John Howard Hatfield: Creative Non-Fiction: May 2020

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Howard is a retired materials management and manufacturing professional with over forty years in the military and manufacturing arenas. He spent time at sixty plus posts while in the military and has traveled to all fifty states (working in twenty-two of them). Howard earned a Masters from Central Michigan, a MS from the Army C&GS College, and a BBA from Texas A&M. He has more olive drab shirts than his wife wishes and enough hats to wear a different one every day of the year. He, wife Patsy, plus his two dogs reside in Austin, Texas.

Tishomingo on a Tuesday

Roscoe, if the truth be told, was probably just one step from homelessness. A scruffy like Roscoe, you’d have trouble finding a match for—I don’t care how hard you looked. Roscoe had worked for Dutch on and off over the last three or four years. With his regular crew was still in Louisiana working the Interstate 10 bridge crossings over the “Atchafalaya” (ah-CHA-fa-LIE-ah) swamp, picking up experienced roughnecks for the second crew was a real task. Dutch had to take what he could get. This time Roscoe was included. Wouldn’t be very easy for Roscoe to walk off this time; we’re going outta state.

Regularly I had no idea where Roscoe stayed when we were in Bryan; he looked like he slept in his clothes and came to work from just around the corner. I’m not real sure he had more than one set of overalls to his name. When he worked; he wasn’t always dependable—like I said—as one might hope. But lately he was always at the right spot and on time. But more important at the time, he had that ever-so-prized commercial driver’s license—the CDL—and that stood him head and shoulders above his competition. When Roscoe was at work, he was a good hand—do anything that was needed.

Eventually, we were working outta Iuka, Mississippi and had been here for several weeks. Our task was to take core samples for bridge, creek, river and railroad crossin’s for the Natchez Trace in the top east corner of the state—bout as different from our native Texas as it could be and even more different from Valley City, North Dakota and Lafayette, Louisiana where we’d spent the first part of the summer. It was late July and it could get mighty muggy in this part of the South; especially on a rig, in the sun, down in the hollows and out of any breeze that just might happen to blow over or by.

Roscoe drove the water truck pulling a trailer with the dozer aboard and handled the core barrels as they came outta and went back inta the drill hole. This was—most of the time—the dirtiest, muddiest job on the rig; ceptin’ for the times when mine fit that description. The rest of the crew consisted of Dutch, the owner of the company and driller—also my Dad; Jerry, a band teacher from the local private school, summer time rig driver and the step-hand; and Don K, the engineering firm’s representative who reviewed the cores and logged their data. We had been joined by a Government Guy, an engineer outta Atlanta. We didn’t work Sundays the entire time in the area cause of him.

That leaves me. I was a little over a month outta high school, and not a bit sure about my future—didn’t know about college or what else might be just around that corner. Those questions’ll just have to wait until summers over; lots of time to consider the future then. My job was to take the core barrel from Roscoe and extract the actual core itself. This usually came with an appropriate amount of mud, foul water and other like debris that might escape during the process and spew all about the area—usually, all about me.

Our morning routine before arriving at the rig site was to grab breakfast at the café across the street from our motel, stop by the local icehouse, then hit a convenience store to stock our glove compartment pantry and the water can for the day ahead. The odd milk container or soda water bottle went straight into the water can; Dutch didn’t carry any ice chest—never had as far as I know. The water can was good enough. The milk and cokes were cold to start with and normally would stay that way at least until lunchtime. Rig work had no set hours, ya never knew when the time for lunch would take place. The rest of our convenience store fare was thrown up on the dashboard or stuck into the glove compartment of Dutch’s pick-up until we arrived at the rig site. Then those of us that had one would transfer it to their assigned vehicle. The fare sat there, sometimes in the shade—sometimes not—until that stopping point was designated by Dutch. As you might guess the cheese could obtain a rankness unmatched in most pharmaceutical laboratories; but this was our routine and a roughneck custom.

Early in our first week in Iuka, we’d noticed a farmer selling watermelons outta the back of his pick-up truck at the icehouse. He had some nice Black Diamonds and only wanted a quarter each. As watermelons go, Black Diamonds hold the rung at the top of the species and everything else falls short in comparison. Liking watermelons as we all did, the deal was too darn good to pass up. For days to come, each of us bought a melon apiece. Reaching the drill site, we placed them in the cool creek beds where there was always flowing water—the reason we were here in the first place—bridge crossings over water hazards, and some railroads. Come lunch time, the watermelons would be almost cool. All you had to do was pick it up and drop it—crack, it was open and ready to eat; just add salt.

By the middle of the second week, we were all feeling the effects of too much watermelon—way-y-y-y too much watermelon. But as yet, we hadn’t quiet connected the dots. Each of us had our own name-labeled bottle of Pepto-Bismol thrown up on the dash of Dutch’s truck—these were replaced practically every other day by a fresh bottle.

I don’t recall whose idea it was but for whatever reason, one day we decided that we needed a break from our warm cheese, summer sausage and watermelon diet and we thought we might try a café in Tishomingo for a change. Tishomingo, for your edification, is backed about as far back up in the northeast corner of Mississippi; so far up there that it might actually be in Alabama—hard to tell. After finding a parking place on the main street, as I recall; it was Jerry that mentioned it as we unloaded Dutch’s pickup: “I wonder if there’s any moonshine anywhere in the area?”

A rarity, but I noticed Roscoe’s eyes light up and he responded immediately: “I betcha there is! This is just the neck of the woods were moonshine might be a hot topic.”

Hearing that; Dutch just as immediately added his two cents as he was accustom’d to: “I bet you that you won’t get a soul in there to admit to the availability of moonshine to a group of outsiders like us.”

I hadn’t mention’d it, but Roscoe really set good stock in his liquor? He may have had only one set of coveralls, but he always had a bottle in his kit.

Roscoe continued: “Ya know, it’s still worth a try.” I know he’d put his mind straight to figuring out the right way to get his hands on some right then.

Upon entering the café, the only café in town and by the way, on the only business street in the town; we found the establishment crowded but were able to get two tables together with six chairs near the kitchen. The crew plus Don and the Government Guy—we all took up residence at the two tables.

Finally the waitress—and the only waitress in the café by the way—showed up and asked: “You guys new in town?”

Roscoe didn’t let a heartbeat pass and chimed right in, “Yes mam we are. We’re up here to do some hunting.”

“What kinda hunting you fellers do?”

“We’re coon hunters, mam.”

“Is that so?” said the waitress just trying to make conversation—she didn’t look like she really cared, ya could tell.

Roscoe had a plan and he took no time bringin’ it about.

Right back in, he started: “That’s right mam. My name’s Jim Bowie.” 

I’m athinkin’: “What was he doing? He’ll never get away with this story. Everybody knows Jim Bowie” or so I thought—“least they did in Texas.”

“Yes’em, and that’s William Travis over there, ole Bill Travis. We’re all coon hunters from down in Texas.” Nobody at the table look’d to be believin’ what’s taking place—but Roscoe just kept going.

“We don’t use no dogs like’n most do—all that bayin’ is just too much noise for us. We chase ‘em down ourselves. Once we get ‘em treed, we get ole Davy Crockett there to just reach up and pull ‘em down. Stand up there Davy and show her.” Roscoe pointed toward Don K who actually is just over six foot, six inches tall.

Hopping on for the ride, the rest of us jump right in and goad Don K into standing up: ”Ya, Davy. Show her how ya reach up and pull ‘em down outta the trees.”

“Ya Davy. Show her!” Outnumbered five to one, Don K stood no chance.

Don K begrudgingly stood up, raised his hands over his head. Lo’ and behold, he could reach the ceiling. Roscoe has managed to get the attention of everybody in the café. Whether or not this was a good thing, we couldn’t yet tell, but everybody was looking our way.

Ms. Waitress finally got around to taking our lunch orders and departs.

You can see the whispering going on at the tables all around the room; mind you. And not just a little finger pointing was taking place also. Ya could hear some off-handed comments being made right along with the pointing. Couldn’t tell if Roscoe has gotten away with his tale yet or not.

This little greasy-spoon could be real trouble for us outsiders.

Before long, the waitress deliver’d our meal and we dug right in—probably the best lunch we have had since we left Jackson. Going about our business, we ate and soon head’d up to the line formed up at the cash register, each to pay his tab. Roscoe laid back at the table talking with the guys at the one adjacent. Finally with all of us back in the truck, Roscoe lets on that he has a source for the shine, if we’re of a mind to follow through with the opportunity.

Dutch, probably realizing that this has gone on long enough, says: “We don’t have time for that. This is the only vehicle we have to get around in. I don’t think the insurance company or our Government Guy would stand behind us if we were to have a problem with the revenuers.”

Well, so much for our moonshine adventure. That was the end of that—Roscoe had tried and actually gotten close. Although the rest of us never actually knew if he had made a connection or not. We only had his word that he had. We did have a little fun at the expense of the Tishomingo waitress and café’s patrons with Roscoe’s coon hunting tale and Don K’s reaching exhibition. I don’t guess that those Alamo boys are such a big topic in northeast Mississippi—almost Alabama—as they are in Texas.

Thinking back on the lunch and once having taken in somewhat regular food for a change, we shortly realized the cause of our stomach discontent. Armed with this knowledge, we came up with the appropriate prescription and resolution: more Pepto-Bismol and no more watermelons. I often wonder what the pharmaceutical salesman thought about the run on Pepto-Bismol in that part of the world for the three weeks this went on. The first of the next week we were free from our stomach malady on our way to Wyoming for our second missile silo job of the summer.

To this day I haven’t eaten another watermelon—ever—and seldom hunt coons!