Crowder Tales

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“But this hair restorer is a new formula,” said Uncle Zenus. “Records show that the Bushmen of Tasmania were using it as far back as five thousand years ago. Have you ever heard of a bald Bushman, Rufus? Heh, heh.”

“No. In fact, I ain’t never heard of a Tasmania Bushman before.”

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Rufus. I’ll let you have this at half price. A trial bottle. I usually get a dollar a bottle, but you can have it for fifty cents, on account of you giving me and the boy a ride to town. Heh, heh.”

 

By this time we had reached the post office, which was housed in Mr. Kicklighter’s store. Buckhalter fingered in a pocket and found a silver fiftycent piece.

“Guess I’ll give that stuff a try,” said Buckhalter. “Goldurned if you couldn’t sell sand to an A-rab. Here I stop to give you a lift to town, and what do you do—sell me a bottle of hair restorer.”

“But, Rufus, I’m doing you a big favor. I’m giving you all my profit. The sale don’t mean a thing to me. I just wanted you to try this new formula. But don’t spill any. It’s been known to make hair grow on a watermelon and make whiskers pop out on a cue ball. Heh, heh.”

One Sunday when I was out buggy riding with my grandparents, we stopped by my grandmother’s family home, now shared by her brother Zenus and her spinster sister. The fields, untended for many years, were grown up in pines, the barn was rotting down, and the rambling house was in an advanced state of dilapidation. Only the scratchings of the chickens kept the dog fennel from growing up to the porch, which went around three sides of the house. Uncle Zenus and Aunt Addie were sitting on the front porch as we approached, in cowhide-covered rocking chairs.

“How-de-atchoo,” Uncle Zenus greeted us as he came down the steps to hitch our mare to a fence post. “Sorry you’re late for dinner. But do get down and come in. We can give you a glass of water and a toothpick. Heh, heh.” Pa thought Uncle Zenus’ humor was inane, but my grandmother thought he was clever. Maybe that was because he was her brother.

Despite the slighty unkind remarks they made behind his back, the women of Crowder never turned Uncle Zenus away from their doors without talking with him and looking over the things he had for sale, even though they might not always buy. But most of them wound up buying something. Like Mrs. Wally Saunders. After knocking on Mrs. Saunders’ door Uncle Zenus quickly opened his case and had its contents in full view when she stepped out onto the porch.

“Good morning, Mrs. Saunders, heb, heh,” said Uncle Zenus, an ingratiating smile spread across his red face. “Need any pepper this time? You were almost out when I came by last month. Got some real fresh pepper today. Just come in from the Spice Islands across the Pacific. Heh, heh.”

Mrs. Saunders took the pepper, and from the way she held onto it Uncle Zenus knew he had made a sale. He immediately switched the conversation.

“Here, Mrs. Saunders, please read the label on this new liniment,” he said. “It oughta do wonders for your husband’s rheumatism. Heh, heh. Its principal ingredient comes from an herb that grows two thousand miles up the Amazon River. Its wonders were discovered by missionaries.

“Here, smell it. Don’t it have a pleasant, penetrating odor? Just the thing for tired, aching muscles. It’ll make a new man out of your husband.”

“Well, I don’t think it possibly could be that good,” said Mrs. Saunders, giggling. “But it might help him some after a hard day of chopping wood. How much is it?”

“Usually I get seventy-five cents a bottle, but since you want the pepper, I’ll let you have the liniment for fifty cents. Heh, heh.” Uncle Zenus dipped into his suitcase and came up with several kinds of seasonings. But Mrs. Saunders stopped him.

“No more today, Zenus,” she said. “This is as much as I can buy now. Next time you come by, bring me some more of that tonic you sold me last spring.”

“I sho’ will, Mrs. Saunders. Well, that’ll be sixty-five cents, fifty cents for the liniment and fifteen cents for the pepper.”

Taking the pepper and liniment inside, Mrs. Saunders returned in a couple of minutes with sixty-five cents in silver, which she counted out as she dropped it into Uncle Zenus’ cupped hand.

“Well, thank you, Mrs. Saunders, heh, heh,” he said, having already closed his carrying case. “A good dayde-do to you. Heh, heh.”

That was the Uncle Zenus I remember, the glib peddler with a crazy kind of humor. But I used to hear my grandmother say that when he was a young man, Uncle Zenus was one of the hardest workers anywhere about Crowder.