If it weren’t for the help of one Ronnie, the Uhaul would’ve never made it to Honey Creek. There would have been no Uhaul truck at all. Every truck in Colorado had been reserved up till August, so I was really fishing for a favor when I called my brother’s former basketball coach from middle school. In Missouri.
Yes, Ronnie could get me a 26 footer. Yes, he could have it ready by Thursday. Yes, I could have it for a whole week. No, I shouldn’t wait for Uhaul to call me in Colorado–those guys’ll charge you the moon and I can get you one for under $1200. Well, okay, Ronnie.
I could picture him saying it on his cell phone, an elbow above his head, leaned against a post, hand adjusting a ball cap, one leg casually bent over the straight leg at a wide angle, ankle resting on ankle. Maybe a wad of gum in his mouth, a confident Cheshire cat smile. He always sounds like he’s grinning.
Ronnie’s main interest is fireworks, so he runs a rental truck business on the side, along with a just-off-the-highway golf driving range. He tells everyone it’s his wife who has the real job: Ronnie is your friendly fireworks dealer. If that doesn’t make sense, I’ll put it this way (Ronnie’s own words): Everything I make I put into fireworks. My whole garage is full of ’em. I rent out a Uhaul, I put that money into fireworks. I make a buck here, I put it back into fireworks. It’s all fireworks.
So when we returned the truck to Ronnie, we took the money we saved on Uhaul and walked across his driveway and spent it at his fireworks stand. My mom said she overheard him telling another customer why they should never kill a possum. Don’t you know possums are the best tick eaters out there?
Before we paid, he pointed out the back wall of medium-sized explosives–did you look back there? Those are each six dollars a piece. It’s like I’m giving them away free.
We thanked him for his fireworks and truck mastermind skills.
It’s good to know people.
This is something a person can’t appreciate until a favor comes at just the right time. It’s a culture thing. I’ve seen it lots of times abroad, where knowing the lingo and looking the part is as important as money itself. Your chances of getting anything or anywhere (taxi, street food, directions, etc.) depend entirely on your finesse (the good ol’ boy rule) or pure humility (good-humored willingness to play town idiot). And in Missouri, at least, nothing gives a person a bigger thrill than being the exact right answer to a problem. When I called up Ronnie it was like he won the lottery–kind of. I needed a truck and fireworks.
I’ve talked to more people in two weeks than I have the whole past year in Colorado. Those stuffy masks mean one thing here and that is this: you can’t be trusted. We dropped our household goods at Honey Creek and traipsed off to Branson for a kids’ bluegrass camp and promptly caught our second head colds of the month. Call it the Delta variant, call it what you want, but we are living our lives here in the Show-Me state. Show Me your face, that’s what.
The dog caught a kitten in her jaws before she knew the instinct had hit her. She also caught a turtle and a few birds. Country life, even in two weeks, has subdued her personality to one we never recognized in Denver. It’s hot and buggy, just as presumed, and she’s content to lie on the porch and pant, mildly hoping for a kid to drop her an ice cube out of their lemonade.
We have figured out the zero turn lawnmower. We’ve found more treasures and junk shoved into barns than we might ever be able to clean out. We’ve doused the poison ivy in gasoline (I say “we” with the understanding you know it was certainly Joe, and not me). We’ve started burn piles in our underwear (certainly the kids, and not me). Bush-hogged around the blackberry patch. Attended a tiny church and ate donuts. Made homemade ice cream and cherry pie. Planted tomatoes and okra. Shot off fireworks near the pond. Wisteria pruning. Berry picking. Tick finding. More treasure hunting.
The best treasures I find are generally books, and the barn and garage are ripe pickin’. I’m finding books written in German and published 130 years ago–the former owners were from a long line of German Lutherans. In Branson, pool-side, I worked my way through Marriage to a Difficult Man, a book I reckon would have a different message all together these days, but this one was written probably 80 years ago and is based on the marriage of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards (the author does some stretching to make that title work. Clickbait before there was clickbait–she got me!).
Now I’m reading Washington Irving (circa 1820s) from brittle, copyright 1917 pages. He speaks of travelling abroad, of the scary ocean trip to Europe, of seeing another continent for the first time, still walking on unsteady sea legs, and the observations he makes of English city folk and their mode of relaxing as country folk.
Those who see the Englishman only in town are apt to form an unfavorable opinion of his social character. He is either absorbed in business or distracted by the thousand engagements that dissipate time, thought and feeling…He has, therefore, too commonly a look of hurry and abstraction. Wherever he happens to be, he is on the point of going somewhere else…An immense metropolis like London is calculated to make men selfish and uninteresting. In their casual and transient meetings they can but deal briefly in commonplaces. They present but the cold superficies of character–its rich and genial qualities have no time to be warmed into a flow.
(The Sketch Book, Washington Irving)
London, Denver–it still rings true. And now it isn’t even city life; it’s simply any version of distracted life, where folks are “selfish and uninteresting”, less than generous with their time. There is little patience for the “rich and genial qualities” of character “to be warmed into a flow”.
It is in the country that the Englishman gives scope to his natural feelings. He breaks loose gladly from the cold formalities and negative civilities of town; throws off his habits of shy reserve, and becomes joyous and free-hearted…His country-seat abounds with every requisite, either for studious retirement, tasteful gratification, or rural exercise. Books, paintings, music, horses, dogs, and sporting implements of all kinds are at hand. He…provides the means of enjoyment, and leaves every one to partake according to his inclination.
There is a whole breed of wonderful country-lifers, it turns out. While most English folk only called it holiday and partook sparingly, I was happy enough to grow up among generations of people who have broken loose gladly from the cold formalities and negative civilities of town. I know whole communities of people who are joyous and free-hearted, and who give themselves to studious retirement, tasteful gratification, rural exercise.
What’s more rural exercise than loading up a car full of fireworks and blasting them out over the pond onto the cornfield? What’s a better feeling than calling up a Ronnie you haven’t seen in 25 years, and he makes time to address your Uhaul needs and advise you to not shoot at neighborhood possums?
Maybe nothing, I think.