Well the big news in France and England this past summer and fall has centered around the drought that those countries have been suffering. Somehow that subject worked its way into the conversation t'other night over at the Plumtree Crossin' General Store. And, as you might have expected, the fellers with their feet up on the potbellied stove all immediately figured that they'd seen drier times themselves.
"Why I recollect the year—what was it? '54, '55?—when it didn't rain right here in this county from February 23rd clean through to September 5th," said one of the Jarvis boys. "You know, it got so dry that summer that the cracks in my cornfield was six inches across. Matter of fact, I dropped a 20-foot log chain down one of those cracks one evening jest as I was driving the tractor out of the field . . . but it was almost dark so I thought I'd come back in the morning and fetch the blamed thing. And you know somethin'? Danged if I could find that chain the next day . . . but I could still hear it fallin'. "
"That's dry, all right," piped up Cleedy McCannon. "But it ain't nothin' to compare to a little place I visited once out in New Mexico. I knowed right off that the folks out there had never seen water when I saw one of the hands on a construction job faint from the heat . . . and the foreman revive him by throwin' a bucket of dust in his face.
"Well sir, I walked right up to that foreman and I said, `Mister, don't it ever rain around here?' And he thought a minute about that and he said, `You look like a church-goin' man. Do you recall the story of Noah and the ark and how it rained 40 days and 40 nights?' And I said, `Yes.' And he said, `Well, we got a half-inch that time.'
" There didn't seem to be nobody in the store fool enough to try to top that one, so old Newt Blanchard just sorta cleared his throat over in the corner and more or less started talkin' to himself.
"Now I ain't never seen nothin' like that, but I have seen the wind blow. By note and by ear, you might say. I homesteaded out on the Plains, you'll remember, back when I was young and limber . . . and I've seen blue northers and summer cyclones enough to satisfy me. I've seen the wind blow all the topsoil off 20 sections of land one day and then come back the next and pick up the rocks it'd left layin' around. Once we even had to move from Kansas to Oklahoma . . . just so's we could keep payin' taxes on the same piece of property.
"Well now. I thought that was a purty good wind, until I happened to notice that one of my new neighbors had a 40-foot log chain hangin' from the top of an oil derrick-they've got a lot of oil rigs in Oklahoma, you know-that stood outside his back door. `What's the meaning of that chain?' I asked him. `That's my wind indicator,' he says. `When the chain hangs straight down, the wind is calm. When it begins to sway a little, there's a breeze comin' up. When it stands out at a 45-degree angle, I begin thinkin' about nailin' the cows down. And when that chain stands out straight and links start comin' off, I suspect that we might be in for a serious blow.'
"Well sir, we used to see those `serious blows' about once a week as I recollect. One of 'em picked up a Queen Atlantic cast-iron cookstove and carried it eighty miles away . . . then that same wind came back for the stovepipe and lids. Another one of those prairie breezes tossed gravestones around like a terrier shakin' rats and ripped water pipes out of the ground. Still another blowed so hard one day that, I swear, the sun stood still in the sky and was three hours late goin' down.
"Course that was just your ordinary gales. And they was nothin' compared to the real he-winds that used to come up 'bout once a season. The first one of those I ever saw blowed inta town just as a state senator was finishin' up a Fourth of July speech in the city park. Well sir, that wind caught him square in the mouth and turned him completely wrongside-out. Then it picked up the audience and smacked 'em flat against the brick wall of the municipal building. There they were, spread out thinner than sheets of paper and no way to get down.
"You'd a thought that a catastrophe of that magnitude woulda been enough to satisfy any cyclone. But it warn't. Believe it or not, before that wind left town it sucked 17 of those Oklahoma oil wells right out of the ground . . . and then it took a swipe at the owner of a little general store that I never woulda believed if I hadn't seen it. This feller had hung a sack of flour up on his porch as an advertisement and danged if that whirlwind didn't blow the sack away and leave the flour hangin' there!"
By this time, as you've probably guessed, everybody in the room was listening to ole Newt. But he wasn't payin' no mind to no one. He just went right on talking for his own amusement.
"Of course there's always a silver cloud to every linin'. That politician made about as much sense wrongside-out as he had rightway—to and, as far as I know, his career wasn't hurt in the least. The city fathers went out the next day with hoes, scraped a wagonload of citizens down off the wall, shipped 'em to Texas, and sold 'em for circus posters. One businessman bought up all the oil wells that'd been sucked outta the ground, sawed 'em into three-foot lengths, and made a fortune sellin' 'em as fencepost holes. Even the storekeeper came outta the fiasco aheada the game. He just left that flour hangin' there in midair as a tourist attraction. Doubled his business too, for three or four years . . . until someone stold it one night and made off with the last remaining trace of the meanest wind that—man and boy—I ever witnessed."
"Ya know, Newt"—it was the Jarvis boy again—"I was in Oklahoma once and I believe every word you jest said. And the reason I believe it is because you jest reminded me of how they usta weigh hogs out there."
"Well, first, they'd get a long board and they'd lay it over a hitchin' rail and they'd run the hog down and they'd rassle that pig over to the board and they'd tie it to the plank. And then they'd search all around until they found a big rock that'd just balance the hog and they'd put that boulder on the other end of the board."
"Yeah . . . and then they'd guess the weight of the rock."
It was along about then that the Plumtree Crossin' Truth and Veracity League (distaff division) broke up their mid-week quiltin' party in the back room, retrieved their respective husbands from around the stove, and marched 'em on home. "Them lies had gotten so thick out front that they was startin' to squeeze their way under the door and fill up the back room too," explained Sadie McCannon. "We figured we'd better get the boys on home just to protect 'em from themselves . . . and we've made a solemn pact not to let 'em get back together again until the drought is broken in France."