Sam Elmore


A while back, I needed some information about something that happened 'bout forty-odd year ago, and knew right where to git it. I called my little brother Baucum ('the baby'.) He knows a whole lotta things I done long forgot, and he'll tell ye' the truth as he knows it.

Baucum had recently retired from the Arkansas School System. In addition to the long list of 'honey-do' items around the house, he had a pretty long list of 'brother-do' items needing attention down at the church. It was in the dead of winter in Pine Bluff, and colder'n the heart of a Boston lawyer.

The phone rang, and Baucum answered. It took us a while to convince our-selves that we was both doin' all right, then a extry while for me to get his mind turned back'ards forty-odd year, so he could tell me what it was I wanted to know. Right then, an' quicker'n a alligator gar can skin a minner, the boy commenced to la-ment!

Now, for most of us in the family, ever' one of us older'n Baucum, it ain't no secret that we're gittin' a mite long in the tooth. You can tell that just by eye-ballin' us once't or twice't. But, him being 'the baby' and all, I didn't have the heart to laugh at him when he started complainin' about passing time, and modern ways of doin' things. He was s'pecially incensed about the way people change the name of things.

He told me about the renovation work they was doin' down at the church, that they'd finished the 'rip out' phase, and was just startin' the 'put back together' work. The building was open to the weather, and that cold wind was cuttin' through 'em like a saber-saw.

There was just him and one other feller working on the church, trying to nail up some plywood, with their fingers 'bout froze stiff. If you've ever banged your own thumb when it was real cold, you know how that can hurt. 'Course, when you bang your thumb with a hammer inside of a church, about all you can do is mutter somethin' like: 'Dear me, I do believe I have struck my thumb' (or words to that effect.)

If the weather itself wasn't bad a-nuff, Baucum noticed that the other feller would reach in his nail pouch, pull out a nail, look at it, then drive it. Other times, he'd pull a nail out of his pouch, look at it, chunk it out on the ground, then fumble out another nail and drive it.

Baucum went and asked the feller what he was doing. The feller said that some of the nails had the head on the wrong end, so it was obvious they was meant to be drove on the other side of the wall. Baucum jumped all over him about that, and told him: "Man, soon as we git done on this side, we gon' be working over 'em wrong-headed-un's for when we git to the other side!"

The cold wind howlin' through that open building was so harsh, they couldn't work at much more'n twenty-five percent efficiency; so Baucum decided to do something about it. He went to a local Rent-All place, and rented one of them 'salamander' thangs, an oil burning heater with a fan, that blows hot air where you point it at. After he got that thang fired up, it wasn't all 'sweetness and light', but it was a whole lot more livable where they was working.

Ever'thang rocked along pretty peart for a couple of days, and they were really makin' a lot of progress. The weather had turned even colder during that time, and the wind was howling even worse'n before. Right in the middle of the morning, the 'salamander' run out of fuel. Baucum grabbed the five-gallon oil can and jumped in his pick-up truck.

He roared down the highway until he saw a service station-looking place, with several large tanks beside it. He throwed considerable gravel as he whupped the truck up in the driveway and shut 'er down. He took out his empty can, set it down by the tanks, and went inside the store. A lady was behind the counter; Baucum estimated her to be mebbe five year older'n him.

"Hi-dy", Baucum greeted the lady.

"Hi-dy right back. Can I he'p ye'?"

"Y'all got any ko-loil?"

"Sho do", said the lady; and hollered: "Willie!"

A young man came out from the back room of the store, walked out to the tanks, picked up Baucum's oil can, and started fillin' it. Baucum stood and chatted with the lady about the weather and stuff, until Willie come come in. He told Baucum that he'd put his can of ko-loil in the truck for 'im. Baucum paid the lady, got a receipt and, thankin' them both, headed back to the job site.

The work on the church continued apace for a few more days, while the weather turned even colder. As usual, right in the middle of the work day, the 'salamander' throwed another shoe, and run out of fuel. Baucum hollered: "be right back", and skee-daddled with the empty can. He squalled tires as he turned into the driveway at the store. He got out, set the empty can on the concreek apron beside the tanks, and headed inside to get out of the cold.

(Now we get to the part where l'il bruh commenced to lamentin' at me over the telephone):

Baucum stepped inside the store, briskly rubbin' his near-froze hands together.


The teen-age girl behind the counter said:


"Uh--er--I jes' said 'hi-dy', Miss", Baucum stammered; "I need 'nother can of ko-loil, please ma'am."


"A can-a ko-loil."

The girl had a big wad-a bubble gum in her mouth. She blowed a huge bubble, and popped it real loud.

"We don't sell nothing like that, mister."

"Ye' don't? But, I bought a can-a ko-loil here jest a few days ago....y'all run out?"

"Sir, what I'm trying to tell you is, we---don't---sell anything like what-ever it was you said." She popped another bubble; even louder'n the first 'un.

Baucum backed away from the counter and sidled over to the front window. It sho-nuff looked like the same store he'd been at before. He cut his eyes out to where Willie had filled his can up before. There was his can standin' yonder beside the tank, right where Willie had picked it up last time. Yonder was the same above-ground tank that Willie'd drawn the coal-oil out of before.

He eased over to'ards the counter again, and tentatively asked:

"Ma'am, what y'all got in 'at big white tank yonder?" (he pointed) "....that'n on th' far end?"

"That's kerosene. You want some?"