Here is a little story I wrote but haven't published yet.
By Bill Baker
Nobody knew much about Harlan. He was a bit strange, but not crazy strange; just weird strange. He would do things that didn’t seem to make much sense to anyone but him.
There was the time when he told little Robert Schwarz that he’d give him a half-dollar for a rattlesnake the kid had killed along the side of the road only a few minutes before. Nobody but me I guess knew what he wanted it for, least ways not then.
Robert’s pa came ‘round the next day wantin’ to know why Harlan paid good money for a no good ol’ rattler, then slyly suggested that he knew where there were a few more if he happened to be in the market for ‘em. Mr. Schwarz was passin’ happy to hear that Harlan would pay the same for as many as could be delivered.
He never did get around to sayin’ what he wanted ‘em for, but I think that escaped Mr. Schwarz’s notice. He was more interested in the money and he hurried away without pushin’ it.
It wasn’t long before everybody that could stand the dang thangs was out huntin’ up rattlers and a’cartin’ ‘em ‘round to Harlan’s place. They was too afeared that he wouldn’t pay if they pried into why he wanted them, so they minded their own business just as long as he kept forkin’ over the cash money.
Finally about two weeks later, just outta the blue, he passed the word that he wouldn’t be buyin’ any more rattlesnakes. That ‘bout caused a riot in town ‘cause people was makin’ a right handsome livin’ off the critters, seein’s how cash money was in such short supply here abouts. You’d a thought he had shut down the towns only means of lively-hood. But he just didn’t want to deplete the snake population too bad.
Then there was the time Sonny Mack come around huntin’ work. Weren’t nobody around had the money to hire him, but Harlan agreed to put him to work. He said he would pay him a penny for every posthole he would dig on his property. But these weren’t laid out like for a fence. They was in straight rows and all, but they covered a whole ten acres, twenty-five feet apart.
Well nobody could figger out what he wanted ten acres of postholes for, but….
What? You want to know what he wanted the snakes for? Well, he had two reasons for that. First off he skinned them out, salted down the skins and laid ‘em by. Then he sold the meat from the rattlers to a fancy restaurant over to Galveston. Seems like tourists, and some of the locals too, will eat just about anything if they think it’s stylish. And that restaurant was pushin’ rattler like it was the most stylish thing in the world. Even during a depression! People tend to buy what they want before they’ll buy what they need.
The skins he would make into hatbands in the evenin’. I’d go by his shack ever now and again late at night and see the light from his kerosene lantern shinin’ through the greased paper that covered the windows. And he’d be in there makin’ hatbands to sell later, after the depression was over.
See, that was the thing about Harlan; he was always thinkin’ ahead. He always had enough money to live on, and enough to invest with. Like with the postholes I was tellin’ ya about. The money he made from the snake meat helped him have enough cash to pay Sonny to dig them holes. And it was a good thing too, as there was shore a passel of ‘em.
What was they for? Why, for to plant fruit trees in. He wound up with a whole orchard! He bought the trees from a mail order house at a nickel each and they was shipped to the depot in town. Harlan drove his wagon in and picked ‘em up, then paid Sonny to help him plant them. A few years after that he was shippin’ apples and peaches and pears an’ such all around the country.
Then there was the time he bought John Henry Young’s old truck off him. The rear end had gone out and twisted the drive shaft into a horseshoe and he just didn’t have the money to get it fixed. So Harlan got to dickerin’ with him and wound up givin’ him twenty gold dollars for it. John Henry thought he had put the sucker on Harlan, but it was Harlan who could’ve had the last laugh if he’d a wanted it.
But he weren’t that kind. He did what he did and never took no notice of what anyone thought. He….
The truck? Oh! He went and bought a new drive shaft for it and a few other incidentals and before you knew it, he had built himself a sawmill. He hired young Kenny Moore to manage it and get a crew together to saw trees into lumber. Why, people was comin’ from as far away as, well, quite away’s anyhow.
Seems like ever’thang that boy done turned right around and made him money. Like that time he paid ol’ Stumpy Williams thirty cents for the broken heel off’n one of his boots. Why, folks are still talkin’ about that. See, what he did was….
Oh! That story will have to wait ‘til next time. Here comes my boy now, and he promised to go fishin’ with me today. We’ll catch up some ol’ catfish and his ma can fry ‘em up the way we like ‘em.
But like as not, there’ll be a diamond ring or a silver dollar or somethin’ in one of ‘em.
May a porky hog not seek slumber on your bicycle seat