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Rattlesnakes and Vinegar: A Journey to the General Store

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 29, 2023 3:01 am

Rattlesnakes and Vinegar: A Journey to the General Store

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 29, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Cecil Wax grew up in a different age. Listen to his and his brother's journey into town which will transport you back to a simpler time.

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For more information, visit slash Nissan. And we're back with our American stories. And we've heard from Marilyn Jensen before when she told the story of her father's harrowing supply run during the Battle of the Bulge. Today she brings us a story from an earlier time in his life during a simpler time in our past.

Here's Marilyn. It was a hot August day, probably about 1923. The Henry and Nora Wax family lived on a small farm, maybe three or four miles from the southwest Iowa town of Climax.

Since that time, cars are affordable to everyone. Country stores and nearby services like blacksmiths are no longer needed. So the village of Climax, true to its name, reached an apex of activity, breathed a sigh of resignation, and quietly dozed off.

Climax is now known only by the sign in front of its abandoned church. The memories of a century ago lie sleeping under blankets of Iowa corn and soybeans. On a sleepy August morning, the three Wax boys, Art 13, Ori 8, and Cecil 6, stumbled into the kitchen.

Lucky little sister Lucille, at four, got to sleep until breakfast. Mom was stoking the fire in the cook stove. The boys rubbed their eyes and stared ahead. Dad crossed his right ankle over his left knee and laced up his leather work boots. The leg of his blue overalls bunched up, revealing an ugly white scar on his shin. Cease pointed to it and yawned, is that where the rattlesnake bit you, Dad? Is that where the rattlesnake bit you, Dad? He knew the answer, but he liked this story, and besides, it would delay the chores a bit.

Yep, Dad replied, straightening the leg. I wasn't much older than Art. The feller struck me while I was hanging.

It nearly killed me. There aren't many timber rattlers in Iowa, not like out west, but one found my leg. Now hurry up and get out to the barn.

Daylight's wasting. The chickens, cattle, pigs, and horses were fed. The pump creaked and the water splashed into the pans, and finally it was the family's turn to devour their breakfast. After the table was cleared, Nora and the three younger kids began their short trek to the garden. They paused long enough to wave to Dad and Art as they rode into the hayfield.

Henry was driving the horse and Art was steadying the pitchforks, keeping them from bouncing off the hay wagon. They disappeared over the hill where yesterday's cutting of alfalfa blanketed the field in fluffy green rows. Nora and the children harvested onions, beets, cucumbers, and dill. The vegetables were washed clean in cold water from the well by the front door. Ori, the oldest boy at the moment, lugged the pail full of green and deep red freshness into the kitchen. Cece and Ori were in charge of watching little Lucille, as well as washing the breakfast dishes, sweeping the kitchen floor, and setting the table for dinner. Mom worked at the cookstove preparing the vittles, as she called them, for the men in the field, and getting the vegetables ready to cook, ready to be prepared for dinner. And getting the vegetables ready to cook, ready to can. Today was pickling day. She was canning pickled beets, including hard-boiled eggs in the jars, and also starting a crock full of dill pickles. In no time, two dozen eggs began to bubble in the pot on the back burner. Next, she sliced the cucumbers into her crock.

Nora smiled at how smoothly things were going. That smile faded when she retrieved her empty vinegar jug from the bottom shelf of the pantry. She had forgotten that last week's wilted lettuce salad drank the final drop. There was no question that someone would have to go to the Climax General Store today and fetch more vinegar. At noon, the family ate and chatted around the big oak table.

Nora shared her dilemma with Henry. She was out of vinegar. Now that the eggs were boiled, the canning process for the beets must be completed.

The cukes were all sliced and needed to pickle for several days in a crock full of vinegar and salt brine. The processing had to begin today. Timing mattered. Henry faced the same problem. If it rained while the hay was laying in the field, it would ruin the whole cutting. The rest of the alfalfa crop must be put into the barn this afternoon. After much discussion, mom and dad decided that Ori and Cecil would ride the new horse Rocky to the Climax General Store and buy vinegar. Storing up the winter supply of food for the family was almost as important as storing up the hay for the livestock.

They set the plan in motion. Dad and Art went back to the hay field. Mom went to war with the wash rag on the bare feet and ankles of her two little gardeners. Here he is in the barn with his family. He had to go to the gardeners. Hearing mom's warning about sunburn, the boys grabbed their straw hats and ran out the front door. Mom called them back and handed Ori some coins from her egg money and the sugar bowl on the buffet.

Ori gratefully buttoned the treasure into his pocket of his bib overalls. Cecil was allowed to carry the empty gallon jug. All mom's instructions were repeated. Ride carefully, don't overheat the horse, hold on tightly to the jug, be polite to the storekeeper, and come straight home. At last the boys ran to the barnyard. Rocky met them at the fence. Dad had bought him at a sale barn just a few weeks before. Since relocating to the wax farm, Rocky had almost become the boy's pet. He was friendly and let them ride bareback around the farmyard.

In no time, Rocky was bridled and the two excited shoppers were on their way. Being older, Ori rode in front and held the bridle. The vinegar jug rested on Rocky's back clasped tightly by Ori's legs. Cecil sat behind. He had to grab Ori's waist only once or twice when Rocky sped up going down a long hill.

Ori was ready to pull back on the reins, but the horse sensed the boy's discomfort and slowed before he even needed to direct him. The ride was going perfectly. They imagined they were knights setting off on a shopping crusade. At the corner, even Mrs. Perkins' laundry seemed to be waving like banners in the breeze, celebrating their first campaign.

They turned north and continued toward climax. The boys laughed about how dust puffed up around Rocky's hoofs with every step. The adventurers waved when they passed by Dad and Art in the hayfield.

Dad shook his red bandana in their direction and then wiped his face and stuffed it back in his overall pocket. Art gave them a quick nod before taking a swig of water from the mason jar insulated in the hay. They noticed the buzzing bees taking sweet nectar from the pink wild roses growing in the ditches. They stopped to watch an orange butterfly fluttering next to a milkweed plant. They giggled when a big green grasshopper jumped off a sunflower and nearly landed on Cecil's shoulder. Occasionally, one of them inhaled the fluff from the purple thistle plants giving birth to floating seeds. As they rode, they rehearsed the speech to the storekeeper.

After several tries, they decided to keep the transaction brief. Hello, sir. We would like to buy some vinegar.

Would you fill our jug, please? Thank you very much. They practiced, taking turns with the sentences. Soon, they came to the Methodist church.

Ori said, ha, to Rocky, just like Dad when he drove the plow horse. They turned left. And you've been listening to Marilyn Jensen tell the story of her father in his youth in Climax, Iowa, and that's southwest Iowa, and not a town anymore, a merely a sign in front of an abandoned church. And this is the story of an adventure as a young man with his siblings to go to the Climax General Store for some vinegar. When we come back, what happens next? Well, we're going to to go to the Climax General Store for some vinegar.

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Sign up today at Terms and conditions apply. And we're back with our American stories in the second half of Marilyn Jensen's father's story. He's a wax. When we last left off, Cecil's family was in the middle of a crisis. It was crunch time. His father and brother were harvesting before the rain started and ruined the crop and his mother had already boiled the pickles and eggs for pickling but they ran out of vinegar. We joined Cecil six years old and his older brother Ori eight years old as they just ridden into town on the family horse Rocky.

Here's Marilyn. In minutes, the small building with a false front greeted them. Its sign proclaimed that their journey was over.

Here was the climax general store. Two men were rocking on the porch with the checkerboard resting on a nail keg between them. One was smoking a pipe. The other had a graying beard.

Both men looked up with interest. Suddenly raw reality kidnapped the little knights stealing their courage. We've never gone to a store without mom or dad.

We've never purchased anything. We can't let mom down. Two scared little boys slowly slid from the security of Rocky's back. They wrapped his reins over the railing near the watering trough in front of the store and Rocky kept an eye on them while he drank. After a few moments hesitation Ori walked slowly toward the porch carrying the empty jug. Cecil followed about half a length of his bare foot behind.

The men on the porch scrutinized the two small boys with interest as they climbed up the three wooden steps. Ori stood still shyly studying the floorboards. After a few seconds the bearded man spoke gruffly. Well boy what do you want?

Speak up. Ori was flustered. Their lovely speech disappeared from his memory. He simply thrust the jug forward and stammered, oh winnicker. The men grinned and winked at each other. Beard spoke.

Speak English boy. Winnicker never heard of it. Frustrated Ori repeated b-b-b-b-b-binnicker. Pipe joined in the fun.

Binnicker ain't got nothing like that here. The men's eyes twinkled as they poked each other in the ribs. They were enjoying this. Teasing these two kids broke the monotony of the afternoon's fly swatting and checker jumping. Beard stifled a laugh and grabbed the jug. Let me smell her.

Maybe I can figure out what these baby boys want. He pulled out the cork and sniffed. The jug exhaled its pungent vinegar breath. He stroked his beard in mock confusion and replied, nope nothing like that here. The boys were almost in tears.

Cecil tried to speak too, but his six-year-old voice couldn't be heard over the chuckles of the two bullies. Pipe continued the teasing routine questioningly. B-b-b-b-binnicker. W-w-w-winnicker.

Vinnicker. Pipe sniffed the jug too and shrugged. He pretended to be confused and concerned. Finally he thrust the empty jug to Ori and said, I think you'd better take your jug and go on home, boy.

Come back when you learned to talk good like us. The boys looked at each other in panic. Their wide teary eyes screamed, what should we do?

We can't go home with an empty jug. Screech cried the spring on the screen door as the door flung back against the door's siding with a bang. The storekeeper stepped heavily onto the porch. His angry face showed that he understood the situation. He grabbed the jug, gave Ori an understanding pat on the shoulder, and invited the boys into the store. Beard and pipe sank back into their rockers and stared at the checkers. Get yourselves a dipper of water while I fill up your jug, boys. They drank gratefully from the water pail while Mr. Storekeeper lifted the keg of vinegar to the counter and turned the tap. All three witnessed the brownish yellow vinegar running into its new home. Ori traded the coins for the heavy jug and gave Mr. Storekeeper a nod of appreciation. They headed toward the door without a word. Wait, boys, you forgot something.

Oh no, now what? The kind man handed each of them a stick of candy. They found their manners long enough to grin and say, thanks, sir. They hurried out the door past the now innocent looking bullies. Ori untied Rocky and was on his back in an instant. Cease hefted up the jug.

Once it was firmly clamped by his brother's overall legs, he jumped up behind Ori and the trip to the security of home began. They heard angry voices from the porch as they turned the corner at the church and faced the long road back. They glanced toward the store.

Beard and pipe were walking up the road in the opposite direction as if nothing had happened. For a long time they regained their dignity by quietly sucking on candy. Finally they began talking about anything but the nightmare at the store. Rocky became their focus. They were happy that Dad bought him at the sale barn last month. Between slurps they decided that Rocky was a great horse. He was big but he was gentle. He seemed to love them and he works hard. He's smart. It's like he knows he belongs to us now. Cecil asked, why did Dad name him Rocky?

Well, he used to live in Colorado and that's where the Rocky Mountains are, explained the older and wiser Ori. They could just make out the top of Dad's straw hat bobbing along on the other side of the hill. Their adventure was almost over. The two brave knights were completing their quest and returning in triumph. With no warning Rocky halted.

The boys lunged forward so fast that Ori almost dropped the precious jug. They waited. They tried commanding Rocky like Dad taught him. Giddy up Rocky. Nothing.

Nothing. He actually backed up a few steps. They shook the bridle. Rocky snorted. His ears twitched backwards.

He refused to budge. His nostrils flared and he started pawing the ground. It seemed their perfect horse suddenly had broken down. After some confused moments they repeated the giddy ups again followed by more backing up and ear twitching. They decided to try getting off and leading the disobedient horse home but just then he started moving. But now Rocky chose the route.

Stepping cautiously he went down into the ditch and plodded precariously through the weeds for about 30 yards, at times squeezing close to the barbed wire fence. Then he climbed back up to the road and continued the journey as if nothing had happened. The boys shook their heads in confusion but were happy to allow Rocky to trot down the final hill and head toward the feed bunk.

Excitedly they presented the jug of vinegar to Mom. Then they went about caring for Rocky and doing their evening chores. Soon Dad and Art arrived with the last load of hay.

Dad headed straight toward Ori and Cecil. What were you two doing riding in the ditch with Rocky? He could have broken a leg on that slope.

I thought I could trust you with our animals. The explanation cascaded from both defensive mouths. Rocky stopped really fast. He snorted and pawed the ground. He backed up. He took us into the ditch and along the fence. He wouldn't do what we told him.

Rocky did it all by himself. Dad listened without a word, considered the details and stalked to the house. He hiked back to the spot where he had witnessed his son's afternoon struggle.

The blast from his rifle killed the big coiled rattlesnake that was still resting in the weeds close to the road. After supper, two tired adventurers were cleaned up and tucked safely into their beds. As they said their nightly prayers, they added a special blessing. And please bless our new horse, Rocky.

Thank you for sending him from Colorado to protect us and to be our guardian angel horse. On that afternoon in the 1920s, my uncle Ori stammered from nervousness and fear. Over six years later, he suffered a series of debilitating strokes, which left him partially paralyzed and forced him to struggle with a true speech impairment. Uncle Ori's frustration to be understood was real. My cousin Russell reports that one of Ori's last decipherable sentences as he was dying was, it's just like win-ker.

The bite of a poisonous snake can be quick and deadly. The memory of the poison inflicted by a bully can remain for a lifetime. And a terrific piece of production by Robbie and a terrific piece of writing by Marilyn Jensen, a listener and a contributor, and a beautiful story about youthful adventures, bullying, and resilience.

Marilyn Jensen's father's story, Cecil, here on Our American Stories. Tis the season of making the perfect wishlist and the perfect playlist with Bose Quiet Comfort ultra earbuds and headphones. Breakthrough immersive audio uses specialized sound to bring your fave holiday classics to life and world-class noise cancellation ensures a not so typical silent night and an epic holiday party of warmth. It's everything music should make you feel taken to new holiday highs.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-29 04:35:05 / 2023-11-29 04:44:30 / 9

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