"RENDER UNTO CAESAR..."

Copyright 1996
Sam Elmore


Soon it will be 'open season' on all of us taxable critters, and it'll be time, once again, to "Render unto Caesar that which are Caesar's." The Federal 'Gummint' (as Papa used to call it) will be turnin' the tax hounds a-loose on us once't more. This time of year always reminds me of when I was a little boy on a share-cropper farm.

At that time during the Great Depression, there was a Government Regulation which dictated how much acreage of certain crops a farmer was allowed to plant and harvest. I didn't know then, nor do I know now, exactly what it was all about…or why the law was necessary in the first place. I only know that it had a devastating effect on my family.

The only cash crop we raised was cotton. We worked very hard to raise as much cotton as possible on what acreage we had, because our livelihood depended on the number of bales we harvested. If we had a good year, and if there was some money left over (after the owner of the farm got his ha'f, and after all the bills was paid), then us kids got new school clothes and a new pair of shoes a-piece. If not, then....not.

I'll never forget the day Mr. Otto Stewart, Sheriff of Columbia County Arkansas, and a life-long close't friend of Mama and Papa, made an official visit to our place. Along with Mr. Stewart was two Government Surveyors. They brought with them the most exotic equipment a country boy ever saw. Shiny-bright optical instruments that stood on three legs with a plumb-bob hangin' down, a long board, painted red and white with numbers on it, and some long slender chains.

It was excitin' to watch 'em as they stepped off across Papa's cotton fields with them pretty instruments. One feller went waaay down yonder with that red and white board; he'd stand the board up on one end an' then he'd just---abide. Up on the other side of the cotton field was the other feller with that shiny, three-legged thang. He'd stoop over an' stare thu the eye-piece, and wave his hand this-a-way and that-a-way. The feller with the red and white board would move the board, almost imperceptibly, then he'd abide some more.

They did that all mornin' long; peekin' thu the eye-piece, waving their arms, and jottin' down notes in a little leather-covered book. While all that was goin' on, the Sheriff was settin' in a rockin' chair on the front porch, talkin' with Papa. Occasionally, Mama would come out and refill their ice tea glasses.

Us kids was more interested in what was happenin' in the cotton field than what was bein' said on the porch. I rek'n that's why I don't know, to this day, what was goin' on. I do know that ever' once't-in-a-while, Papa would git up out of his rocker and pace back and forth in front of Mr. Otto. He'd talk real serious, and waggle his finger in front of Mr. Otto's face, and say thangs like: "....wa'al, that don't make it right, Otto!"

When Papa'd get all hot an' bothered like 'at, Mama'd come out on the porch and settle him down a little, usin' that soft-voiced technique on Papa that she used on us kids when she tried to convince us sump'm didn't hurt, when we could see plain as day that we-uz bleedin'.

Mr. Otto turn't red in the face when Papa waved his finger in front of his face and talked about 'right and wrong'. Finally, the Government Surveyors came out of the cotton field, and carefully replaced all of their shiny equipment in the turtle-hull of their official car.

The feller that had toted the red and white board got in the passenger seat, locked the door, and rolled the window up, even though it was hotter'n a bucket-full of red ants. The car had been settin' out 'ere all mornin', bakin' in that hot, bri'lin', sun. The other Gummint man walked to the edge of the porch, looked up at Mr. Otto, and said:

"Sheriff, we have completed our survey. Would you please step out here to the car, so we can discuss it?"

"Naw-sir, I won't!", the Sheriff angrily replied; "....whatever you got to say, jest stan' right 'ere an' spit it out!"

Papa stood up out'n his rocker, but Mama put her hand on his sleeve and gently urged him to set back down. The man backed away from the porch a few paces, then hemmed and hawed his way through a lengthy and detailed report (which was all gibberish to us kids.)

The end result was: Papa had planted way too many acres in cotton, and a lot of it had to be cut down! Us kids wasn't the brightest youngsters what ever fell off'n a wagon-load of lespideeza, but it finally dawned on us how come the Sheriff was out 'ere. That-uz so them Gummint people didn't git their hind ends full-a double-aught buck-shot! It also s'plained how come Mr. Otto got all red in the face when Papa was talkin' to him about "right is right, an' it ain't gon' wrong nobody!" ....Mr. Otto was plumb ashamed to have to be there.

The Sheriff knew very well how bad it would set us back, bein' share-croppers, to have our money crop cut down; but, he was duty-bound to accompany them Gummint people, to keep farmers from killin' 'em when they surveyed their cash crop. It was a sad time for all of us. After the cotton was cut down and the Gummint people had left, Papa didn't have a word to say say to nobody...for quite a while. Mama tried her best to s'plain thangs so us kids could understand it---but she, her-own-se'f, didn't know why the Gummint had to be so cruel to folks like us.

Ever since that incident happened, well over fifty year ago, I've had a built-in abhorrence for anything the "Gummint" has a hand in. It ain't been easy to forget that incident, either; every year, at income tax time, I am reminded of Papa's run-in with the Gummint.

I have never been much of a hand at cipherin'. Numbers have always tho'wed me for a loop. My wife studied cipherin' in college, and she's real good at it. So, she's been doing our income taxes ever since me 'n her jumped over the broom.

Ever' year, when she gets things all ciphered out, and saucered and blowed, she lays the tax papers down on the kitchen table. I lean over the forms and look at 'em jest like I had good sense an' knowed what I was lookin' at; then I sign my name where she's got the "x" put, an' that's the end of my involvement with filing income tax stuff.

Several years ago, she "x"-ed, an' I signed, then she mail't the thing in. A good while later, we got a refund check in the mail. The check was made out for two thousand dollars more than what I figgered we had comin' back. We got out the rough forms she'd worked up, and sure a-nuff, the Gummint had made a bad mistake (in my opinion, that is.)

At that time, our kitchen appliances were all differn't colors; some of 'em was 'harvest gold', some was 'olive' colored; and the 'frigerator....wa'al, it jest set 'ere like sump'm from outer space---it-uz pure-dee white. My wife had floated the idy past my head a few times already about how nice it'd be if all the kitchen appliances was of the same color. When we got the tax refund check, she said:

"Now then, we can get everything in the same color."

I told her (an' I didn't stutter none):

"I've had a-plenny s'perience with the Gummint before....they messed up when they sent us that check. At this very minute, ever' ko-loil lamp in Washington is lit, and a gang-a them smart-alec people is already hunkered down over them cipherin' machines. Before ye' c'n say 'frog liver', they gon' be hollerin' for they money back, you can count on 'at!"

For some strange reason, my wife ain't never been on-the-outs with the Gummint like me; even after I tol' her, more'n a few times, how they cut down Papa's cotton. Once't I git my head set on sump'm, it ain't all that easy to get me goin' in a differn't direction; so, at my insistence, we deposited the tax refund check in our savings account. It might be a good while 'fore they found their mistake, an' I figgered to let the Gummint's money draw interest for us, 'fore we had to give it back to 'em.

Three weeks later, we got a little 'hard card' in the mail from the IRS. The card had only two lines of writin' on it:

"There has been a mistake in the computation of your tax return for this year. You will be advised of the consequences in the near future."

"See there? I told ye'!", I hollered at my wife; "Ain't ye' glad I didn't let ye' spend 'at money on them kitchen 'pliances? Hunh?"

She didn't say n'air word; jest bit her lip and went on about her rat-killin'. A week went by; then a nudden. I had done took to goin' out 'ere an' leanin' on the mailbox when it was about time for the mail rider. Finally, yonder it come....a big fat envelope from the IRS. I collected it from the mail-box an' helt it by the edges, like it was a spreadin' adder or sump'm, while I took it in the house.

My wife was lean't over the kitchen sink, washin' a plate. (We didn't need a new sink; it was aw-ready color-coordinated, an' went with ever' thang. It-uz stainless steel.) I handed over the IRS letter with a big "told ye' so" smirk. Later that afternoon, I went out an' got in the pick-up; clutching a piece-a paper on which my wife had wrote down exactly what kitchen appliance, and what color, I was to brang back. Oh, yeah, the Gummint has messed up---in our favor! They sent us another twelve hunderd dollars!

(Ever since then, I jest look for where the "x" is at, sign my name, and…hush a whole lot.)