LUCKY GARVIN: A Few More Vignettes [from over the years]

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Lucky Garvin

I.) It’s often hard to determine if a story is true. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter…

The Ranger’s Wife [short version]

On her way west with her family, a teenage girl – along with her wagon train – became squall-bound by a blizzard.

When all seemed lost, a solitary rider – a young Texas Ranger – rode up and led the wagons to a sheltered canyon where they rode out the storm. The wagon train continued west; the girl remained behind, married the ranger, and had a son. The girl taught her husband to read; he taught her marksmanship. She proved unusually skilled.

Their son was fifteen-years-old when a group of men came with news. Her husband had been ambushed and murdered by a band of outlaws. Four years passed…

Her son, like his father, took to the law and became a ranger; and, like his father, a good one. Word came that the gang had hold up in a town not far away, on their way to Mexico. The only thing that lay between them and their destination was the lone Texas Ranger.

The ranger confronted the eight men with but a six-shot revolver and his rifle. Gunfire erupted; smoke filled the air. When it cleared, the ranger was wounded; the eight men dead.

The ranger was lauded as a hero, yet there were some who swore additional shots– directed at the gang – were fired from a darkened alley one hundred yards distant. Everyone agreed: if it was so the ranger had help, whoever had done the shooting was unusually skilled…

II.) In 1910 in the rural areas of America, outdoor privies came to play an important part in public health. Prior to that time, if you needed to relieve yourself, you walked outside and did just that. These people, often barefoot, developed ‘Ground Itch’, a pruritic affliction of the soles of the feet from hookworm which migrated from the skin to the intestines. People of that time often incurred anemia which, having few medical accouterments, they didn’t realize they had. After this connection was made in the early 1900’s, this worm came to be known as ‘The Vampire of the South. Privies changed all that.

We should be careful of what we deem useless or no-account. There is a scrub tree, a member of the sumac family as I recall which is considered a bark-covered weed, i.e. junk. It’s call ‘The Tree of Paradise’ or a ‘Paradise Tree.’ Yet, in the Virginias in the early to mid-20th century, when a youngster was told to bring a load of firewood to the family porch, they were also told to bring a small load of ‘Paradise’ to the porch, this for the cooking of breakfast. The sap of this tree, volatilized by the heat of the woodstove, infused the food with a flavoring well favored by the folks of that time.

III.) Did you know that automobiles were once considered a gift to the environment? Although Ecology was not yet the moving force in society it now is, at that time, of course, horses and mules were the main source of conveyance and haulage. They bought flies which buzzed about them, and, indifferent to the proddings of privacy, left tons of manure and urine on the city streets, delicacies for swarms of flies and other insects. Of course, all of these ‘street leavings’ had to be cleaned up, and then re-deposited somewhere. Cars left no such offerings, and were thus considered a clean-air God-send. That is, until more cars were manufactured and something called ‘smog’ was noted.

IV.) ‘Skid Row’ means a poor, falling down section of town. It derives its name from the days when logging required steers and ‘bull-whackers’ to haul them out over roads ‘paved’ with half-buried logs which were greased [‘grease the skids’; a ‘skid road.’] Men being men, after work, they sought other respites including alcohol and ‘love for hire.’ It was along these skid roads that these dilapidated shantytowns grew up, leading to the phrase ‘skid row.’

Then, an innovation: the steam ‘donkey.’ It was a small engine that would haul huge logs out of the forest, greatly lessening the need for oxen. The steam donkey was situated on some stable area, then a large tree – a spar – was needed to loop the cable upwards [otherwise, the timber being hauled would continuously dig into the ground; lift the lead end of the log via an elevated cable eliminated that problem.

A specialized lumberjack – a ‘high-rigger/ – would climb over one hundred feet in the air and ‘top’ the tree, leaving just a pole, or spar. Once that dangerous work was done, the rigger often sat on the uppermost part of the tree and had a smoke. The more adventuresome – or most insane – of them – would do a headstand. When that part of the forest played out, a cable was hooked to a stable anchoring, and the donkey would pull itself to the next servicing area.

V.) I ran into an old-timer who was telling me about how to be sure your moonshine was of a good quality which sounds like an oxymoron to me. “You pour just a bit into the mason jar lid and put a lit match to it. If it burns a rich blue color, you’re in front of drinkin’ some first quality shine.”

“And if it doesn’t burn blue…?”

“Why you drink it anyway! The stuff’s too good to waste!”

So much for the scientific method.