By Emil Schmit
Advancing years can produce unexpected problems. Without warning, our powers of memory can suddenly weaken. Occasionally we will see faces we should be able to recognize … but can’t. And we see people we know well, but can’t remember their names. And, now and then, an old memory will return.
Something that we thought we had forgotten long ago…
“Rusty” was a “farmer boy” who lived nearby our home. He was about a half-dozen years older than I, but in our younger days we often talked and “compared notes.” I especially remember a tale he told about his high school days. He attended high school in a nearby river town. He and some of his friends had developed the habit of smoking pipes at an early age. Smoking was forbidden in the school, and carrying tobacco in any form was strictly frowned on, but their pipes usually accompanied them wherever they went.
The boys soon learned that they were welcome guests at the home of an old fellow named Jake who lived in a small fisherman’s shack down by the Big River. They would often visit him during their noon hour. He always welcomed them and when they took out their pipes he would get out his tobacco and they would all “fill up and light up.”
Jake would tell them of his past, earning a living by commercial fishing, trapping, and hunting ginseng. Along the way, he acquired a team of work horses, a wagon, and a bobsled. A neighbor allowed him to use an old empty barn nearby, and Jake soon began to be relied on for emergency transportation. If someone ran out of firewood in the winter, Jake was the person to call. If a snowstorm came up suddenly in the winter, it was not unheard of that someone had stayed in one of the local taverns too long, and the word got out that the road to his farm was drifted shut. Jake was often called to haul that fellow home so that the guy could milk his cows in the morning. Often Jake had to go back out to pick the fellow up in the morning so he could get into town to pick up his car or truck. For such calls as this, he was often paid in milk or eggs or in home-made wine.
Jake would tell the boys of times when a doctor was called to make an emergency call to a farm, and if the road was too bad, he was often called to haul the doc to the farm in his bobsled. He also told them of a number of such emergency trips across the Big River on the ice. Local doctors and several from nearby towns trusted Jake’s knowledge of the river to get them across. His fishing and trapping experience taught him where to expect to find the thickest and safest ice.
Once, Rusty smiled when he told us of one of their visits with Jake. When they entered his little old house they noticed some tobacco scattered out on his usually crowded kitchen table. Jake told them to go ahead and to fill their pipes. Rusty went on to say, “We hadn’t much more than lit our pipes and started to puff on them than my eyes began to burn. I looked around and everyone’s eyes were watering. We all had tears running down our cheeks.”
“It didn’t take long for my buddy Ralph to catch on. He questioned Jake as to why the tobacco was scattered on his table.”
“Well,” Jake replied, “You guys know that I always buy my Plow Boy tobacco in those twelve ounce tin cans. I always keep mine there under my bed. I also keep an empty can just for emergencies. Well, last night was one of those emergencies … but I grabbed the wrong can … and got my tobacco kind of wet. I thought it would be dried out by now, but it appears I am going to have more troubles with it than that. I’ll tell you fellows. By noon tomorrow I’ll have a new can. You guys come back and I’ll have another story to share with you. Once I drove a doctor across the ice to an emergency across the Big River. He examined the patient and then asked me to go out to the sled and bring in a hammer from my tool box.”
Rusty grinned again, saying, “Naturally, we went back. I’m not sure, but maybe our noon hours with Jake were as educational as were some of our high school classes.”
Emil Schmit is the 88 year old father of Pam Buttikofer, one of the owners of Imperfect Women. Emil continues to write although age and health issues have slowed him down a bit. He is a is a self-trained poet, free-lance writer, public speaker, and journalist. His weekly column, “Rhyme and Reason,” appeared for over twenty years in the Dubuque, Iowa daily newspaper, the Telegraph Herald. You can read more of Emil’s Bio here. The typewriter pictured on the bio page is one that he sat at for over 50 years creating many of his “rhymes and reasons.”