GRANDMA AND THE GUNSLINGER
by Mike Peters
first I thought my young cousin, Bobby O'Dell Casto, had somehow slipped out of
his crib and was honing his newly acquired walking skills on the linoleum floor.
It was an intermittent "piter patter" type of sound I heard.
Grandma felt along the wall outside her bedroom. Her barefoot steps were tiny, slow, methodical. It was walk over this and around that. She patted the wall until she reached the TV in the corner of the living room and retrieved her glasses. Now she could see! Her pace became quicker, wider, more certain. And it wouldn't be long before you'd hear the pots and pans in the kitchen, accented with Grandma's bronchitic smoker's cough.
The "Ya'll Come Lady" was born over on Allen's Fork in West Virginia's 50th year. Mernia, pronounced like the first name of actress Loy, was the daughter of James Garfield Pritt and Icie Estelle Boggess. Raised in Kanawha County, she lived her entire married life up "Spicewood Holler" in Jackson.
She had a temper and the work ethic of a pioneer. She was stubborn, opinionated and wouldn't sugarcoat anything. She told it to you straight. No Lucky Charms with Grandma, just plain Cheerios. You might call it tough love. I probably tried to impress her more than anyone. I realized later, after she had passed, that impressing grandma wasn't that difficult. You just had to be yourself, work hard and respect all of God's creatures.
If you shot something, be it "ground squirrel," sparrow or elephant, you better be prepared to skin it and eat it or tell grandma just how it was bothering you. One critter that fell under the varmint clause was the dreaded fly. Grandma mixed poison with jelly to draw them in and was quite accurate with the swatter. See the fly invaded Grandma's tranquility. She wanted to rock back and forth, watch the humming birds drink sugar water and listen to her wind chimes, without being bothered.
I have a picture of Grandma taken at the time she was courting Grandpa. It reminds me of a character conjured up in the mind of F. Scott Fitzgerald -- a mischievous flapper with bobbed hair, who danced the Charleston, drank bathtub gin and smoked Pall Malls.
I remember Grandma coming to visit when my mother was in nursing school. I went to sleep early that night. While grandma was quizzing Mom in the other room for an upcoming final, I thought about the breakfast that awaited me the next morning. Grandma would bring Jackson County to town in the form of crispy bacon, eggs over easy, hashbrowns, and biscuits dripping with honey. I couldn't fall asleep fast enough.
I was awakened a little more tired than normal and peered out the window at darkness a lot darker than the usual 6 AM. I smelled that WV breakfast I craved. I grabbed the phone on the kitchen wall and dialed the local number that gave us the correct time and temperature. "The time is 1130 PM," the recording said. I redialed, handed Grandma the phone, and slipped back toward my quilt and soft pillow. I turned to tell her that she could put the food in the fridge and that I would eat it in the morning. Grandma was already raking the plate's contents into the garbage. "I'll make you another breakfast in the morning," she snarled. "Go back to sleep!" She was mad at herself for misreading the alarm clock.
The young gunslinger strutted and oozed arrogance. Maybe this was because he'd never been beat. In fact, the bully had never even been challenged. His reputation preceded him. When he walked, man and beast got out of the way. No one dared cross his path. But he would go out of his way to confront you and was always looking for a fight. He was Robert Conrad daring you to knock the battery off his shoulder, a gunman with an itchy trigger finger.
He was the cock of the walk. Did as he pleased. He was viscous, cruel and downright mean. As a kid, I remember thinking that he was a little eccentric and even sharpened his spurs.
I saw Uncle Charlie back down once in my life. He grabbed a club, stuttered some profanities and was gonna go and kick the gunslinger's tail. But just as quickly, he calmed down. I don't think it was fear, for Charlie was fearless. I believe he was just concerned with what Grandma would say.
Everyone knew that Grandma had a special place in her heart for the young Gunslinger. Some ladies love outlaws, I guess. There was something about him that impressed Grandma, something that the rest of us just couldn't see. And there was something about Grandma that made the outlaw behave. But why wasn't Grandpa jealous and when would Grandpa finally do something about the situation?
Well, it happened sooner than I expected. Grandpa had seen enough. He walked toward the gunslinger with the confidence of James Arness on a dusty street in Dodge City. They met on the creek bank, 20 or 30 yards from the chicken house. The fight was quick. There was cussing, scratching, kicking and yelling. I'm told it was a little bloody and that the "feathers flew."
There was a new sheriff in town. The Gunslinger was dead. Grandma's rooster would no longer harass us on our way to the outhouse. The proof was in the dumplings we enjoyed that weekend.
Ya'll come when you can.