Sam Elmore


The creosote planks on Alligator Bayou bridge "slap-edy-plonked" and echoed back, as a car crossed the bridge and stopped on the side of the road by our house. It was a Sunday afternoon, in the early 1940's. The car surprised us, ‘cause it was during World War II, and everything like tires and gas was rationed; the only traffic we saw, with any frequency, was the smoky pilgrimage of the Southern Trailways bus.

We'd moved to Louisiana from Arkansas when World War II started. All of my eligible brothers and sisters went off to the war, or to work in the defense plants supporting the war effort. That left Papa and Mama with one teen-age daughter and three even-younger sons to help make a crop.

Wherever we moved to, the first order of business was to till the ground for Mama's vegetable garden and her flower beds. She always grew the nicest flowers, in every little nook and cranny where there was soil not being used to grow something edible.

That Sunday when the car stopped, we were all relaxing on the front porch, bare-footed. Big sister and Mama had taken turns washing each other's hair in rain water, as they did every Sunday. Papa and us three boys were enjoying ourselves playing music; Papa on the fiddle, Todd seconding him on guitar, I was playing the mandolin, and the Baby was keeping time by beating on an empty syrup bucket.

Left loose, Mama's hair hung almost to the ground when she was standing up; but she kept it up in a bun except for when big sister washed it. She was combing out her not-quite-dry hair which was piled up in her lap, when the car-door slammed. Papa brought "Soldier's Joy" to a tapering-off place, and stopped fiddling.

"Y'all git out and come in", Papa offered. One of the men walked up in front of the porch.

The man was wearing two-colored shoes, and a suit with a necktie.

"Can you spare me a minute?", he inquired.

Mama and sister was in a tizzy trying to get their bare feet hid under their dress-tails, and Mama was trying to do something with about forty yards of damp hair.

"I reckon so," Papa answered dubiously, figuring it was a peddler wantin' to sell something.

"We saw your boat when we crossed the bridge, and we'd like to rent it for a while".

"Wa'al", Papa said, "I got a boat back 'ere, such as it is, and you welcome to it; but I ain't got n'air one for rent."

"You think one of your boys there would be willing to operate the boat---you do have a motor, don't you?"

"A what?"

"An outboard motor."

"What for?," Papa asked, sounding a mite testy.

"For the boat, for crying out loud!" The feller had raised his voice a notch-or-two during the exchange.

"Naw", said Papa; "I ain't got no motor for no boat. What-in-the-devil you need a motor for?"

"Now, Abb---" (this from Mama, who could tell that he was gettin' hot-under-the-collar).

"To propel the boat", the man persisted; "an outboard motor to propel the boat."

"Naw, I ain't got no motor to pro-pel no durn boat!. What I do have is a piece of two-by-four, an' my boys know all they is to know 'bout operatin' a two-by-four. You reck'n that'll do ye?"

"I guess so", the man said, peevishly.

Papa turned to big brother Todd and me and said:

"You two big ‘uns go dip out the boat, and take these gents where they want-a go."

"Yessir, Papa."

I dipped the water leakage out the square-ended old cypress boat with a Luzianne coffee can, as the two men walked across the back yard. The man who'd talked to Papa was carrying a fancy rod with a reel on it, and a small metal tool box.

The other man was dressed up even better than the first one, and was he ever a handsome gent; curly brown hair showing from under his Panama hat. He had the whitest teeth you ever saw. When he spoke to me and Todd, he sounded just as friendly as he looked.

Todd got in the back of the boat, the two men got in the middle, and I pushed off from the bank and hunkered down in the front. Todd took the piece of two-by-four we used for a paddle and stroked the boat out into the middle of the bayou.

"Where y'all want to go?," Todd asked.

"Anywhere along here is fine, son", said the handsome feller; "I'm not interested in catching fish. I just wanted to take a break from the road, and try out this new fishing tackle."

Todd laid the dripping two-by-four across his lap, and we both watched the man. He fiddled with that rig for a good bit, then opened the tool box and took out a bait with two sets of gang hooks on it. I knew it was a River Runt, soon as I saw it, ‘cause Papa had one just like it; ‘cept his was a different color.

The man tied on the bait, flipped it back and forth over his head a few times, and then he flung that thing. Lordy Mercy, it must have went thirty-five yards before it hit the water. Myyyyy, did that feller ever show us some stuff that day! He'd crank that handle and jig the rod, and that floating River Runt would dart over here, then it'd dive over there; I'm here to tell you, that River Runt cut some mighty fine di-does that day!

The man with rod had a grin on his face a foot wide. It was like he hadn't had any fun in a long time. He was getting such a kick out of that rig, it got me and Todd to laughing along with him. But, it was all rern't by that other feller, who'd been grumbling ever since we got in the boat that it was "time for them to get going; they had commitments, and schedules", and such-like.

Todd paddled us back to the bank, the younger man took the rod and tackle box and put ‘em in the turtle-hull of the car, then climbed in under the steering wheel.

The other man, the nice one, walked around to the front yard and tipped his hat to Mama.

"Ma'am, you have the loveliest flowers I've seen in the whole state."

"Why, thank you kindly, sir", answered Mama, with a smile.

"Sir", he addressed Papa, "may I ask your name?"

Papa told him.

"Mister Abb", the man said, "I‘ve been on the road quite a bit lately, and when I saw your bayou, I just had to stop for a while. I hope I haven't disturbed your Sunday, because I know how important a day's rest is to a farmer."

"Pshaw! No trouble a-tall", Papa answered. "We glad to have the comp'ny. We jest moved here from Arkansas---trying to get a start. You stop by any time, and set a spell."

"I appreciate the welcome, sir. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to give your boys a little something for taking me out in the boat".

"Naw-sir, that's un-called for; they was glad to do it", Papa said.

Me and Todd looked askance at Papa. Why, with any luck a-tall, we could've ended up with a nickle a-piece out-a this deal.

"Mr. Abb, I know it isn't necessary, but if you wouldn't take it unkindly, I'd like to insist".

"Wa'al, you do what you've a mind to", Papa told him.

The man pulled a pocketbook from the inside of his coat, took out two one-dollar bills and handed them to Todd. My gosh! A whole dollar a-piece, I thought. Then, he took out two more one-dollar bills and handed 'em to me! We just stood there with our mouths gapped open, until Mama "harrumphed" us.

"Ain't you boys got something to say?", Mama prompted. We stumbled all over ourselves trying to thank him in eight different languages, with less than good control over one, even.

"Think nothing of it, boys", he grinned at us.

"Mr. Abb," he said to Papa, "you said you have just moved here, so you probably haven't established your residency bonafides. When you do, I hope you will remember me at the polls. My name is Jimmie Davis and, one day, I aim to be Governor of this state. Good-day to you all."

He got in the car, and they drove off, heading South.

"Mercy sakes", Mama said, as she took a dip of Tube Rose snuff, "y'all know who that feller was ?"

"Durn, Hattie", Papa snorted; "you heard him say plain as day that he was with the dang guv-uh-mint!"

(Papa was on the outs with the Government at the time, because they dictated how many acres of certain crops a farmer could plant.)

"Naw, Abb," Mama soothed, "that ain't what I meant. That nice feller is the one what sang "You Are My Sunshine" on the radio last night, over KWKH Shree-port." Bless your heart, Mama---you always did have your priorities in the right order.

(By the way---Jimmy Davis made it, too. He wound up being one of the most-respected Governors Louisiana ever had. He was over a hundred years old, I believe, when he passed away recently.)