Ricky Harpole column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Witch’s spell cools ardor for ‘insurance widow’

I was over in Arkansas last week trying to scare up some mischief and I found myself in Miss Sukie’s neighborhood up on Crawley’s Ridge.

“Neighborhood” is a term I use loosely here because there are no neighbors for five miles in any direction unless you count bears, cougars, ferral hogs and bobcats and such. Old Jake passed away on her last year. I missed the funeral so part of the reason for the stop was to see how she was doing. I pulled in at the gate and locked into four wheel drive, shot three times in a creek bank with my pistol, pulled the bell rope twice and opened a beer.

About 10 minutes later one of the Jr. Twin Snake Wranglers showed up on an ill-tempered mule and unlocked the gate.

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“Mama’s been talking bout you all lately. She’s waitin’ on the porch.” He leaned over, rang the bell once more and reined the mule around.

“I got two more traps to run,” he said.  “I’ll be up in time for supper,” Then he threaded his way back into the brush.

Sukie was indeed on the porch, kneeling before a lion claw bathtub that apparently contained every dish she owned. Sukie and Jake had been married for seven years before his demise and had produced eight children consisting of two sets of twins (mixed, identical and fraternal) and four singles, so as you may well imagine there was a tub full of dishes to wash.

The only thing was, they weren’t dirty dishes. Some of them were still in the boxes they came in.
I also noticed there was a pile of black clothing on the picnic table under the walnut tree near the old tractor wheel that served as a “burn ring” for the Saturday night bonfire. You don’t have to be a trained investigator to recognize “widow’s weeds” when you see them. She rose and turned and lit her pipe and said, “You are just in time for the show.”

Now it had been over 14 months since she had lost her life mate and despite the obvious awaiting bonfire fuel in black, she was still wearing an Ebony bracelet and Jet Apron. I had the feeling I was about to witness a ritual not commonly observed by outsiders.

One thing I noticed was the dogs were gone. Jake always kept a minimum of from 5 to 12 coon dogs to give the kids something to do after sundown. The gates to the “runs” were open in broad daylight and not a houndish voice to be heard. What was worse, the climate-controlled rattlesnake pens that had once adorned the porch were gone, snakes and all. There were less than the usual number of children in attendance and a 10-gauge, double-barrelled goose gun lay handily unbreached but loaded with the left hammer on full cock.

“Are you expecting a goose or two to show up for supper?” I asked. “Or are you planning a shotgun wedding?”

She tamped the pipe and set it carefully on the Jack Daniels Whiskey Keg that was part of the roof support. “It’s a little of both.” She said.

“I have a suitor, one whom I do not intend to wed. He has been overly persistent and has a reputation for laziness. He assumes I am a rich ‘insurance widow’ which was not the case. That’s why I sent for you and W.B. James.”

“Now wait,” I said, “Nobody sent for me.”

It was  chance that I would be in Phillips County and a rare one at that. How I and an ambulance load of body snatchers would show up here without warning or pre determination did not compute.

She said, “We need witnesses and you and your crew and W.B. James will be it.” (I’d heard ‘ol Jake say more than once that she was a white witch.)

“Jake came to me in a dream and told me how to get shed of him,” she said.

“That’s why the kids and dogs are missing?” I asked.

“It’s got to be done just right” she declared.

Well, if there’s one thing I know about Arkansas and white witches, it’s that it pays to pay attention. She proceeded to clue me in on the “spell”.

“The twins (senior) are calming the hounds in our bedroom. Old Tom will be clueless about the dogs because he’s clueless anyhow.

“I plan to cook a fine family style meal for supper,” she said. “When I introduce you and your crew as family and dinner guests, y’all eat most of everything on your plate, and put the dishes on the floor. Cane and Able will turn the hounds loose to wash the dishes and pots and pans etc. After the dogs have licked everything shiny clean we’ll all get up from the table and put the houndlicked dishes back in the cabinets.

“In about 10 minutes one of you need to ask, ‘What y’all want for breakfast?’ I’ll drop one of Jake’s leftover turkey eggs from his last hunt two years ago in a hot skillet and see how long Tom lasts on a cooking widow hunt,” Miss Sukie continued.

“I know it’s a lot to ask of y’all and Jake’s dogs but I wouldn’t have cast the spell if it hadn’t been for the dream. Jake was there, he was scheming and he was laughing. That is how I can remember him.”

We made it work. The funny part is that the Tom will tell his version of the nasty cooking habits of one of the best cooks in the tri-state area. If he got a whuff of that antique turkey egg like me and them dogs did he’ll live on potted meat for the rest of his life.

Notes from the border,
Ricky Harpole
(Contact Harpole at www.facebook.com/harpolive or www.colespointrecords.com)