Mr. Bill, standing on his small front porch, lifted the much-chewed stem of his stubby pipe from his false teeth and growled, “Badah, Easton, run ’em around again.”
The two hired men spurred their horses and herded the dozen weanling calves back toward the newly installed electric fence.
The calves were being trained to stay away from the hot wire, an inexpensive alternative to a permanent fence, separating them from their mothers. Only two of the animals hit the wire this time and sprang away yielding a gravelly, coughing chortle from the old curmudgeon.
Mr. Bill went back into the house to refill his pipe and find a kitchen match.
With WWII looming on the horizon, my father, Mr. Charlie and Mr. Bill farmed together sharing labor in a loose, informal arrangement.
“That Scotsman is tighter than Dick’s hat band,” Dad would say of Mr. Bill.
I never found out anything about Dick or his hat band. “Just an old saying,” was all I could get out of Dad.
But, he and Mr. Charlie had another “hat” saying about Mr. Bill’s old two-cylinder John Deere — “couldn’t pull the hat off your head.” That one I could understand because both Dad and Mr. Charlie were expert mechanics. Mr. Bill’s idea of an early spring tractor overhaul was to buy two small cans of paint — one bright yellow, one green — paint his tractor and, thus, substitute appearance for the cost of installing new pistons, pins, rings and spark plugs.
Mr. Bill was “old.” So, to my 5-year-old sensibilities, it wasn’t remarkable when his last tooth was pulled. The dentist said, “Now, we’ll let your mouth heal three weeks and then fit you for dentures.”
“Don’t worry doc, I’ll take care of it,” was the enigmatic reply.
The dentist never saw him again.
Mr. Bill had earlier ordered and received his mail-order false teeth kit. For three weeks he ate only grits, oatmeal and soup.
Then, declaring himself healed, he used the contents of the kit to make an impression of his gums, sent it to the mail-order company and two weeks later received his new teeth.
They fit precisely — a little too precisely.
The third day he wore them, he couldn’t get the top plate out of his mouth. Two days later he went to the local pharmacist for free advice because there would be no doctor’s fee. That worthy taught Mr. Bill to blow outward with mouth open directing the air between the upper plate and the roof of his mouth.
On the third huff the plate flew out, bounced off a glass countertop and landed on the brick floor. The only casualties were Mr. Bill’s right side eyetooth and a chip in the countertop.
The pharmacist regretted the nick in his pristine counter more than Mr. Bill mourned the loss of his tooth. On the way home he discovered that the gap in his new teeth made an excellent place to grip his pipe.
And so life continued through many well-chewed pipes for nearly three subsequent decades.
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