Ricky Harpole column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Murphy’s Law in play after newspaper loses Harpole’s column

Have ya’ll ever heard the old saying “when it rains it pours?”

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Well, like Murphy’s Law with all its clauses and amendments, it hits pretty close to the mark.

We are in the midst of a move, a hectic situation at best. Ms. Rita and her beloved Mr. Bill have finally finished negotiations on their new home; Miss Heather has found accommodations closer to her new job. A job that that often demands swing shifts and sometimes double shifts; as for myself the catfish await (and the moccasins) down at the Bend. Old Red’s asthma is much worse, and I’ve got a can of overflowed, smelly garbage because the service was erratic last week-again.

Plus, I haven’t done anything to get paid for lately.

The newspaper lost my columns and I lost my cell phone. Dammit! Old Red was too sick for me to go raise hell myself, and due to that drowned phone I couldn’t even call ‘em up and give ‘em a good cussin’.

Well after deep consideration and a few libations those crop dusters favor, my spirits picked up.

After all, I have something to blame on Rupert, so I can get a rise out of him and I have already read that trash anyway, because I wrote it, not only wrote it but made two copies of it, and thanks to Ms. Rita and Miss Heather it is also stored in a computer.

Oh, and John, you need to replace my phone, I drowned it doing research on one of your suggested projects about the Mississippi River Rats.

It was a cheap phone because it was all I could afford on my present income. The project is about half done. You’re damned right, I’m holding it for ransom, ‘cause the next time I feel the need to cuss somebody out I want to be able to do it with fresh feelings.

It, however, was refreshing to know that I’m not the only one that screws things up.

Now onto a different matter all together…

Perils of the home-built diving rig

Fishing in a large and turbulent body of water using droppers nets and trotlines is commonly known to be  dangerous so I will not elaborate on that job any further, and while trapping is not apt to drown you, it is possible to get caught out on a trap line in an Arkansas Sleet Storm or find a “sand pocket slip” you didn’t know was there because it only formed since the last rise of water. Fishing and trapping are safe compared to the art of shelling.

Shelling was based on the button industry which produced Mother of Pearl buttons used on fancy clothes, (women’s mostly), and pearl handle pistol grips favored by New Orleans Pimps, also the occasional belt buckle that would change colors under different spectrums of light.

The harvesting of shell consisted of using a homebuilt diving rig, comprised of an air compressor fabricated from a used refrigerator part attached to a diving helmet which was constructed from a Frigidare Water Heater Tank.

This helmet had no clear visor section like we see Mr. Jacques Cousteau using, for it would be useless on the bottom of a tributary river like the St. Francis or Languill where that particular game would be afoot. The game being Mussel Shell.

Beneath the muddy water

There are three distinct (and they do stink) species of Mussels and the ones that brought the highest dollar are in deeper, colder, faster flowing streams.

Fifteen feet in waters similar to our Tallahatchie and Coldwater where you sit weighted in muddy darkness among marine life such as alligators, loggerheads, alligator gars, and cottonmouth moccasins while you feel around for the shell which you stuff in a burlap bag attached to a boat line where the top man will pull it up. That is if it is not too heavy and he is not watching for squirrels to shoot, and if he is not working on the homemade compressor rig that supplies your air, or has not found a bottle you may have carelessly left unattended. That could be a real disaster. One even worse than sitting while wearing what seems to be a quarter-ton of weights to hold your botton on the bottom while scooting about in cold darkness in your skivvies and suddenly discovering that you are perched on the leading edge of a broken whiskey jug.

Do you get my drift? This is low adventure at its most perilous. (Oops, I meant finest.) On the upside, (Civil War Vintage). Sandy pointed out that shelling was 100 times better but could be 100 times worse than Dumpster Diving. Knowing all this I am inclined to agree. But for my part, they can have it. In any event the industry no longer exists as such.

Hoggin’ blues

By far their most financially lucrative pursuit was hoggin’ blues. Blues accounted for the most casualties. A blue is a great tree valued for its board lumber footage that the river has torn from the bank from points upstream and sucked into the current, branches, roots, leaves and all.

A thoroughly dangerous part of creation, to attempt to bring to bay in the Mississippi at flood stage and escort to a river sawmill in Greenville, Miss. Sandy lost two uncles and a cousin in two separate incidents while hoggin.

Sandy never lived in a regular house until he was 13 years old.

“When,” he reflected, “we moved into that shotgun house, across the levee, Mama knew very little about gas stoves, and nobody knew anything at all about electricity.”

A verified depiction of events by Sanford T. Ledbetter:

It had been a “purty” much exhausting week getting furniture in, and all the other attendant problems of a major move. Finally the day’s toils had been accomplished up to the point of Ms. Emma and Sandy and Sandy’s new puppy (as yet unnamed) walking over the levee to the Chinese-owned grocery which always had the best stuff, while allowing Mr. Ledbetter, Sr. to enjoy a few libations on the couch.

Napper wakes beneath couch

Now’s anyone, who has studied the architectural design of a shotgun house knows, the best place to locate a couch while moving, is on the porch where the breeze is. Upon the return of the pedestrian shoppers he was “libated to the gills” and snoring loudly.

The sequence of events thereafter remains unclear. It has pretty much been established that there was a gas leak and known also that Sandy was flipping that light switch in the front room when all Hell broke loose.

Sandy said the last thing he remembered before the explosion was the puppy looking up at him quizzically, and a moment later he was looking at a naked porch before him.

No wall, no puppy, no Mr. Ledbetter Sr., no couch. Ms. Emma was unscathed in the kitchen, although she was temporarily deaf. Mr. Ledbetter, Sr. was found about 50 feet out in the yard, no longer on the couch but under it.

His first words upon regaining consciousness were “Damnit, Emma. You trying to kill me?”

There was actually no serious damage done except to the shotgun house, and of course to the dog. He returned to the simpler dangers inherent with being a river rat. In other words he was found on at the boat, for he had given up on civilization, in Helena, Ark. in a flash of lightening.

Although the family at a later point settled on the land, and the puppy was to grow to be an old dog, things would never be the same. Mr. Ledbetter was loath to trust Ms. Emma, that excellent cook, in the kitchen if he was near it. Ms. Emma never again trusted a gas stove or heater.

The unnamed puppy forever after mistrusted light switches or anyone who frequently used them. In later years he was known to run through a screen door if someone unexpectedly turned on a light. Oh, by the way he did get a name. It was Sparky. They were all a part of the Great River Culture. Although you didn’t know them, I hope you now do.

More tales to come,

Ricky Harpole