the gun toter accused.
"Why no sir. I...my truck just developed a dirty fuel filter and I was cleaning...."
"A likely story. We've been bothered by you non-residents coming out here to take what you can. Besides, it's against the law to park on the highway. I oughtta tow that heap of yours away and run you in just to make sure you ain't up to no good. But, seein' that it's Thanksgivin' an all, I'll just fine ya five dollars and let it go at that," the Sheriff ordered, an insincere, semi-toothless smile breaking out on his pudgy, unshaven face.
Catching the drift of the law officers intentions, John, now out from under the hood but careful not to make eye contact, replied in a humble tone, "Why thank you sir. I'll be out of here, lickety-split."
Closing the hood and sliding into the cab, John watched the Sheriff watch him, as the hood mounted red light oscillated slowly and ominously on the '55 Ford patrol car.
Drained of gas, the engine had to be cranked over many times in order for the fuel pump to refill the float bowls. It took more cranks than the old six-volt battery had in it. John was sure he was going to spend Thanksgiving in jail now.
The Sheriff approached the open truck window, curled his upper lip into a half smiled, and produced a putrid, rotted-tooth and whiskey belch, "Need a push, pal?"
Phew, maybe the cop, bad breath and misfeasance intentions aside, wasn't such a jerk after all. "It sure looks like it, sir. Mighty neighborly of ya to offer me your kind help."
"That's why the county put push bars on this here patrol car, so as we can be of service to the public. Course it'll cost ya a fiver," the obese badge carrier said with that same insincere sneer.
John produced another finn leaving him with less than ten dollars which he hoped was enough for the object of this trip -- the bird.
With a tap and a push the little pick-up sprang to life. John waved a good-bye and gingerly drove away not knowing what the speed limit was and fearful of having to deal with the law again.
The turkey farm was a pleasant experience if witnessing the slaughter of a live animal can ever be pleasant. But the men and women who did the work were nice enough. When he explained his tangle with the Sheriff, careful not to be too critical as any of them could be kin to the law man, they all expressed their understanding. They understood all right. This was their county and outsiders better mind their P's and Q's.
It was turning decidedly colder and giant dark, bulbous clouds now threatened snow. With a full radiator, topped off from his jerri-can, and the fresh bird carefully wrapped and on the seat next to him, John started for home. Mindful of the fact he had only a few dollars left -- not enough for any more "fines" -- he nonetheless increased his speed in hopes of beating the snow.
It was going to be a swell dinner. His brother, Mom, Dad and both of his boys would be there for this annual affair. He and Abigail, his wife, had spent the past weekend cleaning and polishing the little two-bedroom frame house. It was their first home, bought with a G.I. loan in a new subdivision built just after the war for the returning soldiers. All the houses looked the same then, but as time passed and trees grew and new and different colored paint was applied the neighborhood took on the middle America look of any other period housing tract. Though he had expected to move to a bigger place they had grown used to the area and just stayed.
Uh-oh! Deep between mountainous hills, pulled to the side of the road, hood up, was the Sheriff's car. Too late to turn back on the narrow tree lined road, John hoped he could just slip on by with a wave of the hand. Slowing to a crawl, he double-clutched into first gear and racked his brain for a plausible story to tell of why he had to hurry on.
Abreast of the two tone brown sedan, the driver stepped into his path, hand raised -- palm forward. Dangit now! "Howdy Sheriff. Hope everything is okay. I'd like to stop and talk, but I'm late for Thanksgiving dinner," John pleaded.
The Sheriff, his bulging eyes scanning the interior of John's cab stated, "Now that's no way to talk to a friend who just gave you a push and kept you out of jail. By the looks of that package on your seat I don't think they'll be startin' the dinner without you, will they?" Without waiting for an answer the man with the power of arrest continued. "It seems, ol' buddy, that my scout car has run out of gas and I just might have to declare an emergency and commandeer your truck so as I can get me some."
"Uh...sir. Why don't you radio for someone to come and get you?" John sheepishly tendered trying to be helpful without insulting the man.
"Can't. Radio won't reach from down in this hollar and besides, I'm the only one working in the whole county, this bein' a holly-day and all. So why don't...." The Man paused in his command to seize John's truck as he noticed the jerri-can in the bed of the pick-up. "Say, you wouldn't be tryin' ta hold out on me now, would-ja?"
"No, sir. What are you talking about?" John asked weighing his options. He could just race away and the fat cop would never be able to catch him or even radio for help. That idea was suppressed as he noticed the Sheriff casually massaging the big revolver on his hip.
"Is that can full -- that one there in the back of this here truck?" the Sheriff asked, raising his voice as he reached over the side and shook the jerri-can.
"Sure is, Sheriff. Here let me help you, it's kind of dirty," John offered scrambling out of the cab. "I plumb forgot about my spare can. I always carry it with me just in case I get between stations.
"Now that's the right spirit. How much do you want for a few gallons? I don't want it all."
"Oh, I wouldn't charge you, being as you have helped me so much today. Besides, if I sold you the contents of this can that would be illegal since I don't have a vendor’s license. So if it's okay with you I'll just pour a few gallons into your tank and be on my way."
"Son, you catch on real quick. And just to show you I'm an all right guy, I'm not going to notice that that olive-drab-colored jerri-can has U.S. Government markings on it. And while I'm in a Thanksgiving spirit, I'm gonna return that fiver you paid for the push awhile back. Course I can't return the fine for illegal parking -- I'm sure you understand; that's county money."
It was a wonderful Thanksgiving. The turkey and trimmings, especially Abigail's pumpkin pie, were perfect. However, John, thankful as he was, felt a twinge of hypocritical guilt during the dinner prayer, but only a small one.
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - By Chuck Klein; Illustration by Bill Lutz