from September 1, 2004
Being the great-grandson of the most notorious beg-off artist in Panhandle County was never a piece of cake.
Though it eventually reaped advantages, as I shall relate in my later columns in these Memoirs, my first years were a time of persecution. Naturally, the panhandlers, who made up a sizeable percentage of panhandle country, did not take kindly to having their schemes so cleverly countered by the techniques and advice that my forebears were selling to the panhandlees, a word that my spellcheck does not recognize as legitimate, though my astute readers will immediately understand its meaning.
That was a long sentence. Bear in mind, however, that I have a poetic license.
But back to the subject of early persecution.
This took many forms. Perhaps the most common one was outhouse-tipping, a sport that was once considered for inclusion in the Olympics but rejected on the grounds that it was (1) an exclusively American phenomenon and (2) was practiced in the middle of the night.
(I must explain to my younger readers that in my time, shacks were not equipped with indoor plumbing. When nature called, as nature likes to do, we old-timers exited the shack and hastily proceeded to an adjacent small building about the size of a large doghouse. This analogy breaks down, however, when one recalls the purposes of the two edifices. Briefly put, I have yet to see a doghouse built over a large hole into which one makes a periodic deposit I shall refrain from identifying. Suffice it to say that the word “hastily,” which I inserted into a preceding sentence, was put there for more than one reason. The astute reader will recall the phrase, “haste makes waste.” As the Good Book says, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
(Note. Nature will occasionally call at 2 a.m. This is no problem, provided one has a lantern at the ready. It is a problem, however, on a cold winter night. This explains the origin of the bedpan, a device that is still used even in your better hospitals.)
Many were the times during my apprenticeship in my family’s art of begging off that I awoke of a morning to be informed by my father, Orville Slack III, that our outhouse had been tipped on its side and thus removed from its foul-smelling basement foundation. Implicit in this information was the request, disguised as a suggestion, that I “get my ass” out there to place the edifice on its intended base.
Later, of course, I recognized that my father’s request, far from being a form of persecution, was merely a test in my long apprenticeship. He was baiting me into thinking constructively about the problem of begging off from this unpleasant task.
This I did. If memory serves, I learned to reply that his request, if followed, would cause more trouble than it was worth. My reasoning was that the appointed task was beginning to cause me to heave my latest meal onto the outhouse, making it even more difficult to complete the task to be accomplished. In fact, I went the extra mile and showed him the results of my attempts to right the wrong.
He responded, not as an average American father would, by applying a leather strap to my backside, but by extending his right hand in congratulation. Though I had left the task undone, I had passed a difficult test and was well on my way to success in my chosen hobby.
It was at this point in our family history, I believe, that Papa developed the habit of sleeping in his rocking chair, which was set in front of the window that looked out on the edifice in question, his lap playing host to a 12-gauge shotgun.