13. At the Red and White

“Here come
That fool County Agent.”
One of the men said it,
A Methodist–
If Baptists said “fool,”
They’d go to Hell.
Mr. Parr had spoken,
His bent back
Propped to the store wall,
Boards now gray,
Flaked with white and red.
Crooking legs,
Men stood in overalls,
Faded knees and flies,
Pockets, seams.
Some wore light town shirts.
Most, blue work-shirts,
Wrinkled, cuff to collar,
Wide soft pleats.
Some hats felt, some straw.

Jack Hance, County Agent,
Owned a black felt hat
With brim too wide.
Naturally, they’d noticed:
Joke went, that Jack needs it
When it rains and he forgets
To come inside.
That hat got Tom’s goat;
Jack seemed plenty foolish
Without that.
Maybe his wife made it.
Just the same.

“Hello there, Jack.
When’s it going to rain?”
Common greeting,
But they hid a smile.
“Hi, Bud”: Jack Hance, sounding
Easy. “Sure don’t know.
Sure feels dry to me.
Tom, what you say?”
Asks for our opinion,
They thought, since he
Thinks we’re dumb.
“Oh, Tom don’t claim
To guess,” Bud replied.
Jack kept talking. “By the way,
I’ll have information–
The committee, its election–
For you soon.
Get some men elected
To make sure the acres
Taken from production
Do lie fallow,
Like the contract says.
And those checks come.
Local men, of course.
Keep you posted.”
“Do that.”
Jack walked on.

Mr. Parr scratched at his hip.
Bud Hines pulled his watch
And checked the time.
Tom was thinking,
Best get to the car.
Riah, likely, was alone.
Why’d Jack talked to him?–
Tom glanced about,
To see if they had seen.
Then he offered:
“Hear about the Burtons?”
They had not.
“Jack Hance went out there,
Told George and Vern
To feel inside the hens
And measure there.
He told them that way,
If it was small,
They’d know which hens
Won’t lay.” Tom
Stopped for breath.
“So they went along,
The Burton boys–
You know how they are–
Felt all the hens.
And to sell the bad ones,
Like Jack said,
They crated up the ones
That wouldn’t lay.
Next day they heard
Cackling. They got up.”
Thomas paused, to savor.
“Them crates, full of eggs.”

The men died, laughing.

3 Responses to “13. At the Red and White”

  1. Lisa Abraham Says:

    I like that this follows “Sewing Circle,” the continuation of fabric and wear. Great opening stanza and I like the bittersweet joke at the end, given the arc of the whole story.

  2. Lisa Abraham Says:

    Dang. I meant “Sewing Club”

  3. sshaver Says:

    You know, I never thought about continuing the fabric motif! Thanks, Lisa. How a tightly-knit community (to continue that metaphor) responds to individuals who don’t quite fit in is a topic I’m very much interested in.

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