Fighting Couple: The Last Laugh

The antagonism between this fighting couple is so intense they resent each other's senses.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
July/August 1981

Three days in the hoosegow was all one fighting couple needed to settle their differences.
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF


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Down a Dirt Road

Hello to my new life and good-by to the old.

"Fill what's empty, empty what's full, 'n' scratch where it itches."—Southern Saying   

Well sir, them hot, parched days of summer is here agin ... and, as you kin imagine, people's temp'ryment tends to git a little on the techy side with the weather bein' so all-fired disagreeable. So it come as no surprise thet—after 33 consecutive days of three-digit heat, with nary a cloud on the horizon—August and Olive Carmichael (fighting couple what cain't hardly keep the peace under the best of conditions) got tangled up in another one of their long-term altercations. Some folks say the feud busted out 'cause Olive got irritated at the faint crinklin' noise August's tobacco pouch makes when he stuffs his pipe. Others claim August were set off by the way Olive fergot to shet the screen door when she run out to shoo the hogs outa the garden. But howev'r the fracas started, Mister and Miz Carmichael hopped on each other faster'n debts on paychecks.

'Twern't long afore they was launchin' plates, tools, flour sacks, an' house pets at each other. It were hot, though, an' after a mere eight hours of wranglin', August an' Olive both had to set down an' admit thet—considerin' the weather—they'd best not waste what little energy they had.

So followin' a fair passel of negotiatin' (what threatened to bust out inta open warfare on enny number of occasions), they decided to keep livin' in the same house. They did, howev'r, also swear to quit talkin' to each other ... never to use a blessed thing t'other laid a hand on ... an' even to pick vegetables outa diff'rent sides of the garden. An' bearin' in mind the previous state of their affairs, most folks in the Crossin' figgered thet the silent co-separation they'd worked out were a downright passable livin' arrangement.

Truth is, the only trouble of the whole thing, from August's point of view at enny rate, were thet he didn't know snail spit about fixin' vittles ... whilst Olive were a renowned, lipsmackin', blue-ribbon-winnin', all-fired artist in the kitchen. An' realizin' her advantage, Miz Carmichael made a daily point of bellyin' up to such homemade delicacies as barbycued ribs glistenin' with honey glaze an' hot biscuits topped with pear jelly—not to mention steamin', cream-smothered, fresh peach cobbler—whilst Mister Carmichael, day in an' day out, would have to wolf down yet another dishful of reheated grits, burnt cornbread, an' overboiled greens.

Howev'r, August, who's been knowed to show a clever streak ev'r once't in a while, soon took to rustlin' up his meager fixin's afore Olive set to cookin'. Thet way, he could eat his dinners whilst inhalin' the aroma of her culinary masterpieces ... an' let his nose fool his stomach into almost enjoyin' its meal!

Well, thet form of olfact'ry freeloadin' eventually got to be too much for Olive. "August T. Carmichael," she hollered one night (thereby breakin' a month-long silence between 'em), 'you stop smellin' at my cookin' right this instant!

"In reply, August up an' took a deep whiff of the skillet-fried frog legs sizzlin' on the burner and the fresh cranberry muffins what was doin' their best to make the whole world smell like bakin' day. Then he smiled, stuffed another forkful of gummy grits down his gullet, and said, "Them fragrances, Olivia Branch Carmichael, is free."

"Not around here, they ain't! I'm a-chargin' you—right now—fer smellin' 30 days' worth of home cookin' ... at the price of ten silver dollars a month!

"August broke into laughter. "Well, hee-yuck, I ain't a-payin'. What're you gonna do ... take me to court?"

"I most certainly am," she huffed. "And I'll win, too!

"Sure 'nough, the next day Miz Carmichael put on her nicestlookin' dress (along with a dab of vanilla behind each ear) an' headed off to Lick Skillet to call on the county judge. Ol' August, meanwhile, strolled down to Plumtree Crossin' to tell the fellers at the Gen'ral Store all about his wife's proposed sniffin' fees. As you kin imagine, them boys was still laughin' at Olive's behavior when—midway through the afternoon—thet same Miz Carmichael drove up to the store an', with a barely contained gleam of vict'ry in her eye, handed August a long sheet of paper.

It were a summons ... on real live Barren County Courthouse stationery! An' at the bottom an extry hand-scrawled note said, "The accused is hereby required to bring ten silver dollars to his hearing on August 15." It was signed "Judge Leonius Higginbottom."

Well, you better believe the entire community of Plumtree Crossin' turned out for thet event. On the appointed date the Lick Skillet courthouse were thick as a may apple patch with curious onlookers ... all of 'em eager to see jist which Carmichael would git his—or possibly her —comeuppance.

'Twern't long afore Judge Higginbottom strode in, sheshed the gossipin' crowd, and solemnly intoned, "In the int'rest of gettin' ev'ryone outa this broilin' courtroom, I aim to deal with this here matter as quick as possible. Olive Carmichael, state yer case!"

Well, thet woman jist went on an' on about the dishes she'd labor so hard to prepare—the slow-basted roast pork, the scrumptious sweet pertater pone, an' the toothsome pecan puff balls—while her worthless husband would, for free, partake of the aroma. By the time she finished describin' the tantalizin' qualities of her special fried cheese hominy... spiked "Cool o' the Evenin' " fruit punch ... magic buttermilk dinner rolls ... "Pearly Gates" lemon pie ... an' sour cream ginger cake (drenched in sweet sherry sauce), the whole assemblage was lickin' its collective chops an' hollerin' fer more!

Judge Higginbottom rapped his gavel to restore order, an' then he turned to August. "Are this woman's words true? Have you nev'r paid yer wife fer smellin' her obviously fine home cookin' ?

"Uh ... well, yer honor ... I reckon not," August replied meekly.

"Then take ten silver dollars out from yer pocket," the judge commanded.

August did. (Olive, meanwhile, was smilin' so wide thet the seams of her mouth was fixin' to rip.)

"Now sir," Judge Higginbottom ordered, "bring them coins up here an' drop 'em on the bench."

August were more than a bit displeased by the order, but he went ahead an' obeyed it ... th'owin' the dollars down with a good clang, jist fer effect.
Then the judge said, "Tell me, Miz Carmichael, don't the janglin' of ten silver coins make a pleasin' sound?"

"Yes sir, yer honor, most certainly they do!" Olive cried eagerly.

"Well then," the judge declared, "here's my verdict. Yer husband has savored the smell of yer home-cooked food ... an' now you, in turn, have enjoyed the sound of his silver money. Pocket yer coins, Mister Carmichael. This case is dismissed!

"With thet, the whole courtroom busted out in laughter ... whilst Olive launched right into a no-holds-barred-devil-take-the-leavin's frontal assault on her husband. August, o'course, were more'n ready to respond with a fit of clawin' and bitin' of his own. Howev'r, seein' as how the Carmichaels had picked a public house of law to resume the more active form of their month-long dispute, Judge Higginbottom sentenced the pair to jail fer 30 days ... or until they kissed an' made up.

Well sir, there ain't nothin' nostril-ticklin' about the aroma of the vittles they dish out in the Lick Skillet hoosegow ... an' it weren't long afore the quarrelsome Carmichaels decided they hated that gruel worse'n they did each other! A mere three days of confinement had gone by when August an' Olive elected to patch up their diff'rences an' were out in the street agin ... billin' an' cooin' sweeter'n teenaged lovebirds out behind the school gym.

An' so—although the season's heat'll likely be with us a good while longer—Barren County has at least weathered another Carmichael feud!

"In a letter to a friend the thought is often unimportant, and the feeling, if it be only a desire to entertain him, everything."—Sir Walter Raleigh 


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