J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 1-10-11 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 1-10-11

The names, and some details, have been changed out of deference to the guilty.

One of my good neighbors, I’ll call him Ben, was a top drawer farmer. I often drifted over to see what he was doing with his fields, and when he was doing it. I learned a lot watching what he did. He did my combining, which meant we always got together in the fall, usually in his shop. We could have met in my shop, or the shop of various other neighbors involved in the harvest, but we usually ended up in Ben’s shop.

The popularity of his shop might have had something to do with this: If you took a seat at the table in the far corner, where there was a coffee maker and fridge, and gazed upward, you could see Ben’s private collection. He’d saved the Playboy centerfolds since sometime in the 1950s, and with the help of a little rubber cement, had papered the upper walls of his shop with them. Rotating your head in a clockwise direction, you could see the gradual increase in epidermal exposure that occurred in the centerfolds from the 50s on into the late 70s.

This all happened in the era of both free love and woman’s lib, but the centerfold collection seemed to slide along with an exemption to criticism from any of the wives of the guys who hung out in Ben’s shop. I think there was a general perception that “boys will be boys,” and the collection was, after all, essentially harmless.

The only hint I ever got that Ben’s wife, Marge, had strong feelings about the centerfold collection occurred one afternoon when she came into the shop while a bunch of us were tossing the hog about the usual farm topics. The family’s overflow meat freezer stood in the shop, and Marge come out for some meat, and as she left, I happened to see her look up at the centerfolds, scowl, and shake her head.

I believe it was the next summer when I happened to stop by Ben’s shop, and though it took me a minute to realize it, the centerfold collection was gone. The upper walls had remnant scraps still sticking in places, but no traces of female epidermis.

I asked Ben what had happened.

“Well,” he said slowly, “I had to make a correction.”

“I see that.”

“I came into the house of a morning, after baling all night, sat down at the table, looked up …” He stopped, scratched his ear.

“And …?”

“On all the kitchen cupboard doors, and on all the empty wall space, were … centerfolds from Playgirl.”


“Marge says to me, ‘How would you like your eggs?’ and I says, ‘In the other room,’ and she says, ‘Ben, dear, I think you know what you need to do.’ Heck of it was, I gave the ones I could salvage to Roger, but when he started to hang ’em in his shop, his wife wagged a copy of Playgirl at him.”