Ancestors, Legends & Time

George and Uncle Cliff – A froggin' they will go

Jeanne Newby

Another story from Dave Allen’s Look Over Lodge adventures

Unbeknownst to us, Uncle Cliff and George Hatcher “either by mistake or design” had appropriated the “Dave & Tom” for their “Froggin’ Foray” instead of Ole Ruth. Their decision to do so was of course as they say in TV talk: “due to circumstances beyond their control.” That phrase appeared often on our 1951 Zenith. Momma figured it out for us using her make up mirror. Back to the story…Look Over Lodge’s large sleep’n porch, had a cool breeze and the sandman soon had us all to sleep in the Land of Nod.

Somewhere in my dream, Milton Berle, Dave Garaway, and J. Fred Muggs were hopelessly lost in a Carnival House of Mirrors sideshow. All of this inside Herr’s Department store in Springfield.

Bells began to ring and they got louder and louder. Wait…It wasn’t part of the dream. The bells became intense, waking us all. It was the trout-line alarm. We must have caught a whale! “Dave,Tom, put on your shoes, its four o’clock, I need your help fast,” shouted Poppa. “I think we’ve caught the granddaddy of all catfish.”

Sleepily, we rubbed our eyes and obeyed while Poppa pulled on his boots with visions of being written up in the Missouri Conservation magazine in his head. He was giddy with anticipation of being a record holder. The bells were ringing violently, like a 5-alarm fire. We were all wide awake and excited, even Momma! The clang, clang continued now accompanied by loud shouts…coming from the river. “There he is.” “There he is.” “Get him, get him, don’t let him get away…gig him.” “I did! I did! He’s got two gigs in him already.”

The night wind was now thick with clanging, now layered with shouts and cussing. “Someone’s trying to steal my ##bgrk fish! Hurry, boys hurry!” Poppa shouted, as he reached for the flood light switch. Great billows of sound erupted from the river; rolled up the bluff and echoed eerily through the valley. Neighboring farm lights flickered on. There was clanging, shouting, cussing and now thunks and thumps, churning and splashing, a veritable cacophony of turmoil. Ever increasing, ever growing, dogs barking, roosters crowing, cows mooing, birds calling – the entire world was awake.

“He’s getting away…He’s getting away. Do something!” “He’s got my leg…shoot him!” Bam! Bam!

Great flocks of birds thundered from the trees at the same instant Poppa’s floodlight illuminated the river to reveal the “Dave and Tom” boat tangled in the trout line. George Hatcher was dancing at the stern, waving his arms, shotgun in his right hand and a fifth of Jack Daniels in his left hand shouting “I got him, I got him, I killed the son-of-a-gun.”

Uncle Cliff was draped across the bow, (front end of the boat) his right arm and leg ensnared in the trout line, while his left hand clutched another fifth of Jack Daniels. Ominous clouds of bloody gore surrounded the boat and dripped from the dock.

“You’ve killed Cliff, you’ve killed my brother!” shouted Poppa from the sleep’n porch. “Put down that gun and don’t you move.” Descending the Lodge stairs three at a time, dressed in his boots and boxers, Poppa burst out the back door onto the lower porch, all the time yellin’ and cussin’ George. He didn’t notice Tom and me till halfway down the bluff’s limestone steps. He grabbed us and pushing us back up the steps, yelled to Momma, “Keep these boys in the house and call the sheriff,” then resuming his descent. When Momma took off to call the sheriff, we hid behind the boathouse to observe the mayhem below.

About the time Poppa reached the red stained dock, Uncle Cliff dizzily sat up in the front of the “Dave and Tom” takin a very awkward swig of Jack Daniel before falling backwards into the bottom of the boat, where he began to snore loudly. “Cliff’s alive,” shouted Poppa. “Of course, he’s alive,” said George. “I didn’t shoot him.” “Then what the heck did you shoot?” “You killed my fish didn’t you?” accused Poppa. “You killed my trophy fish.”

“What fish?” asked George, now agitated and gastrulating wildly. He spread his arms wide and with slurred words proudly exclaimed, “FROG, FRED, FROG’’… NOT A FISH…A FROG! BIGGEST FROG IN THE WORLD! His giant Devil-red eyes were this far apart.” George spread his arms to the maximum for emphasis, swaying and lurching, he sat down hard on the stern seat, 12-guage shotgun clattering as it hit the bottom of the boat. “I had two gigs in him and he kept coming at us, like to swamp us. He got Cliff and pulled most of him out of the boat. That’s when I let him have it with both barrels, smack between them Devil-Red eyes. Saved Cliff’s life, I did, I did…” George’s voice trailed off to a mumbling murmur as he took another swig of Jack and slumped forward over the middle seat.

“I didn’t see any frog,” said Poppa. George raised his head and pointed with the bottle, “Right there, right there,” the bottle waving in wide circles in the general vicinity of the dock before he again slumped forward asleep. Poppa searched around with his 12 volt lantern and there at the end of the dock, two large read eyes about 4 feet apart shown in the lanterns beam. There was a gaping hole in the green head between those eyes and protruding deep beneath the bloody water were the shafts of two gigs. Leaning out from the dock, he grasped one of the shafts and pulled the dead body toward him. As he pulled, the head rose slowly from the water; its eyes flashing…was it still alive?

As the head broke the surface, Poppa slipped on the slimy dock and falling into the water, hit his head on the creature. Now face to face with the monster, Poppa’s one good eye focused as he let out a scream, “It’s Ruth!” NOT “Momma Ruth”, but “Ole Ruth” formerly known as “Dry Rot” our wooden boat that Poppa had lovingly restored. “George,” he yelled, “you crazy no account, you’ve killed Ruth. She’s been blown to smithereens.”

George didn’t reply, for he was head to toe with Uncle Cliff in the bottom of the ‘Dave and Tom,” its bilge water sloshing. The battle of the Dueling Snorers was in full force. Behind the boat house, Tom began to cry, “Momma’s dead. George killed Momma.” I reminded him that Momma was alive and up at the Lodge calling the sheriff. He was relieved but we both cried some more.

Dawn was beginning to break as Poppa emerged from the water and collapsed on the muddy shore covered with blood and gore. The gore turned out to be from the gallon glass jars that Poppa had stored his homemade chicken blood stink bait. Evidently, one of George’s 12-guage blasts had missed “ole Ruth” blowing up the dock box, with its several gallons of fermented stink bait, chicken guts and oat mash.

About this time, the neighboring men folk arrived through the woods with their boys, hounds, lanterns, flares, and rifles to what they perceived as two dead men in the boat and Poppa dead on the shore; two frightened little boys in tears hiding behind the boat house sobbing.

Up at the Lodge, Jasper County’s Sheriff Hickam, arrived in his black and white with sirens blaring and red light blazing, which set all the domestic and otherwise critters back into their choruses. As Sheriff Hickam descended the stone steps from the Lodge, a sobbing Momma followed close behind in her robe. When Momma saw Tom and me, she gathered us inside her bath robe with just our heads peeking out.

Halting on the flat limestone by the house, Sheriff Hickam’s eyes widened in amazement at what he saw. There in the dim dawn, illuminated by the flood lights, lay Poppa covered in blood and gore, surrounded by men in white night shirts, totin’ firearms and carrying railroad flares, while off shore in the bottom of the “Dave and Tom” lay two other inert men. Firing a single shot into the air, Sheriff Hickam authoritatively ordered everyone to put down their guns and step back from the corpse. At this very moment, Poppa rose on one elbow and asked, “What’s going on?”

That’s what the dag blamed I’d like to know,” said Sheriff Hickam. “Us too,” shouted one of the men. “We-ins’ just got here when you showed up Sheriff.”

Startled by the Sheriff’s pistol shot and all the commotion, George covered Uncle Cliff’s head with his body saying, “Stay down Cliff, they’re shootin’ at us.” “What the heck,” said Uncle Cliff and promptly went back to snoring loudly.

Relieved that all three men were alive, Sheriff Hickam exclaimed, “That’s exactly what I am here to investigate,” as he holstered his gun. “What the blazes is everyone doing out here in the woods at this Godforsaken hour?” I started to tell him, but Momma clamped her hand over my mouth and pushed my head under her robe, but I peeked out enough to see.

Still a bit unsteady since hitting his head on “Ole Ruth (the boat, not Momma) Poppa groggily staggered to his feet. He looked awful in the red light of the railroad flairs, all covered in blood, chicken guts and oat mash, with a lump on his bald head. Plus he smelled something awful from all that secret sauce stink bait!

Poppa told them all what the heck had happened. Sheriff Hickam was satisfied with his story though I believe a tad disappointed that he hadn’t single handedly stopped Center Creek’s greatest Klan tragedy. The Sheriff checked and declared Poppa no worse for the wear, though he was careful not to get any chicken blood and guts or stink bait on his uniform. He then ordered the men to retrieve George Hatcher and Uncle Cliff from the “Dave and Tom.” Once he had them ashore, he verified that they were okay, to which George said, “Right you are, Sheriff.” Uncle Cliff just snorted and snored on.

“Is their car up at the Lodge?” asked Sheriff Hickam. “Yes,” Poppa replied. “I don’t want um driving till they’re sobered up,” said the Sheriff as he fished George’s car keys from his soggy trousers and gave them to Poppa. “You want um up at the Lodge till then?” the Sheriff asked. “Not in my house, no way,” said Momma stiffly. And so George and Uncle Cliff could safely sleep it off, they were locked in the boat house.

There would be no arrest because except for the neighbor volunteers, George and Cliff while on private property had Poppa’s permission to be there. While shots were fired, they were not within the city limits, and no one was wounded or killed except Ole Ruth, the boat for which Poppa refused to press charges, over Momma’s protestations to the contrary. All the neighbors were thanked and sent home. Sheriff Hickam confiscated the 12-guage shot gun, the Jack Daniels and even George and Cliff’s burlap bag of frogs. “They can pick them up later at my house.” He then admonished us all to “never make me come out here again.” Returning to his patrol car, he kept shaking his head and grumbling about the crazy ignorant hicks. No reports would be written.

Poppa decided he might as well take a morning swim. The sun was up and he needed a bit of cleaning; in truth, he needed more than a bit. He still carried a heavy stench of stink bait, which besides being good for catching fish, seemed to attract every horsefly in Jasper County.

When we got up to the Lodge, Momma ordered Poppa to scrub the stink bait off him with lye soap in the basement sportsman shower and deposit his boxers in the trash.

Tom beat us into the house and when Momma and I came in from the back porch, he was happily sitting cross legged on the living room floor, sucking his thumb and staring at the Indian Chief test pattern reflected toward him from the TV via the mantle mirror. He never seemed to mind if the Chief never moved or said anything… and neither did we. We’d all had more than enough excitement for one morning. I joined Tom on the floor; but which way was the Chief facing? Left or Right? I decided he was looking right watching Momma fix breakfast. I wondered if he ever got hungry?

Poppa joined us at the breakfast table, pinkly scrubbed but still aromatic, he was wrapped in a towel and had a large knot on his head. Thus over biscuits and gravy, Queen Ruth and King Fred decided over our princely protestations that George and Cliff – scoundrels as they had proven – were to be “banished” from the Kingdom! Momma phoned Mazie Hatcher and Aunt Gerty to let them know their husbands were safe and would be home later.

Chores and clean-up could wait. Sleep beckoned. Once again, Look Over Lodge had been Looked Over by God. All was peaceful and quiet in the Palace.

THE REST OF THE STO

Jeanne’s new book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” is now available at Webb City Chamber office and other local retailers, such as Maggie Jane’s Gifts, at 8 S. Main St.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.

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