Posts Tagged ‘Porter County Wilderness’

How Old Elbert Got Born

June 13, 2018

 

Old Elbert was born on his parents’ farm in a hilly part of Indiana called The Porter County Wilderness. The way it happened marked him for life.

Back when Elbert was born, the farms in The Wilderness didn’t have phone service. That meant Elbert’s dad had to go for the doctor in person. Carl’s Ford wouldn’t start so he drove a Waterloo Boy tractor with steel wheels through a snowstorm until he reached Lester Goode’s farmhouse. The Goodes lived on the edge of The Wilderness. And they had the last phone on the line from town.

Telephone poles hadn’t made it that far yet. The wire was just stapled to the trees. Sometimes the phone worked. As luck would have it, it didn’t matter. Doc Yeager was already there drinking George Dickel and playing Texas hold ’em with the township trustees.

The doctor was smiling over his winnings when he looked up and through the kitchen to see Carl coming in from the mudroom on the other side.

“Bullshit!” he said, “At least cows have a calving season.”

“You’re a doctor,” Lester Goode reminded him. “You gotta go.”

The doctor scowled and went to put on his great coat in the mudroom.

“If she’s dropping twins, Carl, it will be twice the price.”

One of the trustees smiled to the rest as Doc Yeager’s coat passed by outside the window. “Guess his luck ran out, boys, but, you know, I’m feeling that much luckier.”

The men went to the window and watched Doc Yeager drive off in his Studebaker, with Carl putt-putting behind through the snow.

They all sat back down and poured a round. “Your deal, Lester. Nice to have more room at the table.”

When Doc Yeager got to Carl’s farm, he pulled his bag out from behind the seat and discovered he didn’t have any forceps with him to pull Elbert out. Then he remembered leaving them in the kitchen after he’d pulled a baked potato out of the oven.

“More bother,” he grumbled. Carl hadn’t made it home yet on the Waterloo Boy, so Doc went out to Carl’s shed and helped himself to a posthole digger. It seemed a good bet. “If it can grab a slug of dirt and pull it out,” Doc reasoned, “it should work for Carl and Agnes’s baby.”

By the time Carl got home, Doc Yeager had the post hole digger warming up by the stove.

“You gonna pull my baby out with that!?” Carl asked.

“Either that or we can tie a rope to it and pull it out with the tractor.”

Agnes wasn’t pleased. Neither was Elbert, I guess, because he sure didn’t want to come out. But Doc Yeager stuck to his plan and grabbed Elbert’s head with the post hole digger. Doc was a snapping turtle once he latched onto a baby’s head. You could have shot the doc dead and his hands would still have held on, pulling.

Now Agnes’ brother had been a sailor on the Great Lakes and she screamed every oath she’d ever heard him use. Carl cussed out the doctor for forgetting his forceps and the high price of his fee. And the doctor cussed baby Elbert for his stubborn stupidity. After the baby was born they painted his room purple ’cause that was the color of the language he heard when he came out.

By the time Doc won his tug of war, Elbert’s head was shaped like a post. That was a hard way to get born, but it did make him the most interesting-looking kid in the county. Elbert was an only child. Agnes never wanted another. Carl was pissed off, too. Doc had bent the blades on his digger. He took the cost of a replacement out of the doctor’s fee.

Elbert’s thinking never seemed right. People looked at Elbert’s head, listened to him talk, and walked off muttering “dumb as a post.” Once he got a wrong idea into his head, you couldn’t bust it out with a jackhammer.

Elbert bought the 1948 edition of the Chicago Tribune that mistakenly announced Thomas Dewey’s win over Harry Truman. And he kept it. Throughout the rest of the Truman years, he insisted at some point during every conversation he had that Dewey was our real president and Truman was just a pretender. He kept on about it until Eisenhower was elected in 1952. Elbert liked Ike. The rest of county liked not hearing about Dewey.

People never blamed Doc Yeager for Elbert’s thinking. Not when they looked at the rest of Elbert’s family. Elbert’s lineage was like a line of poplar posts going back into prehistory. Not a good white oak post in the lot. Like my dad used to say, “A punky post may break left or it may break right, but it never stands plumb.”

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer

 

Mike's Family Home in "The Wilderness." Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Mike’s Family Home in “The Wilderness” in Autumn. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

 

Back View in Winter. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Back View in Winter. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.