My husband’s favorite aunt was his mother’s oldest sister, Arrah. This aunt was married to Fred Culver, affectionately known as “Freddy-Boy.” Unable to have children of their own, all the nieces and nephews became like grandchildren to them.
Freddy-Boy was a great story teller. The kids would gather around him to hear his tales about life in the early 1900’s. He told of growing up on the farm near the ‘big river’ in North Louisiana. This particular story was my husband’s favorite…
Freddy Boy remembered well the day his family got electricity as well as the day they got their first wall-mounted, hand cranked telephone. These two modern conveniences were a marvel to him, he said. In fact, he was so intrigued that he began to study anything he could find that explained their miraculous workings. As a young teenager, he had learned enough to fool around with certain wires and batteries and such that electricity became his hobby.
There were several farms built along the river. Most were individually owned like the Culver’s but others were tenant farmers of one of the larger land owners. The fields near the river were rich in soil content and perfect for growing cotton and other crops.
Late one afternoon, they noticed a young man crossing the back of their field. He didn’t seem to have any mischief in mind and they thought nothing of it until he began crossing on a regular basis nearer and nearer the house and its outbuildings. On occasion, he was noticed drawing a drink of water. Mrs. Culver admonished, “Don’t say nothin’ to him, he’s just thirsty after a day of pickin’ on somebody’s land further down.”
After awhile, they noted something else to be a regular thing. Mrs. Culver would say to the household, “If you need to go to the privy, you better go now ‘cause that boy will be stopping by directly!” Yes Siree…he was now making their outhouse one of his daily stops.
As I said, Freddy Boy did like to mess around with his new electrical knowledge. As time went on, he devised some crude experiments, some of which actually worked. Thus, the situation with the privy-invader provided him with the perfect opportunity to try a more sophisticated experiment. He embedded two metal strips, one on either side of the outhouse seat. To the metal, he attached two long wires. These were threaded under the door and led up to the house, across the back porch, up the wall by the door where he connected them to the hand cranked telephone generator. Depending on how fast he cranked, he figured it would generate 90-105 volts–enough to titillate anyone’s jaded senses, for sure! From that spot he had a perfect view of the outhouse. He had a new toy and could hardly wait until the following afternoon to try it out.
The afternoon wore on and the trespasser never showed up. Freddy Boy’s feathers fell.
Just about supper time, a noise was heard out front. From the parlor window, Freddy Boy saw an automobile turning into their side yard and watched the traveling salesman step out with his bag of samples.
“Mama,” he called, “it’s that drummer !”
“Lordy mercy!” she exclaimed, “I’ve told that man agin’ and agin’ I don’t need any material, patterns, rick rack or thread. That man aggravates me to death, and ‘course it never fails that he shows up right at mealtime. Go let him in and, Sister, put another plate on the table.”
“Yeah, last time he come he forked the gizzard and liver I’d had my eye on since the platter started around,” older brother complained.. Wiping her hands on her apron, Mama went to the parlor.
“A very good evenin’ to you, Mrs. Culver, I just couldn’t head back without droppin’ in on YOU because I’ve got new piece goods in my … Mmmm….is that supper I smell? Why, I didn’t realize it’s got so late.”
“I don’t need any piece goods, but you’re welcome to sit down with us if…”
“Oh, I couldn’t impose, “ he smiled, already heading for the kitchen.
After he’d eaten two helpings, he scraped back his chair, rubbed his full belly and said, “Thankee! Thankee! That good stew just hit the spot! But I must be getting along.”
Seated beside him, Freddy Boy leaned over and discreetly offered, “It’s a long trip to Monroe, would you..uh…er..like to stop by our privy on the way to your car?”
“Why, yes, I would.” he said, picking up his sample case. And Freddy Boy accompanied him to the back door next to the phone. Mrs. Culver commented,
“Why, Fred, that was mighty nice of you! I guess I’ve learned you some manners, after all.” Freddy-Boy remained by the door and phone (a devilish smile of gleeful anticipation on his face) as he watched the man lumber down the path. The privy door opened and closed and Freddy Boy forced himself to wait a few minutes before he began cranking the phone.
“Boy, who’re you calling this late in the day?” Papa Culver asked.
Smiling broader now, eyes glued to the privy, Freddy Boy smirked, “The drummer.”
Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author residing in Hot Springs Village. She welcomes your comments and answers each one at firstname.lastname@example.org