Thursday, July 3, 2014

Renaissance Hillbilly

The cabin across the street from us in Ruidoso is a vacation rental, and when the guests include kids close to Elizabeth’s age we beckon them over to play on her swing set.

This week’s visitors were a couple from Midland with a little boy and girl, plus the mom’s parents from a rural area near the Texas-Arkansas border. When the little boy answered Elizabeth’s call, he brought along his granddad.

That’s not him in the picture, but he was definitely a real life specimen of the Duck Dynasty breed. Short, bandy-legged and muscular, he was a lot more presentable than the showbiz hillbillies. He wore pressed jeans, fancy roper boots made of some exotic leather and a crisp camouflage t-shirt and matching baseball cap.

While his grandson and Elizabeth played happily with her sand toys, he regaled me for nearly two hours with a stream of consciousness monologue unlike anything I’d ever heard before. We sat down on a pair of tree stump seats to watch the kids, and he began as if we’d already been talking for an hour.

“Yeah, I told muh wife when we git back home I’m gonna go in to the parts store and git a buncha fan belts and hoses and spark plugs and go to work on muh truck.”

He was a reasonably good looking guy, nearly bald under the cap and with a neatly trimmed gray goatee, but I noticed his lower lip and chin were grotesquely distended. 

I presumed that was why his nasal backwoods twang was sometimes so badly mangled that I couldn’t make out what he was saying. But about ten minutes into his soliloquy he turned discreetly to one side and allowed a brown gobbet of spittle to dribble onto my pine needles. I realized it wasn’t a deformity, it was only a wad of snuff, though maybe a little too much.

He told me his old truck back home is important to him because he uses it to haul a trailer containing his spotted mules and a metal carriage that he drives on trail rides. He breeds the mules. The wagon has been in his family for three generations, but he described a number of innovations he’s made to it with his acetylene torch. 

He had a picture of it on his cell phone. The seats were covered with a tarp, because he explained they were leather buckets salvaged from an old Dodge Charger.

His parents threw him out of the house at age 13. “I was b-a-a-ad,” he admitted. Later he was an alcoholic, although he said he’s licked that problem and only drinks beer now. He's back living near his parents and they often drink beer and reminisce agreeably about how bad he was when he drank too much.

One time a friend offered him a case of beer if he’d do a favor, and he did it. But the case of beer turned out to be Bud Lime, which he considered undrinkable and saved in a special cooler for when people asked him for a beer.

He cashes in his empties at a recycling center but likes to crush the cans first because they weigh more that way. “Ah’m goin’ on the Internet when I git home to git the specs for a can crusher I saw that ah’m gonna make myself,” he told me. He described how it would work and seemed to know what he was talking about. Except the part about how much the cans weigh afterward.

The little boy’s father came over in bermuda shorts and flipflops. He took a stump on the other side of the swingset. Once he was satisfied his son was doing fine, he quickly retreated to the rental. I felt like I was taking one for somebody else’s team.

The granddad didn’t acknowledge the son-in-law, but went on talking about how he drives a truck for the school district and spends the rest of his time tending to his 440 acres, a small herd of cattle and the kennel where he breeds pit bulls with Rhodesian ridgebacks and some kind of Cajun hunting dog I never heard of.

“People say pit bulls is vicious,” he said, “but ah tell mah dogs to watch them babies, and ah guarantee you if anybody comes near ‘em they’ll tear him up!”

When he’s not using them as babysitters, he takes the dogs out hunting for the feral tusked pigs that breed copiously in the thick brush around his place. He uses a brace of automatic pistols and a sawed-off shotgun because you often don’t see the beasts until it’s too late to raise a long gun.

He’s a pretty good shot at close quarters. One time his wife got him out of his recliner to kill a rabid skunk outside the house. He selected a .22 caliber rifle from his arsenal and tried to shoot the skunk with one hand. He only knocked off its tail and made it madder, so he took proper aim and got it in the head on second try. “Skunk brains flyin’ ever’where,” he said.

He found some lye soap at a gift shop in the village that he says he’ll take home to wash off skunk stink. He gets sprayed fairly regularly when he’s out chasing the razorbacks. The boutique soap he got here was cheaper than he can get it at home, where some farm lady is the only source and takes advantage.

If the pigs aren’t too old and stringy, he and his wife butcher them and put them in the freezer. He hasn’t bought pork in years.

I haven’t told you the half of it. It was a pretty tedious afternoon for someone like me who likes to get a word in edgewise now and then. But if the Apocalypse comes, I’m going to wish this versatile, self-reliant guy lived next door to me and owed me some favors.

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