Lisa Hamblen Hood: Through the Fence 12-17-12
My father-in-law always says that “poor folks got poor ways.” I know that from first-hand experience. Back in the leaner times, we had to work calves in the back of the trailer because we didn’t have a squeeze chute. We lived in a tiny dilapidated family hunting cabin with our three kids. I cooked everything from scratch because prepared foods cost too much. We were never too proud to shop at Goodwill or to accept hand-me-downs. I remember when our daughter, Lucia was five and she asked if we were poor. I told her that compared to most other people in the world, we were extremely wealthy. We had electricity, indoor plumbing, running water, enough to eat and we could read.
But poverty is relative. Not everyone who drives a fancy car is loaded, and not everyone living in a hovel is broke. My husband knew an old man once who always wore ragged clothes and his pants were held up with rough bailing twine. But that guy had tons of money stuffed in his mattresses and in between the boards in the walls. He just chose not to spend his wealth on clothes.
I saw a comical sight at the gas station the other afternoon that reminded me of this rich man/poor man paradox. There was a scruffy old man shuffling out of the door towards the parking lot. His clothes were threadbare and his car — a 1970 Chevrolet station wagon with faded wood panels — looked like it had been beaten all over with a tire iron. I waited patiently for him to back up when I noticed a large white animal in the back of his vehicle.
“Wow, that’s a big dog,” I commented to my daughter, Lena. The animal’s head reached the car’s ceiling. Its whole body barely fit into the rear compartment. “Mom, look again,” she said glibly. “That’s not a dog — it’s a goat!” Sure enough, when the animal circled around again and faced the back, I could see its fleshy waddles hanging down by its throat. We laughed our heads off and tried in vain to get close enough to take a picture. I wondered if they were headed to the auction barn or whether the goat was a pet that rode to town with him in the car.
When I relayed this story to my son, I added that the old man was probably rich, but he was definitely eccentric. He said, “That’s nothing, Mom. You should see what people bring their animals to the sale barn in.” He proceeded to tell me about opening the back door of a van and finding a dozen baby calves crammed in there, pooping and peeing everywhere. I giggled hysterically at that mental image.
But before I could regain my dignified composure, he continued. “That wasn’t as bad as the old red Buick.” I cocked a curious eyebrow. “Yep, when this old man drove up in an ancient red Buick, I wondered what was going on. There was no truck or trailer in sight, but he was in the line to unload livestock. Even though he barely had the windows cracked, we could smell the stench a mile away. The inside of that car was filled with baby calves. When he opened the door, the stink of manure was sickening. It made my eyes water and my nose hairs curl up,” he said, grimacing at the memory.
He and the other boys at the sale barn started pulling baby calves from the back seat and floor board and shooing them towards empty pens. They slammed the door and started writing the paper work for the customer. “Oh, hold on,” the man said, “I believe there’s one more …” When my son opened the front door of the car, he didn’t see it at first. Then it moved. There on the floor, almost completely covered with old newspapers and empty Styrofoam cups, was a tiny calf poking its wet nose out of a gap in the debris.
“I sure hope that guy made a bunch of money when he sold those calves,” my son added. “Maybe he’ll go buy a trailer.” Probably not, I thought. ❖
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