He lived with his father, though he was sixty himself.
He worked at what he could do, which was enough;
bucking hay, sweeping, shoveling, stacking.
You wouldn’t let him drive a truck; he couldn’t
get a license. You wouldn’t even trust him on
a forklift. Let the town boys do it; maybe you’d
catch them cutting cat’s asses someday, but they
drove back and forth to work every day, they
at least knew the brake from the accelerator.
George didn’t, and it was too late for him to learn.
If he went off a loading dock, you’d have a
mess on your hands, and what would his old man do?
George’d go places the town boys wouldn’t go, though;
up a mountain of seed that the auger was piling high.
He’d take his shovel with him, knock the top off,
then come running down like a—like the fool he was.
“Got to move that thing else that seed’s gonna
come pourin’ in the front office.” He was like that,
everything he did had some great justification. He’d
go down in the pit where them boys wouldn’t when
wet wheat would clump up. He’d shovel, all ass and
elbows, ‘til the thing was clear. The smell down there
didn’t bother him. By the time the boys got their kerchiefs
tied on their faces, he’d be done–just like they planned it.
They used to tease him, them boys, playin’ him for a fool.
There’s no denying that’s what he was. He couldn’t count
the bags of grain on a boxcar except by hand—he didn’t know his
times tables, couldn’t multiply. They’d laugh at the old-fashioned
words he used like “chivaree” and “sparkin’,” but I notice
once he’d introduced them to an expression, they kept it.
At first they’d use it kidding around, but after a while it
would take a place in their wits and on their tongues.
One day I found the college boy with a pad of paper
and a pencil, leaning against a fence while we watched the
winch on the tow truck pull the truck out of the mud
at the bottom of the pasture. “What are ya writin’?”
I asked him. “Just takin’ down a few of George’s
expressions,” he said. “Like what?” I asked.
“See those clouds coming towards the ground?”
he asked. I looked, and there were clumps of vapor
headed down, as if we had ascended, and not
they descended unearthly upon us.
“George said it was ‘lowering’—I believe that usage
is correct, even if he doesn’t know it. I’m going
to check my dictionary when I get home tonight.”
“Even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then,”
the boss said. He was angry because he had to pay
the man with the truck, plus us, for a lost morning.
The clouds passed across the field, as if we were on
top of a mountain, instead of standing between windrows
three feet high.
From the forthcoming “Town Folk & Country People.”