Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sacré nom!

A few follow up items.

- First, Jack can't go this weekend, but he says he remembers the mill dam incident "vividly" and we should be careful. He also wants you to know that the Chuck Box is surprisingly buoyant, at least for a little while. The only other things we found floating that day were a can of Pringles and one can of Busch beer. Both of which we split.

- Greg was headed north on I-24 this morning and left us a message. He was crossing the Red River on the way to Missouri and said it looked good. But with rain on the way tonight and tomorrow, there's no way to know for sure until we see it. You see, I come from a State that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to Show Me.

- Not including "The ROY in the Log" in the list of RRCC miracles was a major omission. Our apologies.

Wow, four miracles for one canoe club. That's pretty good.

- Since this is recession era canoeing, we are not in our usual active procurement mode. There have been no purchases of heavy (definitely non-buoyant) tools, equipment or musical instruments this fall. But we need to make one exception.

Because of the uncertainties about where we're going to paddle, we need to be prepared for some guerrilla river access and we need a machete. If anyone has one, let us know otherwise we'll get it at Friedman's.

We actually thought we might find one in Phil's warehouse last night. It's about the only interesting tool or contraption we didn't find. The place looks like a mad scientist's garage sale and we should have a post-trip meeting there sometime.

- And finally, don't let all that Frog talk in the menu fool you. We won't be using a French press for our camp cofee, we'll only order Freedom Fries at the Cunningham Diner, and the Pot Wrassler could probably put his boot all the way behind his head if he wanted to.

One of the all time great moments in Goodbye to a River....

Bill said the Jaycees in the city where we'd both grown up had been saddled with the entertainment of some foreign dignitary, and one of them, an official in a bank to which Bill owed money, or had owed it, had decided that it would kill time to show him a ranch.

"This one?" I said. It was not much to see at that time, a thousand acres or so and only partly cleared of cedar.

"Flat Top," Bill said. "But they don't know the Flat Top people and they don't know their way around this country, so I guess we're elected."

"You are."

"We are," Bill said.

"France," Davis Birdsong said, his tone less unconcerned than usual. "Hit's a big Frenchman."

He doesn't lack curiosity, and an hour and a half later when a seven-passenger Cadillac eased to a stop at Bill's gate on the highway, Davis was with us. The bank official was driving, a plump fellow I'd known as a boy. Call him Seagrove. . . . He introduced us to a little mustached Frenchman named Ratineau, seated beside him. A newspaper photographer in the back seat looked boredly away.

Ignored, Davis stuck a hardened hand through the window at the Frenchman. "Birdsong," he said. "D.M. Birdsong. How do."

M. Ratineau blinked and was again charmed.

"I was borned and raised around here," Davis said.

"Yes," the Frenchman said.

"He doesn't understand much English," Seagrove said irritably. "We better get moving."

We climbed into the back by the photographer and Davis took one of the jump seats. I saw Seagrove's eye flash coldly around at him, and saw too that Davis hadn't missed it.

Driving, Seagrove said with wide gestures, gravely: "Ranch country. Much cow, sheep, goat."

M. Ratineau nodded politely and gazed out.

Davis snorted. "What kind of movie-Indian talkin' is that?" he said.

"Please?" the Frenchman said, turning.

Seagrove said: "I told you, he doesn't understand."

"What is he, anyhow?" Bill asked.

"Well," Seagrove said. "Secretary of something or the other. Treasury, I think."

"Commerce," the photographer said.

"I think Treasury," Seagrove repeated.

I tried out a stumbling, polite remark in French to the Secretary, and he spouted back happily. I had to ask him to slow down. He said he had a hard time understanding Texas English, and began telling me, too fast, about some unjust experience in a hotel. . . .

"Pretty talk," Davis said, listening. "But damn if it don't look stupid, comin' here without knowin' no English."

"That's a hell of a thing to say right in front of the man," Bill said.

"He can't understand," Davis said. "Fatso there done said so."

The photographer snorted. Seagrove's thick neck was pink. The Secretary asked if I was familiar with the combination of the little peas with the carrots, at luncheons.

Was I not.

"Sacré nom!"

Where it seemed I should, I murmured.

But at the big ranch, a show place used to celebrities, a foreman took over and drove Seagrove and the Secretary and the photographer around the pastures while Davis and I and Bill waited at the auction barns. When they got back, the little Frenchman had his picture taken aboard a palomino stallion with someone else's big Stetson down around his ears, and taken again holding a rope attached to the halter of a prize bull.

Then we left. It was hot in the car and no one spoke for a time, until the Secretary said to me: "One prefers vineyards. Listen. That bull. Thirty-five thousand dollars?"


"What folly!" he said.

Davis tapped his shoulder. The Secretary looked around. Davis said: "Like I told you, I was raised right here in these cedar hills. Now looky here what I can do."

Reaching down, he grabbed his right boot heel and then, with a quick thrust upward, placed his leg around his neck. "By God!" he said. "Looky here."

The wonder in the Frenchman's face became a smile, and then abruptly he let out a squeal of such genuine laughter that it made Seagrove in the driver's seat leap.

"You look too, Fatso," Davis said levelly from beneath his own knee.

Seagrove glanced around briefly, the heavy flesh about his mouth twitching with fury. But the photographer was laughing, and so was I, and M. Ratineau was wiping away tears while he sobbed to himself: "Ah, the droll! Ah, the marvelous peasant!"

And later, as the three of us stood by Bill's gate watching the Cadillac vanish ahead of an irate wedge of white dust from the road shoulder, Davis said: "That Secretary of France, he was all right. Wait till I tell 'em in Glen Rose."

"How would you know what he was like?" Bill said, pausing with the gate half opened.

"I could tell," Davis said. "But that Fatso . . ."


"I got his goat," Davis said. "I guess I showed that jessie."

We passed through and Bill latched the gate behind us, grinning a little off center.

"Dog gone you," he said. "I guess you did."

Goodbye to a River, pp. 276-79.

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