TWO-BEER JOHNSON

We were sitting around the locker room waiting for the storm to abate before we went out to the first tee. “Listen to that wind,” Paul said. “On some holes, depending on the direction, I could break my personal drive record.”

“Must be forty, fifty miles an hour, Joe said. “It’s not safe out there.”

“This is nothin’, not much more’n a stiff breeze,” Billy scoffed. Billy Johnson was from somewhere out west, a colorful character. We called him “Two Beer Johnson” because after two Budweisers he became quite loquacious, a talented tale-teller. We leaned forward on the benches in anticipation. “I guess you’ve had some big windstorms out on the prairie, Billy, ” I said, prodding him on. We’d each had a couple of brews and I hoped Billy’s imagination had been ignited.

“Wasn’t on the prairie,” Billy began.”It was in Muddy Creek where I spent some time working for my Uncle Silas, the postmaster. There was a scarcity of mail movin’ through Muddy Creek and we had a lot of leisure time.

“Uncle Silas was a talented man. He could have been a master plumber, but we had no plumbing in Muddy Creek back then so he was a master mechanic. The post office was in the front part of his shop and he was usually in back tinkerin’ on somethin’ or other.

“One day he came out carryin’ a big black umbrella. ‘I’ve done it this time, Billy,’ he said. ‘This will make my fortune!’

“You’re gonna sell umbrellas, Uncle Silas?”.

“Not ordinary umbrellas, Billy, ” says he. “They’ll be guaranteed windproof. Folks have been bringin’ me mangled umbrellas to fix and they’re usually hopeless cases. Not with this’n. Light as a feather and strong as an ox. Can’t wait for the next big storm to test her out.’

“He didn’t have to wait long. Two weeks later we got a warning on the radio to be ready to lay low and turn all livestock loose on high sheltered ground. A drecho was headin’ our way. Drecho means ‘straight’ in Spanish.It ain’t like tornados that twist and turn. A drecho will race straight through a town at over a hundred miles an hour, raisin’ hell with anything that’s not solidly bolted down. Uncle Silas was delighted and refused to climb down into the root cellar with me. Said he was gonna take Black Beauty out for a test run.

“Sittin’ in the pitch black cellar I fretted for Uncle Silas. I could hear the boards being torn loose from the shop. The wind’s screechin’ sounded like cranky old witches.

“I climbed up later to what you’d call an air-conditioned shop and saw Main Street littered with battered store signs, shutters, screen doors and the like. I heard later there wasn’t a privy left standin’ in town. Luckily they’d all been unoccupied when the drecho hit.

“Luke Travis, our constable, was formin’ a search party. Turned out nobody was found to be hurt bad, not even the cat that was howlin’ on the general store roof, but there was no trace of Uncle Silas except for a size 13 boot that I recognized lyin’ in a gully at the edge of town, the downwind edge.

“Before our search party could move out, Uncle Silas came limpin’ down the road. He wasn’t hurt. He was limpin’ because he was wearin’ only one boot ‘It worked!.’ he shouted, ‘Worked just fine! I left it atop that cottonwood tree as good as new, not one bent spoke and we were in the air for more’n five minutes before we lighted on that top branch.’

“I askd him why he didn’t let go of Black Beauty ‘stead of goin’ airborne and riskin’ his life. ‘Let go of my prototype? Never! It’ll make my fortune!’ he shouted.

“So, Billy,” I said. “Did your uncle get rich from his invention?”

“Yes indeed. He sold the patent rights to a big Denver outfit, got royalties and kept control of brand names. If you fellas ever seen one of those Mary Poppins movies, it wasn’t all special effects. That lady was travelin’ under a Silas Flyer.” (In vino veritas? Probably not, but who cares?)

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